The science of poop!

in #science5 years ago

I knew someone that used to say that everyone is a disaster tourist. While this is usually a term for someone that likes to travel to sites struck by natural disasters or traumatic events of other sources, he referred to our restroom behavior. Specifically, he said it’s because everyone like to inspect the damage after doing a number 2.


Black box

When you wish you to learn more about the state of your digestive system you don’t have a lot of easy options that don’t involve going to the doctor. All you know is what you put inside your body (food), and what comes out (poop). Whatever happens in between can, obviously, not be observed so easily. In that sense, our body is much like a black box. We only know input and output, and the path between them is a lot of guesswork. But based on what we put in and what comes out we might already be able to say a lot about the health of our body. From looking at our poop we can judge whether we are putting in the right food, or whether we are treating our body in a bad way. But, what can we learn from our poop?

Bristol stool chart

In 1997 the Bristol Royal Infirmary developed the Bristol Stool Chart. It is used as a diagnostic tool to classify human feces. An example is given by Koh et al. 2009 where they used the Bristol Stool Chart to diagnose childhood fecal retention.

The Bristol Stool Chart has 7 types of stool. The first two are a sign of constipation, and 5-7 are a sign of diarrhea. Ideally you should have a stool like type 3 or 4.

  1. Separate hard lumps, almost like nuts: This type of poop means you constipated. Your body requires more fiber and fluids. It is advised to drink more water and also to eat some fruit and vegetables. These contain a lot of fiber.
    Type 1.JPG
  2. Sausage-shaped, but made of lumps: This type is already an improvement from the first type, but you should still drink more water and eat more fiber. You’re almost there though.
    Type 2.JPG
  3. Sausage-shaped, with cracks on the surface: Your poop has the right consistency, which means the amount of fiber you are eating is sufficient. You could have a little bit more water but you’re doing fine.
    Type 3.JPG
  4. Sausage-shaped and smooth: Perfect! Your stool has the right consistency and level of hydration.
    Type 4.JPG
  5. Soft blobs with clear-cut edges: This type of stool should pass easily. You definitely drink enough water, expect you could do with a little bit more fiber.
    Type 5.JPG
  6. Fluffy pieces with ragged edges: This stool looks kind of mushy. You don’t have diarrhea yet but it’s getting to close to this stage.
    Type 6.JPG
  7. Watery, liquid poop: This is diarrhea. Diarrhea is an excess of liquids in your stool. It is a response of the body to flush out the intestine to remove some infection. Since you are losing a lot of liquids this way it is important you keep drinking enough water. If you feel light-headed, thirsty, or tired, then you probably should drink more water.
    Type 7.JPG


There is more to your stool than just texture. The color of your poop also says something about your digestive health. Normally, your poop should be brown. It’s the natural color of your gut micro-organisms and non-digestible food and the digestive juices your body adds to the mix. Especially your bile that’s coming from the liver influences the color.

  • Green stool is common and can indicate a couple of things, although usually not so serious. It can indicate that your stool is moving too quickly through your body. The green bile pigments don’t spend enough time with the chemicals and bacteria in your body to break down into brown pigments. Usually, the cause of green stool is simply the consumption of a lot of leafy greens or green food coloring.

  • Yellow stool is a bit more serious as it often goes along with quite the bad smell. Yellow stool contains more fat, therefore, it is usually quite greasy. Your poop shouldn’t be this way, as too much fat is making its way into the toilet pot. This type of stool indicates a poor absorption of fat. An example of such a disorder is celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, triggered by gluten. The bodies immune system responds to gluten by attacking the intestinal wall, damaging it, and therefore makes the intestine bad at absorbing nutrients. Subsequently, you find these in your stool.

  • Red stool is a bad sign. Because what else is red? That’s right, blood. Blood in your stool means internal bleeding, often as a result of cancer or an ulcer. If you have red stool, and you didn’t eat a large amount of beetroot or drank bright red fruit punch the day before, you should see a doctor.

  • Black stool is also often a result of internal bleeding. Blood mixes with digestive fluids and can take on a darker color, becoming more tar-like. Although, black-colored food is sometimes also caused by substances in your food, e.g. iron or bismuth subsalicylate. Eating many blueberries or black licorice can also make your poop black.

  • White stool, or white-like stool, if often caused by a lack of bile. This can happen when you have a bile duct obstruction. There could also be something wrong with the production of bile in the liver. When you have white stool, it is also advised to see a doctor.


In general, it is good for your digestion that you drink enough water, eat enough fiber, and make sure you exercise regularly. These three things are important factors in keeping your bowel movements smooth and regular so that you can have a pleasant time on the toilet. I hope I have convinced you to inspect your work after doing a number two to see if you are eating right and drinking enough.

So, which type of stool did you have today?

It’s good to be back after a two-week break. I always plan to post at least one article every week. But my day job and other activities made it so that I couldn’t find time to write good content. I hope you enjoy this post!

Lewis & Heaton 1997
Continence Foundation of Australia
WebMD - Dehydration
Healthline - Black stools
Mayo Clinic - White stools

Continence Foundation of Australia

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