Poop is one of the most important and visible biomarkers of your health. It’s also surprisingly complex—a watery mixture of bacteria (living and dead), cellular lining, fiber, fats, proteins, mucus, bile, and other compounds your body couldn’t digest.
Most of us sit on the toilet, pull up a YouTube video, flush, and move on with our lives without ever examining what we are eliminating. We tend to take notice only when things go awry—when we haven’t gone to the bathroom in a few days, or when we haven’t left the bathroom in a few days.
Once again, it isn’t that simple. Even subtle changes in the size, shape, texture, consistency, and frequency of your bowel movements can speak volumes about the state of your gastrointestinal tract, if you know what you’re looking for. Fortunately, there’s an app for that—well, sort of.
This is the Bristol Stool Chart. It classifies poop into 7 types.
Developed by Dr. Stephen Lewis and Dr. Ken Heaton at the University of Bristol in 1997, the Bristol Stool Chart is a universal classification system for human feces. Consider it a decoder for your toilet bowl—and for your digestive health.
Poop Types 1 or 2
Poop Types 3 or 4
Poop Type 5
Poop Types 6 or 7
Most of us will experience the entirety of the Bristol Stool Scale at some point in our lives. One or two days of abnormal bowel movements is normal—common, even. It’s not until the irregularity becomes a pattern that intervention is needed.
Is there anything I can do if I’m not pooping well?
First things first, know that you’re not alone. 61% of Americans deal with digestive issues, and some 63 million live with chronic constipation. And it’s no wonder—just about everything we do on a daily basis contributes to the quality of our output—what we eat, what we drink, how stressed we are, how well we’re sleeping, how much we exercise, etc.
That said, there are a handful of choices that can have an outsized impact on the quality and frequency of your bowel movements—specifically, increasing your dietary fiber intake, and introducing beneficial bacteria, or probiotics. Let’s dive in.
↳Increase your fiber intake
You probably already know that fiber is good for you. But do you know why? Here’s a quick primer—fiber is a complex carbohydrate that cannot be digested by the human body. Commonly found in plants, it has a number of beneficial effects on the body, from regulating body sugar and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels to reducing the risk of colon cancer.
There are two basic types of fiber—soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water to form a gel-like substance in your digestive tract. It helps soften your stool for easier and better poops. Insoluble fiber is the ‘roughage’ found in stalks, skins, and seeds. It doesn’t dissolve in water, isn’t absorbed into the bloodstream, and helps bulk up your waste to keep you regular.
The National Institute of Medicine recommends a daily fiber intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. The average American gets only 16 grams a day. Fortunately, fiber is easy to get—fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains are all naturally rich in it.
↳Introduce beneficial bacteria (probiotics)
Probiotics have been studied extensively to address gastrointestinal discomforts. In fact, localized digestive improvements are often the most immediate and visceral benefits experienced when starting a clinically-studied probiotic.
That’s because beneficial bacteria perform countless functions related to digestive health, including producing neurotransmitters that stimulate muscle contractions for improved motility and ease of expulsion (think: better, more regular poops).
In fact, two specific strains—Lactobacillus plantarum SD-LP1-IT and Bifidobacterium breve SD-BR3-IT—in our Daily Synbiotic were examined in a 5-year, 300-person study1 for their combined beneficial effects in relieving intestinal discomfort, evacuation disorders, hard stools, bloating, and pain.
In some cases, fiber and bacteria can even work together to deliver additional benefits. Some strains of gut bacteria can ferment fiber into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), important compounds that fuel the cells lining your colon, strengthen your protective intestinal mucus later, and influence the genes that control cell growth. SCFAs are also being studied for their role in motility.
The reality is, most of us will experience the entirety of the Bristol Stool Scale at some point in our lives. One or two days of abnormal bowel movements is completely normal. But when it comes to ongoing digestive health, the key thing to remember is: Better inputs, better outputs.