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10 Things You Get Wrong About Your Poop

June 04, 2015 4 min read

Everyone does it and no one talks about it. Like hardly ever. All of this silence has left us in darkness about our bathroom habits which has lead to some pretty pervasive and untrue myths about what makes a 'heathy' poo. We've got some answers from gastroenterologists and so now you'll know your facts from fiction when it comes to your poop.

Myth: Healthy people poop once a day

This myth has very little scientific evidence and yet it just won't go away. "At the end of the day, we define anything less than three times a week as abnormal," says Kyle Staller, MD, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "But any pattern can be healthy as long as your frequency doesn't impact your quality of life."

Myth: It's bad to hold your poop

Holding your poop won't do you any physical harm, although it may not be overly comfortable. "It's good to have the ability to hold it in until there's a socially acceptable place and time," says Patricia Raymond, MD, FACG, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. However, Staller says that you shouldn't make a habit of suppressing your urges.  "We've found people who hold their poop longer because of their profession—nurses, teachers, or truck drivers, for example, or people who are afraid to go at work—can get into bad habits that cause constipation or dysfunction in the muscles used for pooping," he says.

Truth: It's normal for poop to smell bad

No matter what you do, your poop will smell. But your diet does play a role in the quality of the smell. More veggies, less smell. "Herbivore leavings smell much better than a carnivore's," says Raymond. But if your poo goes from kind of bad smelling to eye watering unbearable, it may be a sign that you aren't digesting your food properly, according to Raymond.

Myth: It's important to cleanse your colon

You do NOT need to clean your colon. Depleting the stores of healthy bacteria in your colon through a prolonged cleanse can lead to cramping, bloating, nausea, and electrolyte abnormalities, says Staller. "Your colon is meant to have stool in it at all times," he says. Unless you need to clean it for medical reasons, Staller and Raymond both suggest just leaving it alone.

Myth: There's such thing as a "perfect" poop

The concept of the "perfect poop" is just "something for those anal retentives among us," says Raymond. It is entirely normal to have a range of types. The types are classified on the Bristol Stool Scale from types 1 (hard little rabbit pellets)  to 7 (liquid). None of them are bad unless you are having to push too hard or are having a difficult time making it to a toilet. The only true problem, according to Raymond, is if your stool is consistently skinny. It could be a sign of hemorrhoids or colon cancer.

Truth: Poop shouldn't float

If your poop is floating, get to a gastroenterologist. It may be a sign that you are not absorbing oil and fat properly. Don't worry if you see a floater every now and then. "If you eat something that causes a lot of gas, it'll float," says Staller.

Myth: White foods are good for diarrhea

Rice and toast my be helpful but you will most definitely want to stay away from other white foods, like milk and cheese. In fact, Raymond says there isn't a single diet 100% known to help diarrhea, despite doctors prescribing the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, tea, or toast) to kids for decades. The only thing that really helps is staying well hydrated. But don't over do it on the water or Gatorade, you need to be able to recover some of the sodium and potassium lost through your bowels. Make a batch of the World Health Organization's Oral Rehydration Solution—1 liter of water, 6 teaspoons of sugar, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Sip the solution throughout the day, making sure you're putting in twice as much as you're losing.

Myth: Pooping takes a long time

"We were set up since we were cavemen to be able to squat quickly and then keep going," says Raymond but don't worry if it take you a little longer to go, we are all different. Being slow is one thing but you shouldn't be straining. If you are, Raymond says you should talk to your gastroenterologist about possible causes and solutions.

Myth: Healthy poop doesn't splash

Raymond blames Dr. Oz for this myth, which she says is a gastroenterologist's nightmare. "He was talking on Oprah and he said that your bowel movement when it comes out and hits the toilet bowl should make almost no splash – like an Olympic diver entering a pool," she says. "And if your bowel movement makes a splashing noise you should see your gastroenterologist immediately." Naturally, this caused a lot of healthy people to panic. Raymond's advice? Stop listening to your poop. There is no sound it should or should not be making. Truth: Poop should usually be brown "Doctors don't like red, purple, or black," says Raymond. "Those colors usually indicate blood." (Although it could also be caused by diet, like beets and cherries). White or clay coloured means there is a blockage in your bile duct. And if it is silver (which is super rare) it could mean that a tumor has attached to the opening of your bile duct. "Sometimes you'll see yellow or green," she says and it is completely natural. Those colours are a result of bile secretions and should be cleared up by your next movement. I had totally bought into some of these myths, how about you?  

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