Sneaking a peek at your stool can tell you a lot, from signaling whether you're getting the right nutrients or if a food allergy could be irritating your gut. The truth is, though, many of us don't pay much attention to what goes on in the toilet bowl. In fact, most people don't even poop properly, which puts an unnecessary strain on your digestive tract. From perfecting proper squatting posture to probiotics, here's how to have the healthiest poop.
The modern-day toilet positions us at an odd angle that promotes constipation, hemorrhoids, and other digestive ailments. Nagging constipation alone plagues 63 million Americans, who spend more than $700 million on laxative products. One fix: invest in a Squatty Potty. By placing your feet on the stool in front of the toilet, your body gently aligns to a more natural, caveman-like squatting position, without the strain on your knees. "Simply put, it straightens out the colon," explains Robert Edwards, creator of the Squatty Potty. "It's like getting the kink out of a garden hose."
The modern American diet, heavy on processed foods and full of chemicals, can literally make your gut sad, as studies find a link between digestive health and things like obesity and depression, explains Donna Gates, creator of the Body Ecology Diet. "Because gut bacteria metabolize heavy metals and other toxins, a robust inner ecology can help the body cleanse a little each day," she says. "When it comes to stool with a foul odor, often this is the result of years of toxic buildup or an unhealthy inner ecosystem."
Gates recommends naturally probiotic-rich fermented foods to give your gut a healthier edge. "Fermented foods and liquids can restore and maintain a healthy inner ecology," she explains. In addition to the 10 Foods That Help You Poop, eat living, cultured foods like real sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir every day, and before long your stools will start smelling better, she says.
Toilet time could turn stressful if you are sitting on the wrong type of toilet seat. Indian and U.S. researchers note that poop dermatitis—an allergic skin reaction on the buttocks and back upper thighs—is making a comeback. A study in Pediatrics found cleaners and toilet seat sealants could be the culprit. Doctors sometimes mistake a toilet seat rash for ringworm, a dermatosis, or an unrelated allergy, so be sure to rule out a reaction to your toilet seat before starting treatment. Avoid harsh cleaners and exotic wood toilet seats coated in varnish or paint. Stay away from toilet seats making antimicrobial or germ-killing claims, as they're likely coated with the harmful chemical triclosan or nanoparticles.
A recent Archives of Dermatology report found many toilet wipes contain a harmful preservative that could ignite an allergic reaction in your nether regions. The uncomfortable dermatitis doesn't respond to skin ointments or cortisone creams. If you're experiencing discomfort, avoid baby wipes containing the preservatives methylchloroisothiazolinone or methylisothiazolinone, and instead opt for a bidet or use a clean, moist wash cloth to wipe down after you use the toilet.
Wiping your backside shouldn't threaten forests, but many brands of toilet paper come from freshly wiped-out trees. If every household in the United Stated opted for one roll of recycled toilet paper, we could save nearly 425,000 trees. Avoid products that use toxic bleaching agents, too. (Here's what to avoid when buying toilet paper.)
Related: Should You Compost Your Poop?
Peering into the toilet bowl after a bowel movement is a good habit to cultivate, because your poop can give you early warning signs of health problems. For instance, broken-up, watery stools could signal a food intolerance, allergy, or infection. Color matters, too, because persistent red or black stools could signal ulcers, hemorrhoids, or another digestive ailment. For more details, check out 7 Things Your Poop Says About You.