How to tell if your bowel movements are normal

Your stools can reveal a lot about your health. Here is what you can learn from your bowel movements, what’s normal and what to watch for.

It’s something every one of us on the planet does – move our bowels.

Although uncomfortable to discuss, bowel movement is an important and natural body function that holds clues to your health.

“We can determine a lot from someone’s poo,” The Gut Doctor Dr Vincent Ho tells The House of Wellness TV show.

“We should be looking at our stool on a regular basis.

“Poo isn’t just waste that you expel; it’s teeming with lots of microbes.” Dr Ho says.

Roughly 75 per cent of your stool is water, with solids – which are mainly organic – making up the remaining one-quarter.

“About 50 per cent of that organic matter is actually microbes – we’re talking about bacteria and viruses,” Dr Ho says.

These microbes can influence how hard or soft stool is, and can indicate how healthy your gut is, as well as indicate the presence of diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, Dr Ho explains.

What does ‘normal’ stool look like?

A healthy poo is typically smooth and resembles a sausage.

According to nutritionist and dietitian Dr Flavia Fayet-Moore, stool should not be “too hard, nor too runny, and not too much effort to pass – but not too urgent either.”

The best way to check if your bowel movement is healthy is to look at the Bristol Stool Chart – a visual representation of seven types of stool:

Type 1: Small, hard lumps resembling nuts

Type 2: Sausage-shaped but lumpy

Type 3: Sausage-shaped, with cracks on the surface

Type 4: Soft, smooth and sausage-shaped

Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges

Type 6: Fluffy and mushy

Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces

‘Stages three and four are considered to be the ideal forms of stool that people strive for,” Dr Ho says.

What colour should poo be?

The general consensus is that brown poo is the healthiest.

“Light or clay-coloured stools tell us the production of bile is not optimal or can be a side effect of some medications,” naturopath Paige Greacen says.

Shades of yellow could be a sign of, for example, excess dietary fat or unprocessed gluten, which may point to coeliac disease.

Poo that resembles dark tar may indicate a bleed in the upper gut, Dr Ho says.

This is common in those with a stomach ulcer and should be checked by a doctor.

Also be wary if you see blood in your stool and seek medical advice promptly.

“This may signify conditions such as colorectal cancer, or benign conditions such as haemorrhoids,” Dr Gi says.

Your diet can also affect the colour of your stool – for instance, beetroot may turn your poo red, whereas blueberries can make it look black.

“The key is to ensure the colour (of your stool) is consistent,” Dr Fayet-Moore says.

“And if your diet is consistent, any change to normal can mean changes internally.”

How often should you have a bowel movement?

Frequency varies from person to person, but moving your bowels anywhere from three times a day to three times a week is considered normal.

As with stool colour, any changes in frequency – particularly when accompanied by constipation or diarrhoea – can indicate a problem and if these changes persist for more than a few days, you should see your doctor.

Should a bowel movement hurt?

It’s common to strain a little when using the toilet and to feel some pressure in the abdomen.
“In most cases, it’s just gas built up behind the poop,” Dr Fayet-Moore says.

“Any pain prior to a bowel motion is an indication that the digestive system is in need of extra support,” Paige adds.

Can’t poo? Try this

If you’re struggling to pass a bowel movement, Paige recommends prunes and psyllium, a bulk-forming fibre.

“Ensure you are staying hydrated to assist with elimination pathways,” she says.

Above all, be patient.

“It’s best not to force your bowel movement if you don’t have an urge,” Dr Fayet-Moore says. “This can increase the risk of haemorrhoids, as can spending too long on the toilet.”

Written by Alexandra Feiam.