Just after crossing the 18-mile mark, the eventual sixth-place finisher in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials stopped to poop. It was a hot Atlanta day, and Martin Hehir — an anesthesiologist and professional distance runner for Reebok — knew he couldn't hold it in any longer.
Poop constantly reminds us of its inevitability. Whether it be weird stool patterns during travel or your morning latte sending you shuffling to the restroom, we can't avoid thinking about poop.
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And that's OK — you can actually learn a lot about your health from your bowel movements.
In that spirit, here are 17 interesting and fun facts about poop you should get familiar with:
1. Healthy Pooping Frequency Varies
If you're concerned whether or not you're pooping too little or running to the bathroom far too often, know that there is no set answer to how often you should poop in a given day or week.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, anywhere between three poops a day to three poops a week can be considered healthy, as long as your stool isn't too hard or too soft.
What matters more is consistency. In other words, if you normally poop every other day, then that's what's normal and healthy for your body.
2. Fewer Than Three Poops Per Week Means You're Constipated
The National Institutes of Health defines constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements in a week.
If you do find yourself constipated, it may be worthwhile to take a look at your diet. Some of the more common causes of constipation include eating too many high-sodium, low-fiber or processed foods.
Likewise, some of the best natural remedies for constipation include eating fiber-rich foods (think: fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and drinking more water.
3. There Are 7 Types of Poop
The shape of your poop is a big clue about your overall gut health. That's where the Bristol Stool Chart can come in handy.
The chart is a kind of poop scale designed and used by doctors to classify stool shapes into seven different "types" or categories:
- Type 1: Separate hard lumps that are hard to pass
- Type 2: Sausage-shaped but lumpy
- Type 3: Like a sausage but with cracks on the surface
- Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft
- Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges that are easy to pass
- Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges (mushy)
- Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces, entirely liquid
Ideally, your poop should be Type 3 or 4 on the scale. If you're closer to a 1 or 2, you're likely constipated, while shapes 5 through 7 mean you're closer to diarrhea.
4. Poop Is Mostly Water
Poop is made up of about 75 percent water, while dead bacteria, indigestible food, cholesterol and other inorganic substances comprise the remaining 25 percent, according to a May 2015 study in Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology.
While the ratio may stay the same, the size of your bowel movement can vary. Big, toilet-clogging poops, for example, are typically caused by a high-fiber diet or the fact that you haven't gone in a while.
5. Poop Weight Varies Around the World
It might be over a pound, and it might not even be a quarter of that. Poop weight varies, and there seems to be at least some connection to where you live.
A December 1992 study in Gastroenterology looked at 20 groups of people across 12 different countries and found that their stools weighed anywhere from about a sixth of a pound to just slightly over 1 pound. (Note: We know this study is pretty ancient, but — perhaps not surprisingly — there's a lack of recent research on this particular topic.)
So, what accounts for this difference? The researchers noted that people who ate more dietary fiber (vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds) tended to have heavier poops, and these people were also at a lower risk for colon cancer.
6. The Average Bowel Movement Takes About 12 Seconds
Yes, someone has actually studied this.
In an April 2017 paper titled "Hydrodynamics of Defecation" in the journal Soft Matter (get it?), researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Alabama at Birmingham studied a variety of mammals — from cats to elephants — and concluded that the average time it takes to poop is about 12 seconds.
The researchers noted how surprised they were at the consistency here. After all, larger mammals like rhinoceros have longer intestines and rectums than smaller mammals like dogs, so you'd think their BMs would, you know, take longer.
But the authors concluded that "feces slide along the large intestine by a layer of mucus, similar to a sled sliding down a chute. Larger animals have not only more feces but also thicker mucus layers, which facilitate their ejection."
7. Poop Comes in Many Shades
According to the Mayo Clinic, all shades of brown and even some green are considered "normal" shades of color for poop.
Lightly colored, yellow, black and bright red poops can be attributed to certain foods, but they may also indicate GI issues that warrant a call to your doctor.
8. Most People Are Primed to Poop in the Morning
If the first thing you do when you wake up is take a morning poop, there's a reason for that.
Your colon has its own internal clock, which stimulates the release of hormones that trigger contractions in your gut. In other words, it tells your gut to get moving and push out the poop in your colon and rectum.
This all happens at the start of the day, about 30 minutes after waking up.
9. Healthy Poop Should Sink
In general, you want your poop to stay far away from the top of the toilet bowl. Yep, healthy poop should sink straight to the bottom.
According to Penn Medicine, some of the causes of floating poop include the poor absorption of nutrients, too much gas, a gastrointestinal infection and pancreatitis. If floating poop becomes persistent, you should call your doctor.
10. It Takes 2 to 5 Days for Food to Turn Into Poop
Sometimes you might notice foods like corn showing up in your stool extremely soon after a meal. But foods that are high in cellulose (and therefore difficult for your gut to break down) are exceptions and not the rule.
Normally it takes six to eight hours for food to be absorbed into the small intestine from the stomach. Then it takes about 36 hours for the food to move through the colon, according to the Mayo Clinic. The whole process takes somewhere between two and five days total, depending on the person.
11. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Can Change Your Poop
Up to 45 million people in the U.S. alone have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders.
Differing size, shape and consistency is one of the many common symptoms of IBS, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you notice changes in your stool that persist for longer than two weeks, however, that may be a sign to call your doctor.
12. Squatting Can Help Make Pooping Easier
A March 2019 study in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology found that different posture modification devices positively affected poop duration, patterns and reduction of constipation feelings in more than 50 people.
"Posture modification device" is a fancy word for a toilet stool or Squatty Potty, which elevates your knees while you're sitting in order to put you in more of a squatting position on the toilet. This straightens out your rectum, making it easier to go.
They can't fix every poop problem, but if you're straining to go, it might be worth adding a bathroom stool to your potty room decor.
13. Fecal Transplants May Be Able to Treat Certain Infections
A fecal transplant is the process of transplanting poop from a healthy person into someone else who typically has an infection or poor gut health, with the goal of increasing the amount of healthy bacteria in their intestines, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
In a November of 2019 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers split people with a bloodstream infection into two treatment groups. One group was treated with traditional antibiotics, while a separate group received fecal transplants. The researchers found that the latter group was less likely to develop a worsened version of the infection.
14. You Can Donate Your Poop
Because of poop's potential as a treatment for certain ailments, a program has been developed in the Boston area called Poop with Purpose, where you can apply to become a poop donor. The program is run by Finch Therapeutics Group, a biotech company that aims to research health conditions related to the disruption of the microbiome.
Candidates to donate poop shouldn't be folks with pre-existing gastrointestinal disorders or those who are immunocompromised, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
15. Your Sex May Make You More Prone to Constipation
According to the Cleveland Clinic, people assigned female at birth are more likely to experience constipation, especially during pregnancy and/or after childbirth.
It all comes down to hormones, apparently. Plus, during pregnancy, the womb may compress the intestines and slow down the time it takes to poop.
16. It's Bad to Hold In Your Poop
It's not a huge deal if you do it once in a while, but holding in your poop too often can lead to issues like hemorrhoids.
Why? According to the Mayo Clinic, hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the anus and rectum caused by increased pressure, which can build up when you decide to forego a poop for long enough.
Besides heeding nature when it calls, the best natural remedies for hemorrhoids include filling up on fiber-rich foods (which soften your poop) and soaking in a warm tub.
17. Stinky Poop Can Be a Sign of Disease
Yes, poop is supposed to smell bad. However, unusually bad-smelling bowel movements — malodorous stools, as they're referred to — can be a sign of a larger problem.
Crohn's disease, celiac disease and pancreatitis are some of the underlying causes of an unusually smelly BM, according to the National Library of Medicine. Even if it's just that your poop smells different from your normal toilet breaks, that's reason enough to call your doctor.
- Cleveland Clinic: "Frequent Bowel Movements"
- National Institutes of Health: "Constipation"
- Mayo Clinic: "Stool color: When to worry"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Irritable Bowel Syndrome"
- Mayo Clinic: "Narrow stools: Should I be concerned?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hemorrhoids"
- National Library of Medicine: "Stools - foul smelling"
- Penn Medicine: "The Scoop on Poop: What Does Your Poop Say About Your Health?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Digestion: How long does it take?"
- Annals of Internal Medicine: "Incidence of Bloodstream Infections, Length of Hospital Stay, and Survival in Patients With Recurrent Clostridioides difficile Infection Treated With Fecal Microbiota Transplantation or Antibiotics"
- Finch Therapeutics Group: "Poop with Purpose"
- Bladder and Bowel: "Bristol Stool Chart"
- Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology: "The Characterization of Feces and Urine: A Review of the Literature to Inform Advanced Treatment Technology"
- Gastroenterology: "Fecal weight, colon cancer risk, and dietary intake of nonstarch polysaccharides (dietary fiber)"
- Soft Matter: "Hydrodynamics of Defecation"
- Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology: "Implementation of a Defecation Posture Modification Device: Impact on Bowel Movement Patterns in Healthy Subjects"
- Microbiome: "Community characteristics of the gut microbiomes of competitive cyclists"
- Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies: "Role of yoga therapy in improving digestive health and quality of sleep in an elderly population: A randomized controlled trial"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.