Whether you're someone who looks forward to your regular bowel movements or you prefer to put them out of your mind as soon as the deed is done, you may be surprised to learn just how much your poop can tell you about your gut health.
Your bathroom habits can be a window into much more than what you ate that day, and there are some major warning signs you shouldn't ignore.
In fact, the gut microbiome — the community of bacteria and other helpful organisms in your gut — can affect "every aspect of your health," Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, gastroenterologist and author of “Gut Renovation Unlock the Age-Defying Power of the Microbiome to Remodel Your Health From the Inside Out,” told the TODAY Show in a March 30, 2023 segment.
That includes "your mood, your development of many chronic diseases, how you gain weight, rheumatoid arthritis (and) all these different inflammatory conditions."
If your gut microbiome is out of balance, you might notice symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain and changes in your bowel movements, she said. But you might also notice differences in your mood, concentration and immunity.
So, what happens in the bathroom doesn't always stay in the bathroom. But how do you know if everything is normal?
Are your bathroom habits normal?
Rajapaksa shared some helpful tips to know what to look for — and some signs that you might want to make your number twos a number one priority.
1. Take a look at your schedule.
You should be pooping on a somewhat regular schedule, but that might look different from person to person.
"I don't want people to get too hung up on (the idea that) I have to go like clockwork every single day," Rajapaksa said. Having a bowel movement "every one to three days is fine, especially if that's your regular pattern."
2. Notice how you feel when you poop.
Think about what the experience is like. "You want to make sure it's not a struggle — a battle in the bathroom," she said. "Things should just come out smoothly and evenly. You shouldn't be sitting in there for half an hour."
3. Pay attention the consistency of your stool.
When it comes to consistency, your stool should not be "very hard, rock-like or painful," Rajapaksa explained. But it shouldn't be too loose either. Instead, it should be soft yet formed, she says.
4. Check the color of your poop regularly.
It's important to pay attention to the color of your bowel movements, Rajapaksa said. 'Make sure it's not anything red or yellow or pale or green."
What you eat can change the color of your stools, experts told TODAY.com previously. Eating lots of leafy greens, beets or foods with artificial coloring can cause some irregularities, but that isn't necessarily a reason to worry.
Sometimes, however, green poop can be a sign of food poisoning, the experts said. Seeing red in the stool can be an indication of bleeding lower in the gastrointestinal tract and black stool suggests bleeding higher up your system.
Pay attention to 'what's going on down there'
More than anything, though, Rajapaksa recommended people simply pay more attention to their bathroom habits so they know when something changes. “Please look at what’s going on down there,” she urged.
If you notice your normal patterns shift, like you're suddenly having smaller poops or abdominal pain with bowel movements, that could be a sign of colon cancer. Other signs of colorectal cancer include anal bleeding, unexplained weight loss and feeling like you need to poop without being able to do so.
Symptoms like these are always a good reason to check in with your doctor. Likewise, if you're experiencing persistent stomach aches, vomiting or diarrhea, Rajapaksa said, "you want to get medical attention. And any sign of blood is a sign you want to see a doctor ASAP."