Why Do We Poop & What Are Normal Bowel Habits?

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Gary Griglione, MD, will tell you pooping is personal. While we all have to go, everyone’s body is different. Learn more about your bowel movements and why it’s so important to pay attention to your poop.

Why Do We Poop?

It’s an age-old question, why do we poop? Dr. Griglione explains the science behind this necessary ritual.

“Obviously, we poop to eliminate fecal material, which consists of undigested food, the lining of our GI, or gastrointestinal tract (which sheds its surface layer every few days), plus bacteria,” Dr. Griglione says. “Basically, the nutrients and micro-nutrients that keep us alive, like protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, etc., are absorbed into our bloodstream from the foods we eat, leaving behind the insoluble and non-digested ‘stuff’ that doesn't get absorbed. That ‘stuff’ has to be eliminated.”

In addition to being a natural process, pooping and your bowel movement habits reflect overall health. But, Dr. Griglione says it’s important to remember everyone’s “normal” bowel habit patterns are different.

“There is no standard when it comes to pooping. Everyone’s system is different, so if you’re concerned about how many times a day you should poop, it really depends on your body. Some people poop three to four times per day, others poop once a week – and they're fine, not sick. Everything from poop consistency (soft or hard) and poop size, to how long it takes the body to pass poop is based on the individual. What’s important is to track any changes in bowel habits.”

Dr. Griglione says it’s time to talk to your UnityPoint Health provider, if you notice the following changes in bowel habits:

  • Uncomfortable bloating
  • Painful poop (pain while going)
  • Extremely hard stools, difficult to push out, or thin stools
  • Uncontrolled pooping, accidents in pants or bed
  • Feeling the colon never completely empties
  • Pooping, or lack thereof, disrupts day-to-day work and functionality
  • Blood in stool

Passing Gas

It’d be hard to talk about pooping without mentioning passing gas, or as some people call it, farting. Like pooping, gas is related to bacteria in our digestive system, as well as the foods we eat.

“Gas is a by-product of bacteria in our colon digesting leftovers of the foods we ate. Bacteria produce hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and methane. Yes, it's the methane that explodes, if you fart near a flame. There is no healthy or unhealthy amount of gas. How much gas you pass and the odor largely depends upon what you have eaten,” Dr. Griglione says.

Foods that Make You Poop

It’s no surprise that what we eat determines how we poop, more or less. Eating foods high in fiber is well known for helping ease time spent on the toilet and producing voluminous, bulky stools, sometimes gas, too.

“Fiber, both soluble and insoluble, holds moisture, keeping stools soft and bulky, which allows the colon to gently squeeze your poop through, as opposed to squeezing and straining to pass small hard bowel movements, possibly with cramping and discomfort,” Dr. Griglione says.

Dr. Griglione says in addition to what you eat, how much you drink can also play a role. 

Staying well-hydrated is important. You know you are well-hydrated if you’re urinating every three to five hours, and the urine is barely yellow. Generally, poop stays softer then, too,” Dr. Griglione says.

If you’re looking for constipation relief or to ease discomfort, Dr. Griglione suggests these natural laxative options:

  • Apple juice
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Prune juice
  • Coconut milk/juice
  • Aloe vera juice
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Fiber supplements

When to Worry About Bowel Changes

Unfortunately, by the time there are symptoms of colon cancer, such as constipation or radical changes in normal bowel movement habits, a sizeable tumor may already be present. Dr. Griglione stresses the importance of talking to your provider about your family history of colon cancer and following his/her recommendations for preventive screenings, like colonoscopies.

“Don’t wait to report pooping problems, like bleeding, bloating, pain, thin pencil-like stools and weight loss. Colon cancer is treatable in its early stages but may be incurable if not caught early enough. Pay attention to your stools, and report concerns about them. It may be nothing serious, but the sooner you have the conversation with your provider, the better.