Our gut does more than help us digest food; the bacteria that call our intestines home have been implicated in everything from our mental health and sleep, to weight gain and cravings for certain foods. This series examines how far the science has come and whether there’s anything we can do to improve the health of our gut.
Number twos are a tricky subject. We all do them. Indeed, excreting waste is critical to life. But polite society and its rules of etiquette ensure we’re rarely brave enough to speak about them.
The faeces (or stools) we produce can provide a valuable real-time window into the health of your large bowel (or colon) and gastrointestinal tract. So let’s put those rules aside.
Scientists research many odd topics and stool form is no exception. In 1998, Stephen Lewis and Ken Heaten from the University of Bristol developed a seven-point stool form scale, ranging from constipation (type 1) to diarrhoea (type 7).
Today, the Bristol Stool Chart allows people with gastrointestinal symptoms to clearly describe to their doctor what they are seeing in the toilet without having to provide samples.
The Conversation, CC BY-ND
For most of us, the form of stool we excrete can vary widely depending, in part, on what we’ve been doing. A period of dehydration, perhaps associated with a day of sustained exercise, or the delaying of a bowel movement, may be followed by a drier stool form than normal.
Conversely, an unusually spicy meal might be followed by a bowel movement with a looser stool.
How should your stools look?
Ideally, stools should be easy to pass without straining and without any intense sense of urgency.
On the Bristol Stool Chart, these are types 3, 4 and 5: sausage-like with some cracks in the surface, up to 2 to 3 cm in diameter; longer sausage or snake-like with a smooth consistency, similar to that of toothpaste with a typical diameter of 1 to 2 cm; or soft blobs with clear cut edges.