The Scoop on Poop

What can your poop reveal about your health? The consistency, texture and color of your stool are helpful barometers of your well-being, so make sure to take a peek into the bowl. At least one bowel movement a day is healthy and shouldn’t hurt when it passes through the rectum. Digestion of food can take anywhere from eight to 75 hours from the time it enters the body to the time it leaves the rectum in the form of stool. E.R. physician Dr. Travis Stork explains how digestion works and how stool is formed. 

From "floaters" to "flower petals", people have quite creative nicknames for their number twos. The Doctors have the answers to your biggest questions about bowel movements.

• What causes sudden onset bowel movements?
• Why does urine sometimes come out during a bowel movement?
• What causes orange, oily stool?
• What does white stool signify?
• What can make you feel like you're going to pass out on the toilet?
• Learn how to take the best poop of your life!
• Can straining during bowel movements cause premature labor?
Why are some people stinkier than others?
• Why does corn come out in stool?

Diarrhea, or loose, watery stool, is the body's way of clearing viruses, bacteria or toxins from the digestive tract. The average American adult will experience bouts of acute, or immediate, diarrhea approximately four times a year, while children may experience seven to 15 episodes annually. Chronic diarrhea lasts longer than four weeks, while acute diarrhea lasts several days. The most common causes include viruses, medication, bacteria and parasites, but it can also be caused by certain substances found in food and beverages, including fructose and lactose. Digestive disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome, can also trigger frequent diarrhea.

To treat acute cases of diarrhea, replenish your fluids with an electrolyte replacement drink. Avoid sodas and juices, because the sugars can contribute to more diarrhea. Also, make sure to wash your hands, because diarrhea can be infectious.

• Dr. Travis demonstrates what happens inside your body when you suffer from diarrhea.
• Learn the differences between osmostic diarrhea, exudative diarrhea and secretory diarrhea.

When Nature Calls
“Every time I go out to eat, I can barely make the short drive home without feeling like I’m going to have an accident,” a viewer confesses. “I’ve had way too many close calls. Why does this happen? Is there anything I can do to prevent it?”

Certain foods or medications can cause bowel urgency. When it comes to kids, pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears encourages keeping a “poo journal” to keep track of what your child eats throughout the day. If he or she experiences an emergency, you can look back at the journal, determine what’s causing it, and remove it from his or her diet. Remembering what you've eaten before experiencing bowel urgency can help you adjust your diet and better control your digestive system.

“Regular bowel movements are better than no bowel movements,” Dr. Travis says. “We all have certain triggers.”

The Life Raft
To avoid toilet water backsplash, there is a technique of placing a wad of toilet paper in the bowl before sitting down -- a practice also known as the life raft.

"Sometimes I do the life raft," Dr. Sears says. "One of my toilets at home has a really low water level, so if [the bowel movement] is a little soft and leaves a little skid mark on the bowl, you do the life raft. That way it all flushes down and you don't have to clean the bowl!"

"It gives you the trifecta," OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says. "This is why a lot of women do it: no noise, no skid marks, no splash."

Dr. Travis explains that tests found that toilet water is not very dirty. "There weren't any really scary organisms," he says. "It certainly depends on how clean the restroom is, but there's not really a worry when you go use a public restroom of getting some terrible disease."

Soft Stool
While loose, watery stools can be an indication of an underlying viral problem, soft bowel movements are often a good sign. "When I'm eating really well, lots of vegetables and omega-3s, I'm kind of serving up a soft serve," Dr. Sears says. "And when I'm really lucky, I get the clean sweep, where you don't even have to wipe after the thing. It's a beautiful poop! It just comes out, and it's like, 'Wow!'"

Though soft stools can be a signal of good health, frequent soft bowel movements could also be caused by a food intolerance, such as an excess amount of fructose in the diet or lactose intolerance. If this is the cause, you can try removing certain foods and drinks from your diet, and if it persists, see your doctor.

"And it may just be fiber that's actually making it soft serve, because fiber transits through your gut and it keeps things soft," Dr. Travis adds. "I'd rather have soft serve than really hard, painful serve. I wouldn't worry too much about it, as long as it doesn't get real watery."

• Dangers of holding in stool
• Changes in stool: When to call your doctor

Skid Marks
For some people, going number two is not the problem. Instead, it's finding brown marks on underwear later on in the day.

"That's the never-ending-wipe poop," Dr. Sears says. "It actually has nothing to do with how you're wiping. It's more about the consistency of the poop; it's a little viscous. It's a higher viscosity and a little sticky. What you might find is that taking an omega-3 oil supplement tends to lubricate things just a little bit and make it so it won't stick so much down there."

Diaper Deciphering
Keep track of your baby's health by decoding his or her diaper! "Check your baby's diapers," Dr. Sears says. "Baby poop is a way of telling how healthy your child is."


Diagnosing Defecation


Color Possible Indications   Should You Worry?
Yellow/ mustard- seedy Baby is eating breast milk No
Green Usually normal No
Brown Usually normal No
Red, dark or black Blood in stool Yes, call your doctor
White Problem with liver or gall bladder Yes, call your doctor

The Diaper Decoder:


Greenish-black: When a baby is first born, his or her diaper may show a greenish-black substance. This is a normal for a newborn 2 to 4 days old. The tar-like excrement is actually not stool, but rather meconium, which is composed of the substances that were ingested in utero, such as amniotic fluid, mucus and skin cells.
Clear or jelly-like streaks: This color indicates that your baby may have an allergy or an infection.
Yellow or tan: This color signals that your baby has started digesting breast milk or formula and that his or her digestive tract is healthy.
Reddish-brown: Call your pediatrician. This color could indicate a milk-protein allergy, constipation or infection.
White: If your baby consistently has white stools, it could signal a liver or gall bladder problem. Consult your doctor.



“In general, if your baby is always having the same kind of poops and then it changes, that’s something to [talk to your doctor] about,” Dr. Sears says.


Constipation is a common gastrointestinal problem that causes people to have infrequent bowel movements, pass hard stools or strain during bowel movements. Most cases of constipation are temporary and can be alleviated by simple lifestyle changes, like adding more fiber to your diet. If the condition persists, it can be treated with over-the-counter laxatives. However, doctors caution that frequent use of laxatives can make the colon dependent upon them for bowel evacuation. Straining while using the toilet can cause a rapid decrease in blood pressure, and a drop in heart rate, causing you to go unconscious.

When faced with severe symptoms of constipation, an enema may be necessary to break up the blockage and add moisture and fluids. Though enemas will help get things moving, they should not be relied upon and overusing them can dangerously affect your bowels.

Preventing Constipation

• Drink plenty of water
• Eat a diet high in fiber
• Limit low-fiber foods, especially ones high in fat and sugar
• Exercise regularly
• When you feel the need to defecate, do not delay. The longer a person waits, the more water is absorbed from the stool and the harder it becomes.

A tasty, everyday solution to incorporate more fiber and fluids into your diet is the Smooth Move Smoothie! Pineapples, apples, apple juice, almond milk and banana provide flavor and nutrients, while lecithin, flax seeds and bran power it with fiber.

1 to 2 cups of fresh pineapples
1/2 cup apple slices
1/4 cup fresh apple juice
1/2 cup almond milk (more or less as needed)
1 banana
1 tablespoon lecithin
2 tablespoons flax seeds
2 teaspoons bran (wheat, oat or rice)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and enjoy!

Dr. Travis also recommends high-fiber beans as a smooth move food.

Fecal Transplant

If you suffered from diarrhea more than a dozen times a day, how far would you go to make it stop? Doctors are now transplanting healthy feces into sick patients to cure serious bacterial infections.

“Sounds disgusting right? Well, a fecal transplant could actually save your life,”  Dr. Travis says.

Gastroenterologist Dr. Timothy Rubin explains that fecal transplants are performed to treat an antibiotic-resistant infection called clostridium difficile, or C. diff. The infection causes severe, sometimes constant diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss and can be life threatening.

C-Diff Symptoms
• Watery diarrhea, three or more times per day
• Abdominal cramping
• Fever
• Blood or pus in stool
• Nausea
• Dehydration
• Loss of appetite
• Weight loss

Until recently, fecal transplants were an invasive procedure through the colon that required anesthesia. Now, doctors are transferring feces in a matter of seconds, through the nose. Dr. Travis and Dr. Rubin explain the breakthrough procedure.

Research shows that 91 percent of patients who undergo fecal transplants report their diarrhea subsiding after just one treatment.

Dr. Rubin says an ideal fecal donor is a healthy person who lives with the patient, such as a sibling or a spouse, since his or her colon biology is more likely to match that of the patient.