4 things you should know about your poop
Sure, you may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about it, but knowing certain things about your poop can actually help keep you healthy and perhaps even save your life.
1. Am I getting enough fiber? Most Americans simply don’t get enough fiber, says Dr. Estrada. Fiber can be found in the form of raw leafy greens or whole grains. He recommends “30 grams of fiber a day, which is equal to ten apples a day, twelve bananas or seven heads of Iceberg lettuce, but it’s very difficult to get that from diet alone so we can fortify the diet with fiber.”
Dr. Estrada explains that an over-the-counter fiber supplement is an easy and good, safe way to get fiber in your diet. It also decreases cholesterol and makes you more regular, he says.
2. What does “regular” really mean? What is regular really depends, says Dr. Estrada, but generally one bowel movement every other day is normal. “Men tend to have faster colonic transit time so most men have a bowel movement once a day, but it’s normal for women to have one once every other day.”
He adds that everyone is different, “so if you haven’t had one, it’s not wrong. For women, the timing is related to hormone levels and circulating estrogen in the body.”
3. Is that color normal? Dr. Estrada says color is dependent on what you eat so the color is variable. But he does caution that “It’s almost never normal to have bright red or black stools. Those could be signs of bleeding and often require a visit to a doctor’s office, who might recommend endoscopy (a procedure where a tube with a camera on the end is used to look inside the body). All colors in between are pretty much regular.”
4. Should I be taking a probiotic? A probiotic is a so-called friendly bacteria that protects against harmful bacteria that can cause disease. Most patients that eat a well-rounded diet do not need a probiotic, says Dr. Estrada.
Patients who might need a probiotic are those who:
- Have chronic diarrhea
- Have taken an antibiotic and noticed a change in bowel movements after having taken it
- Have issues with constipation
- Have an increased amount of fiber in diet
Dr. Estrada says that many types of probiotics exist on the market and some of the simplest and less expensive ones can be found in yogurt.
He adds that a colonoscopy is your best bet to diagnose any colon-related issues and prevents any development of cancer. “Many people have a misconception that colonoscopies will be unpleasant, but it’s one of the few tests that actually prevents cancer, and with colon cancer being the second most common cancer, this is a potentially curable thing, so engaging a doctor can be a lifesaving thing.”
Dr. Estrada recommends having colonoscopies done starting at age 50 if you’re asymptomatic or 10 years before if someone in your family has been diagnosed with cancer, whatever comes first. For those with symptoms, he says it’s best to consult your doctor.
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care sites, also including freelance or intern writers.