Some of the signs of a successful morning routine may be a nutritious and appetizing breakfast, a strong cup of coffee, perhaps your favorite podcast and a trip to the bathroom.
We all have our own personal bathroom rituals but for each and every person, consistency is the sign of a healthy gut. And while deviations from the norm may happen occasionally, abrupt changes from your usual frequency may indicate some issues with your gut health.
What's a Normal Bowel Movement?
While there's no one-size-fits-all where the bathroom is concerned, there are a few general rules of thumb that may indicate whether your bowel movement is healthy or not. Changes in your usual routine are bound to happen every now and again but shifts in your usual bowel movement should last up to a week (and not longer), according to Niket Sonpal, MD, internist and gastroenterologist.
"Most people have regular bowel patterns and can expect to poop about the same number of times a day and around a similar time," he says. "It's also normal to experience temporary changes in bowel habits every once in a while."
Frequency will vary from person to person but someone can expect to go anywhere between three times a day to three times a week, Dr. Sonpal says. Again, it's the consistency that matters. If you're using the bathroom the same amount of times week after week, then that's what's healthy for you.
Speaking of consistency, the consistency of your stool also plays a role in your overall health.
"When it comes to what's considered healthy, as long as bowel movement is consistent, stools are soft, brown and comfortable to pass, then there is usually nothing of concern," Dr. Sonpal says.
How Often You Go May Reveal Your Gut Bacteria Diversity
Your poop frequency may shed some light on the diversity of your bacteria in your gut.
And that's important, because the trillions (yes, trillions) of microorganisms within your gut microbiome help you digest food, fight off pathogens, synthesize vitamins and regulate the immune system, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
These microorganisms are doing important work. Ideally, you'll want a wide variety of bacteria species present within your microbiome, since different ones serve different purposes. In fact, having a diversity of species is a characteristic of healthy individuals, per a March 2016 article in Molecular Metabolism.
That's where how often you go may be important. People who poop less frequently (about twice a week or less) had the most diverse bacteria present in their stool samples, per a small July 2019 study published in Intestinal Research that analyzed the gut bacteria diversity of 60 people. In contrast, those who pooped at least two to three times per day (or more) had the least diverse gut bacteria present.
Although we definitely need more research on the connection between gut bacteria diversity and poop frequency, it's possible that more frequent defecation may indicate a less diverse microbiome.
Pooping Too Often May Mean a Gut Bug
There's no normal number of bowel movements per day, but anything more than your usual amount can signify some gut problems. Unless you've amped up your activity levels, changed your eating habits or altered your water intake, frequent trips to the bathroom may mean you have an intestinal bug, according to Dr. Sonpal.
Usually, more frequent bowel movements are caused by a change in lifestyle, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But in some cases, especially if your stool consistency is looser than usual, it's possible that you may have a bacterial infection. Generally, intestinal bugs should clear within a day or two, however, if your bowel movements don't go back to normal, you may want to consult a doctor.
Sometimes, frequent bowel movement may also indicate an underlying condition, according to the Mayo Clinic. Persistent trips to the bathroom may be a sign of celiac disease, an immune reaction that some people experience after eating gluten.
Or, frequent and inconsistent bowel movement may be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic disorder that affects your large intestine, says Dr. Sonpal. Generally, signs of IBS include bloating, diarrhea and frequent bowel movement, among others.
"Please consult your doctor if the change in bowel habits persists longer than a week," Dr. Sonpal recommends.
Infrequent Pooping May Indicate an Imbalanced Gut
Despite the Intestinal Research findings, infrequent pooping shouldn't be a goal.
On so many levels, poop frequency is personal. The amount of times you use the bathroom can be totally different from the poop frequency of your siblings or friends, for instance. Yet, you may both still be perfectly healthy.
As a general rule of thumb, going about three days without using the bathroom qualifies as constipation, Dr. Sonpal says. Usually, the occasional dry spell in the bathroom is a sign of some lifestyle shifts. You may just be dehydrated or low on fiber in your diet. (Both fiber and water are essential to help keep things moving through your digestive system.)
But chronic constipation may be a sign that your gut bacteria is imbalanced or altered, according to a July 2016 review in SpringerPlus. Your intestinal bacteria helps your body break down and digest the food you eat. So, when you're having trouble using the restroom, it may be a sign that your bacteria are a little out of the ordinary.
In some severe cases, not pooping for long periods of time may point to inflammation of the gut or an infection in the colon, also known as diverticulitis, which results from too much pressure, according to Dr. Sonpal.
"Although not life-threatening, diverticulitis can cause further damage and complications if not treated by a physician," Dr. Sonpal says. "If it's mild, a doctor will usually suggest rest and a liquid diet to help you go to the bathroom."
So, if your constipation is chronic and isn't alleviated with increased fiber or water, it's probably best to consult a doctor. Usually, a medical professional can recommend a treatment route that will help restore your gut health.
Is This an Emergency?
- Intestinal Research: "Is Stool Frequency Associated With the Richness and Community Composition of Gut Microbiota?"
- SpringerPlus: "Intestinal Microbiota and c=Chronic Constipation"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Frequent Bowel Movements"
- Mayo Clinic: "Frequent Bowel Movements"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "The Microbiome"
- Molecular Metabolism: "A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity"