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9 Little Things Doctors Want You To Know About Your Poop

What you need to know about constipation, diarrhea, and how stress and anxiety affect your bowel movements.

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Poop! It's part of everyone's life, but isn't often the center of conversation.

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As much as we may not like to talk about it, our bowel movements play a big role in how we think about our lifestyle choices and how we assess our overall health.

To get some clarity on all our questions regarding bowel health, including what's considered "healthy" and what you can do to be more regular, we spoke with Dr. Anthony Lembo, a clinical gastroenterologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center whose primary area of focus is on gastrointestinal motility, i.e., how things move through the GI tract.

Here's what he had to say about all our biggest poop-related questions:

Keep in mind that everyone’s body is different and that what may work for someone else may not necessarily work for you. Always make sure to consult your doctor before changing your diet or lifestyle, or starting any kind of new treatment.

1. Pooping anywhere between three times a day and three times a week is normal.

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If you don't have any gastrointestinal issues and aren't constipated, going to the bathroom anywhere between three times daily and three times each week is nothing out of the ordinary. Obviously, what's considered "healthy" is dependent on your own body and lifestyle choices, but rest assured that the definition of "normal" in terms of bowel movements widely spans the spectrum.

2. Stress and anxiety affect your bowels in different ways.

While stress tends to stimulate the bowels, making them contract and giving you the urge to go, anxiety might cause cramps or dysmotility, which are abnormal muscle contractions that can cause abdominal pain, and either diarrhea or constipation. Anxiety is "very closely linked" with IBS, a condition that might give people constipation, cramps, or pain in the belly, says Dr. Lembo.
@jaypelll / Via Twitter: @jaypelll

While stress tends to stimulate the bowels, making them contract and giving you the urge to go, anxiety might cause cramps or dysmotility, which are abnormal muscle contractions that can cause abdominal pain, and either diarrhea or constipation. Anxiety is "very closely linked" with IBS, a condition that might give people constipation, cramps, or pain in the belly, says Dr. Lembo.

3. Probiotics can help improve bowel health, though the evidence doesn’t support widespread use.

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While probiotics can have a health benefit, "the jury is still out" on whether everyone could benefit from taking them, and they're not essential to bowel health. "Small studies suggest they may help some people, but there's not a lot of strong evidence that they're very effective," says Dr. Lembo.

4. You should drink about six to eight cups of water a day to promote bowel movements.

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Of course, the actual amount will depend on a person's size, activity level, and how much they sweat, but generally you should aim to drink six to eight cups of water each day, advises Dr. Lembo. Here are some products that'll help you meet all your water goals.

5. Eating breakfast triggers a "gastrocolic response," which is what makes you run to the bathroom.

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For most people, the urge to "go" right after breakfast is caused by something called the gastrocolic reflex, which stimulates contractions in your colon to make more room for food. As Dr. Lembo says, "any food initiates a gastrocolic response" and eating food in general is a major trigger.

6. The Squatty Potty may have some science to back it up.

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Some people have pelvic floor disorders, such that the "sling" or "hammock" that supports the pelvic organs becomes weak or damaged. To help with the issue, Dr. Lembo recommends elevating your feet so that they're not at a 90° angle. (And obviously, this positioning can help all people, even those without any pelvic floor issues.) And if you haven't already heard, the Squatty Potty is a popular tool for putting your body into a natural squatting position.

7. Gastrointestinal issues tend to run in families, but are not strongly linked genetically.

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While familial clustering (basically, where family members share similar traits or disorders) is common, it isn't the primary influencer of your bowel habits. This is mostly good news, as it may mean you can affect change in your bowel movements through lifestyle changes alone.

8. GI issues have increased over the last 10 years.

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Both from his personal experience with patients and from a study of emergency visits for constipation, Dr. Lembo says that GI issues seem to be a much bigger problem for every age group now than they were 10 years ago. A range of factors might be to blame for the changing statistics, including the higher use of narcotics that make you constipated and an aging, less mobile population.

9. And there are a few lifestyle changes you can easily make for better bowel health.

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Increased fluids, a diet high in fiber, and regular exercise (20–30 minutes, three to five times a week) are all associated with better or more normal bowel habits. If, you can't exercise, you should at least aim to eat a fiber-rich diet. Here are some actually tasty fiber-rich recipes to get you started.

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