What your poop says about your health

What your poop says about your health

What is poop?

Formally referred to as faeces, excrement and stools, what is colloquially termed ‘poop’ is the by-product of digestion in the form of solid bodily waste. When we poop it is known as defecation or a bowel movement. The process of eliminating waste from the body begins in the colon, also known as the large intestine, where peristaltic waves (muscular contractions) in the wall of the colon move the faeces through the bowel, into the descending and sigmoid colons and finally into the rectum.

The need to defecate is stimulated when waste enters the rectum and expanding its walls and stimulating the nerve receptors contained therein. The desperate urge to poop usually only lasts one or two minutes and disappears if it not relieved as the pelvic floor (levator ani muscles) and external anal sphincter contract.

The water material present in the rectum when the urge to defecated is deferred is returned to the colon. Here additional water is absorbed from the faeces. Hardened faeces and constipation can thus occur if defecation is continuously ignored for extended periods.

Once the desire is felt and defecation takes place, the faeces move from the rectum and out of the anus, into the toilet bowl.

 Healthy faeces are made up of:

  • Around 75% water
  • Living bacteria
  • The dead bacteria that digested the food
  • Protein
  • Cellular linings
  • Fibre
  • Salts
  • Cholesterol and other fats
  • Waste material from food
  • Mucus released from the intestines
  • Substances released from the liver

While the appearance of your poop will change depending on your diet and health, here are a few guidelines to "healthy normal poop":


When using the bathroom for a number two, the odour should be natural (not rancid or repulsive), this is not to say that it will not be unpleasant.

The odour may be affected by certain foods that have been consumed, but is also due to the presence of bacteria found in faeces which produce chemicals such as skatole, mercaptans, indole and hydrogen sulphide, resulting in foul-smelling gases.

In some cases, exceptionally foul-smelling stools may be indicative of an underlying health issue and as such, should never be ignored.


Healthy faecal matter has a solid, smooth shape and has a somewhat soft (but not mushy) appearance. Ideally it should be between 2.5 to 5 cm (1 to 2 ins.) wide and have a long, tubular shape. This indicates that you are getting enough fibre and drinking enough water.


Light to medium brown is considered a healthy colour for faeces. The colour is produced by when bilirubin, a reddish- yellow pigment made during the breakdown of haemoglobin (red blood cells) in the body, is mixed with yellow bile in the liver.

 Toilet with yellow toilet paper

How often should you poop?

Normal bowel habits differ from one person to the next. Anything from three bowel movements a day, to three per week is generally considered normal. If you do not poop at least 3 times a week, medically you would be considered to be suffering from constipation and as such, you should up your water and fibre intake and speak to your doctor if this does not resolve the issue.1.



1. South African gastroenterology Society. 2017. Constipation. Available at :    https://www.sages.co.za/patients/constipation   Accessed [23 November2017]

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