9 Surprising Facts About Feces You May Not Know
Everybody poops. But that doesn't mean that everybody's aware of all there is to know about it. Vox spoke with Robynne Chutkan, a gastroenterologist at Georgetown Hospital and the author of Gutbliss and The Microbiome Solution. Full story: http://bit.ly/1H4m3yh
- •Poop is mostly bacteria — not old foodFifty to 80 percent of your poop (excluding water) is actually bacteria that had been living in your intestines and was then ejected as food passed through. Your poop also includes some of this indigestible plant matter — like the cellulose in vegetables — with the exact proportions dependent on your diet. Your poop also contains small amounts of your own tissue: intestinal lining cells that were sloughed off during digestion. And, of course, there's water.
- •Poop is brown because of dead red blood cells and bileOur feces' color is a result of a chemical called stercobilin. That chemical ends up in your poop in two ways: it is byproduct of the hemoglobin in broken-down red blood cells, and it also comes from bile, the fluid secreted into your intestines to help digest fat. Without stercobilin, poop would be a pale grey or whitish color. People who have liver disease or clogged bile ducts (causing little or no bile to get to their intestines) have light-colored feces, a condition known as acholic stool.
- •Men and women poop differentlyBecause of anatomical differences, men and women's GI tracts work a little differently. For starters, women have wider pelvises than men, as well as extra internal organs (such as the uterus and ovaries) in the region. As a result, their colons hang a bit lower than men's, and are a bit longer: on average, by ten centimeters. Finally, men have more rigid abdominal walls that help push food through the GI tract more effectively.
- •The ideal poop is a "continuous log" — and sinks to the bottom of the toiletAlthough there's no single "ideal poop," there are some characteristics that are a sign of a healthy digestive system and microbiome. There are some doctors that say pooping three times a week is sufficient, but Chutkan says that you should probably make a bowel movement every day — assuming you're eating food every day. (In some cases, irregularity can actually be caused by extreme stress, as hormones like adrenaline and cortisol can slow down the digestive process.)
- •Gut bacteria and plant fiber are essential for good poopThe key to good poops, Chutkan says, is straightforward: "What really makes a good stool is large amounts of the indigestible plant matter that feed gut bacteria." This plant fiber — mostly cellulose — also directly adds bulk to poop, so a plant-heavy diet is critical for nice, solid bowel movements.
- •You can see corn in your poop because of celluloseThe explanation for the widely-observed corn-kernel-in-poop phenomenon is pretty simple: the outside of a kernel of corn is made of cellulose, that indigestible plant fiber. We can digest the inside of the kernel, but the hull makes it through us unscathed. This is also true for lots of other parts of plants — like, for example, kale stems — but corn's bright yellow color stands out, making it easy to spot.
- •People living in different parts of the world have different poopChutkan says that the feces of most people in the developing world are noticeably different from those of people eating a Western diet, mostly because the latter contains so much less fiber. A fiber-heavy diet — the type eaten by many people in developing countries, and by some vegetarians in the US — leads to much denser and bulkier poops. Western-style stools are much softer, and and the colon has to push harder to get them out.
- •Baby poop is really, really weirdThe first few bowel movements of a newborn infant are called meconium — and if you've never seen it before, it's pretty bizarre. It's the result of nutrients consumed by the infant inside the womb, and it's a dark green, tar-like substance. It looks so different from normal poop because of the sorts of things the baby was consuming in the uterus: amniotic fluid, blood and skin cells, and mucus. Strangely, meconium is also usually odorless. The baby's poop will not stay that way.
- •Poop transplants can be an effective medical treatmentResearch increasingly finds that the most effective way to treat C. diff — the harmful bacteria that can proliferate in your intestines if beneficial bacteria are wiped out — is by taking a healthy person's poop and putting it in your own GI tract. Studies have found that fecal transplants have success rates around 90 percent, higher than any antibiotic.