Dr. Tariq Jagnarine
Family Medicine, Endocrinology/Diabetes
We all do it. For some, it’s a necessary inconvenience; for others, it’s a pleasant and satisfying part of the digestive process. It has fascinated toddlers since time immemorial, and there’s a reason for that. Going ‘number two’ might not be the prettiest topic for a dinner party, but there’s a lot to learn from this mundane yet mysterious process. In the end, it’s simply a part of our functioning body.
The stool is mostly just undigested food, proteins, bacteria, salts, and other substances that are produced and released by the intestines. Although everyone is unique in the size, shape, and smell of their stool, there are a few things that indicate a healthy (or unhealthy) stool.
A healthy stool can be as varied and as unique as the individual who makes it, but there are a few general rules to follow when assessing stool artistry for optimum health.
The stool emoji has one thing right: the brown colouring. The combination of stomach bile and bilirubin, which is a pigment compound formed from the breakdown of red blood cells in the body, gets the credit for this oh-so-lovely shade of brown.
A somewhat log-like shape is how most stools should come out, due to their formation within the intestines. However, there are a variety of shapes that stools can have. When they differentiate from the log shape, that’s when they are trying to tell you something’s up.
Stools shouldn’t come out in small pellets, but instead should be a couple of inches in length, comfortable, and easy to pass.
Anywhere between a firm and soft consistency is pretty much normal. If it sways too much one way or another, it could suggest some digestion or fibre issues.
• Length of time
A commonly heard joke is that when someone takes too long in the bathroom, it must mean they’re stooling. A healthy stool, however, should be easy to pass, and take only a minute or so to be pushed out. That said, some people do spend a bit more time on the toilet; so, as a general rule, stooling should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes.
Fun fact: Did you know most people stool around the same time every day?
On average, a person with healthy digestion would stool anywhere between every other day and three times a day. Any less could suggest possible constipation.
BRISTOL STOOL CHART
The Bristol Stool Chart is an overarching indicator of how and why different types of stools look or feel a certain way. It’s broken up into seven categories based on a 2,000-person study published back in 1992, and it makes stool knowledge basic and easy to understand.
Type 1: Marbles
Appearance: Hard and separate little lumps that look like nuts and are hard to pass.
Indicates: These little pellets typically mean you’re constipated. It shouldn’t happen frequently.
Type 2: Caterpillar
Appearance: Log-shaped but lumpy.
Indicates: Here we have another sign of constipation that, again, shouldn’t happen frequently.
Type 3: Hot dog
Appearance: Log-shaped with some cracks on the surface.
Indicates: This is the gold standard of stool, especially if it’s somewhat soft and easy to pass.
Type 4: Snake
Appearance: Smooth and snake-like.
Indicates: Doctors also consider this a normal stool that should happen every 1 to 3 days.
Type 5: Amoebas
Appearance: Small, like the first ones, but soft and easy to pass; the blobs also have clear cut edges.
Indicates: This type of stool means you’re lacking fibre and should find ways to add some to your diet through cereal or vegetables.
Type 6: Soft serve
Appearance: Fluffy and mushy with ragged edges.
Indicates: This too-soft consistency could be a sign of mild diarrhoea. Try drinking more water and electrolyte-infused beverages to help improve this.
Type 7: Jackson Pollock
Appearance: Completely watery with no solid pieces.
Indicates: In other words, you’ve got the runs, or diarrhoea. This means your stool moved through your bowels very quickly, and didn’t form into a healthy stool.