What’s your poo telling you?
Terri Coles, Reuters
Everything you ever wanted to know about gastrointestinal health
When it comes to ways to keep track of our health, a daily peek in
the toilet bowl is probably not what first comes to mind.
But one gastroenterologist says that your bowel movements can be an
important clue to the state of your digestive health.
Dr. Anish Sheth — otherwise known as Dr. Stool — and Josh Richman
outline all the things you can learn from examining your feces in
“What’s Your Poo Telling You?,” a book that uses jokes and trivia as
a way to get people comfortable with talking about gastrointestinal
A look in the toilet bowl reveals a lot about your gastrointestinal
“Of course there’s a humorous side to the subject of poo,” said
Sheth, a gastroenterology fellow at Yale University. “But what isn’t
as well known is that you can learn about your health by looking in
The book comes with a serious message about the importance of
preventing colon cancer, the second deadliest cancer in the United
States, Sheth said. People may have some embarrassment when they
first pick up the book, he said, but making health the focus of
taboo topics makes it easier to discuss them. “I think that’s a safe
The increasing availability of information online is breaking down
taboos about previously undiscussed personal health topics, Sheth
“Patients are coming to the table with a lot more information about
particular conditions or concerns they may have."
Discussions of bowel health in popular culture also help open up
discourse, he said.
Oprah Winfrey recently devoted an episode of her talk show to
discussing gastrointestinal health with Dr. Mehmet Oz.
“The Fiber 35 Diet” — a book advocating a high-fiber diet, along
with cleansing and detox, for weight loss — hit the New York Times
bestsellers list, and a new book called “The ’Regular’ Gourmet
Everyday: Sumptuous Recipes for the GastroAmerican Cancer
Societyintestinally Challenged,” by author Danielle Svetcov, will
soon be released.
And last year, the hospital sitcom Scrubs devoted a song to bowel
movements — “Everything Comes Down to Poo” — in a musical episode.
READ THE BOWL
So what can your bowel movements reveal?
A floater is usually the result of too many burritos, but if it
comes accompanied by a particularly bad smell and the presence of
grease — an indication of fat in the stool — that can be a sign of
underlying GI problems, usually related to the liver or pancreas and
the body’s ability to digest fat.
Thin stools — The Snake — are probably just a sign that you’re
straining too hard and causing your sphincter to contract, but when
seen progressively over a longer period of time they might indicate
a colonic blockage due to rectal cancer.
Variations in stool colour are expected, but persistent changes can
be an indication of a health problem: green stools can indicate a
gastrointestinal infection, while white or grey stools may be the
result of a bile duct blockage or liver disease.
Most serious of all is what Sheth and Richman term Rambo Poo. The
appearance of blood in the stool is often an indication of
gastrointestinal bleeding, Sheth said. Blood can be the result of
something relatively minor, like hemorrhoids or diverticulosis. But
it could also be the result of colon cancer, and the book advises
anyone who sees blood in their stool to visit a doctor. Sheth
pointed out that many people may not realize that black stool can
indicate blood as well. GI bleeding can develop gradually over time,
he said, so paying attention to bowel movements can help to catch it
— and its cause — early on. (To that end, he and Richman are
releasing a second book, “The Poo Log,” this spring.)
But the book is not meant to be alarmist. There is no perfect bowel
movement, Sheth said, and regularity can be defined as emptying your
bowels anywhere from three times a day to three times a week. The
average weight of a day’s worth of stool is 450 grams, which is
about a pound, but day-to-day variations are normal based on factors
like diet and stress levels.
Serious issues aside, good bowel movements can affect how you feel
each day, Sheth said.
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