Maybe you regard the whole idea of pooping as icky and weird and you’d rather not think about it. Or maybe the topic fascinates you.
The facts of the matter are: We all poop, our food is the fuel that keeps our bodies going and the composition of that fuel is very important to the state of our health, and checking out the characteristics of our poop provides valuable information about our health.
This post was spurred by some of the more unusual information about poop I’ve come across on the journey this website and blog about the gut microbiome has taken me on.
SOME INFORMATION ABOUT OUR POOP (EverydayHealth, 2014)
COMPOSITION OF OUR BMs:
About 75% water. A smelly combination of fiber, living and dead bacteria, other cells and mucus. Soluble fibers from foods like beans and nuts that have been broken down during digestion to form a gel-like substance. Foods packed with harder-to-digest insoluble fiber (such as carrots, corn and oat bran) may emerge looking pretty much unchanged.
This depends on what we’ve eaten. For instance, beets produce bright red stool, leafy veggies can cause green stool and some medications can turn out white or clay-colored stool. Jet-black poop could be from having taken iron supplements or having eaten black licorice – or it could be a sign of bleeding in the upper GI tract.
Perfect human poop is log- and slightly S-shaped, not broken up into pieces. These are the ones that easily slide out of the body when we go. That ideal shape is achieved by eating enough fiber to bulk up the stool and act as glue to keep it together on its way out of the body. Pencil-thin poops might be a sign of rectal cancer narrowing the opening the stool has to pass through.
Particularly pungent smelling BMs are often a sign of infection. For example, anyone who’s suffered through a Clostridium difficule infection can tell you if it has returned by the particular smell of their poop. Terrible-smelling poop likely indicates the presence of the parasite giardia in the stomach, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s or celiac disease.
Some doctors say we should have a good poop every day. Others say the important thing is that you poop at a rate that’s consistent for you. A significant decrease in output could be the result of eating less fiber or working out less often. A decrease or increase in output could come from a GI disorder, an overactive or underactive thyroid, or colon cancer. Culture can also play a role: Indians in South Asia produce three times as much poop as the British due to the higher fiber content in the typical Indian diet. The average American man produces about one-third of a pound of poop daily – the equivalent of 5 tons in a lifetime.
Food typically takes anywhere from 24-72 hours to make the trip from mouth to anus. Diarrhea is your stool on speed – the result of food passing much too quickly through the large intestine, where most of its water content gets absorbed. Loose stool can be the result of stomach viruses, food-borne illness, food allergies or intolerances, or other digestive problems.
Constipation occurs when the stool takes too long passing through so its water content becomes much reduced.
POOP SHOULD SINK
Floaters are often an indication of high fat content in the stool, possibly from malabsorption of the fat and nutrients from your food. They’re often associated with celiac disease or chronic pancreatitis. Vegetarians and vegans often have floaters too.
Having some gas is normal. It’s produced as bacteria in the colon break down the food passing through. The body absorbs some of this gas into the bloodstream. From there it gets breathed out through the lungs. The rest of it gets expelled from the other end. The American College of Gastroenterology says it’s normal to pass gas 10-18 tunes a day.
A fecal transplant involves placing stool from a person with a relatively healthy gut microbiota in the colon of a person infected with a Clostridium difficile infection or someone with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to stop debilitating diarrhea. The trillions of good (probiotic) bacteria in the healthy person’s stool can help re-colonize the ailing digestive tract of the sick person.
READING ON THE TOILET
Studies indicate a positive correlation between time spent on the toilet and developing hemorrhoids (swollen blood vessels inside and around the anus). The longer you’re sitting there trying to poop out hard stool, the more pressure you’re exerting on those vessels. Hard stool is generally a result of a diet containing too little fiber. Americans consume an average of 10-15 grams of fiber a day. We should be consuming 30-35 grams to keep us regular, prevent constipation and hemorrhoids.
POOP ON CELL PHONES
Wash your hands well with soap and water after using the toilet or you may be spreading a bit of poop around via your phone. British researchers collected samples from 400 cell phones in 12 cities and found 1 in 6 of them were contaminated with fecal matter.
Still want to keep your cell phone next to your plate while you’re eating?
OTHER INTERESTING POOP INFORMATION
The Parrot Fish eats coral and poops out sand, helping create many of the small islands and beaches in and around the Caribbean.
Scientists were monitoring whale stress levels by analyzing their poop and found that their stress was greatly reduced immediately following the 9/11 attacks. It turns out this was due to all air traffic being halted, which calmed the oceans of external low frequency noise. Whales communicate with each other at these low frequencies.
3 billion people around the world still relay on charcoal and dung to cook their food.
In the early years of the 20th century, the voluminous shit produced by horses used for drawing carriages and delivery vans was causing so much pollution in city streets that automobiles were regarded as a healthier alternative.
Wombats, those adorable Australian marsupials, have cube-shaped poop which they use to remember where they live.
Japanese toilet manufacturer giant, Toto, has produced a motorbike that runs exclusively on human poop. The bike also writes messages in the air as it whizzes along – and the toilet storage tank can talk.
Toto hopes the bike will help raise awareness about human poop in the environment and lead to a 50% reduction of CO2 emissions in bathrooms by 2017.
The creative Japanese again – there’s an exhibit at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo called TOILET!? HUMAN WASTE & THE EARTH’S FUTURE. It features a giant toilet bowl slide and provides children with poop-shaped hats. Aside from being fun, its goal is serious – to teach visitors about human waste and toilets and especially to draw attention to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to sanitation or toilets.
You can read about the museum here. The article also has some wonderful videos.
3-TOED SLOTHS AND THEIR ODD POOPING HABITS (Soniak, 2014) (Thompson, 2014)
3-toed sloths spend most of their time hanging around chilling out in trees amid the tropical rainforest canopy in Central and South America. They are very slow moving, live on the green leaves growing on their home tree, have very slow metabolisms … and poop only once a week. That’s unusual – and so is this: They slowly make their way down their tree to the rainforest floor to take that weekly dump.
Scientists have pondered why the animals would leave the safety of the treetops and risk getting eaten by predators just to take a shit.
A Mammalian Ecologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison named Jonathan Pauli says, “It’s like if you had to go to the bathroom, and you were programmed to go run a 5K on an interstate before you could go to the bathroom. It’s really risky, and it’s really energetically costly.”
That weekly trek also uses up a hefty proportion of their daily energy production.
So why do they do it?
Scientists have several theories about this:
Pooping near a sloth’s home tree fertilizes the tree’s roots.
Its poop notifies other sloths of its location so they can mate.
The most complicated theory has to do with the variety of organisms that make their home in sloths’ thick fur: algae, fungi, arachnids and insects – including moths from the genus Cryptoses, AKA sloth moths. These moths depend on their host sloth’s weekly poop trek. Females lay their egg’s in the sloth’s dung. The emerging larva then feed on the dung until they become adults, when they fly up to move into the fur of their own sloth.
Researchers’ thinking is that the sloths are just as dependent on the moths. They found that sloths having more moths on them also had more nitrogen-rich hair and more algae growth. Analyzing the contents of the sloths’ stomachs, the researchers found the algae in there had been easily digestible and was rich in carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
So maybe the risky pooping process keeps the moths around and provides the sloths with a nutritious supplement to their nutrient-poor leaf diet .
And perhaps you thought your toilet habits might be a bit odd ….
Here’s a video about these sloths and why they do what they do: The Strange Pooping Habits of a 3-Toed Sloth
And another video offering some other possible explanations: Mystery of the Pooping Sloth – Science on the Web #55.
Thanks to Kelley O’Donnell for telling me about sloths and their mysterious poop habits.
This is my earlier post about poop: THE LOWDOWN ON POOP.
EBaumsWorld.com. (2014). 24 Poop-Related Facts. See: http://www.ebaumsworld.com/pictures/view/84306997/
EverydayHealth. (2014). 11 Icky But Interesting Facts About Poop. EverydayHealth.com. See: http://www.everydayhealth.com/digestive-health-pictures/icky-but-interesting-facts-about-poop.aspx#05
Hardin, J.R. (3/15/2014). The Lowdown on Poop. AllergiesAndYourGut.com. See: http://allergiesandyourgut.com/2014/03/15/lowdown-poop/
Huffington Post. (10/7/2011). Poop-Powered Bike: TOTO Releases Motorbike Toilet That Runs On Feces. See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/07/poop-powered-bike-japanese-toto_n_1000111.html
Soniak, M. (2014). The Mystery of the Sloth Poop. Mental-Floss.com. See: http://mentalfloss.com/article/54839/mystery-sloth-poop
Thompson, H. (2014). What Drives a Sloth’s Ritualistic Trek to Poop? Scientists trace the odd bathroom behavior to relationships with bacteria and moths that inhabit their fur. Smithsonian.com. See: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/articles/what-drives-a-sloths-ritualistic-trek-to-poop-180949419/#lM94g3hzS1b8kiaU.99
ViralNova.com. (2014). This New Museum In Tokyo Looks Like A Sick Joke, But Kids LOVE It. You’re Not Gonna Believe It. See: http://www.viralnova.com/japanese-poop-museum/
© Copyright 2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.