- Avanish Aggarwal, MD, board-certified gastroenterologist at Gastro Health
- Erin Lisemby Judge, RDN, LDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Gutivate
- Karla Robinson, MD, board-certified physician and medical editor at GoodRx
- Mark Pimentel, MD, board-certified gastroenterologist and executive director of the Medically Associated Science and Technology Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
- Niket Sonpal, MD, board-certified gastroenterologist and adjunct assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine
- Samantha Gambino, PsyD, New York City-based licensed clinical psychologist
- Sarah Robbins, MD, MSc, FRCPC, board-certified gastroenterologist and founder of Well Sunday
To get to the bottom of this phenomenon, we talked to gastroenterologists and a psychologist to understand if pooping has physiological effects on mood and if the quality of your bowel movements can impact your emotional state.
Why does it feel good to poop? It might be “poo-phoria”
There might be a physiological reason why it feels good to poop—and you can chalk it up to “poo-phoria.” A portmanteau of the words “poo” and “euphoria,” the term was coined by board-certified gastroenterologist Anish Sheth, MD, co-author of What’s Your Poo Telling You? with Josh Richman. According to the authors, achieving poo-phoria involves a “mass of stool” large enough to stimulate your vagus nerve—which, when activated, can give you an instant high.
The connection between the vagus nerve and feel-good poops
The vagus nerve, which runs from your brain to your stomach, is a primary nerve linked to the parasympathetic system or the body’s relaxation response—the antithesis to its fight-or-flight mechanism. When you stimulate the vagus, your muscles slacken, your blood pressure drops, and your heart rate and breathing slow, leaving you relaxed and, perhaps, in a better post-poop mood.
“When the parasympathetic system is turned on, it can release some endorphins, which are those positive chemicals that make us feel good,” says Sarah Robbins, MD, MSc, FRCPC, board-certified gastroenterologist and founder of Well Sunday. “Through those two mechanisms—the stimulation of the vagus nerve and the release of endorphins—we do feel better with the passage of a bowel movement.”
What’s more, according to board-certified gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, MD, adjunct assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine and clinical instructor at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center: “This stimulation is usually associated with having an orgasm,” which may also add to the satisfaction you might get after a trip to the bathroom.
In addition to the vagus nerve, there is also another important component that contributes to how good a bowel movement can feel, which is the pudendal nerve.
The role of the pudendal nerve
The pudendal nerve promotes the relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles, which is a less-talked-about, but no less important, contributor to satisfying bowel movements. To note, the pudendal nerve innervates our pelvic floor, allowing us to contract and relax the pelvic muscles—and it’s important to keep these muscles strong. “The strength of those muscles contributes to the control of continence of both the bowel and bladder,” says Dr. Robbins. Specifically, when we’re able to relax our pelvic floor muscles voluntarily, it can promote an easy bowel movement passage—and that in itself can make you feel good.
As such, there is reason to believe that there is a physiological association between the quality of our bowel movements and how good we might feel. Dr. Robbins calls it the mind-gut-brain connection. “When our bowels are moving, we feel better,” she says. She adds that this positive experience may be more pronounced in those who might frequently struggle to pass bowel movements. “If you’ve got chronic constipation or you tend towards a feeling of gas and bloating, then passage of a bowel movement can really relieve those symptoms,” she says.
Psychological effects of a good poop
Beyond the physiological, there may be psychological effects associated with evacuating one’s bowels—and licensed clinical psychologist Samantha Gambino, PsyD, believes there’s a link between your mood and the quality of your stool, with a good poop leaving you in a better mood and a not-so-good one with emotional strain.
With that in mind, Dr. Gambino provides a few reasons how your bowel movements can affect your mood:
1. Regular bowel movements indicate a steady stream of serotonin
“Since 70 percent of serotonin is stored in the gut, it is natural that you will be in a bad mood when you are constipated, as serotonin is known as the ‘happy hormone,’” says Dr. Gambino. “Regular pooping causes less discomfort and indicates that your serotonin is being adequately released from your gut, which keeps your mood in check.”
2. Constipation can cause stress
The more challenging time you have pooping, the more significant the potential mood boost once you finally do. “Feelings are constricted in the same way your bowels may be when constipated,” says Dr. Gambino. “Constipation can cause anxiety, where you may have preoccupying thoughts about when you will be able to go to the bathroom and how it will limit your day.”
3. A good poop embodies you
“Feeling like you have no control over your body and bowels can make you feel powerless and helpless, and many people in this situation talk about feeling like their body has betrayed them,” says Dr. Gambino, speaking about bowel issues such as constipation and diarrhea. A normal poop can do a lot to alleviate this fear. “There is a sense of relief where you may think to yourself, ‘I finally did it!’ And it can feel like a real accomplishment, thus elevating your mood,” she says.
What characterizes a good poop?
From both a physiological and psychological standpoint, it’s clear that a quality bowel movement can improve the way you feel after the deed. But what characterizes a “good poop?” Generally speaking, there are a few factors that are indicative of a five-star defecation, including:
Poop can come in various colors—and of these colors, green and brown colored stools are considered healthy and normal, board-certified gastroenterologist Mark Pimentel, MD, executive director of the Medically Associated Science and Technology Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told Well+Good. Remember that certain medications and foods can affect the color of your stool—and if such is the case, there is no reason for alarm. For example, red stool can indicate the presence of blood, but red foods (think beets) can also turn your stool the same shade.
Generally speaking, a healthy stool texture is neither too hard nor too soft—it is just right. The Bristol Stool Chart, a medical chart that categorizes feces into seven groups, can help determine whether your stool is healthy. “Healthy stool types are type three, which are sausage-shaped with cracks on the surface, and type four stools, which are sausage-shaped but smooth and soft like a snake,” Karla Robinson, MD, board-certified physician and medical editor at GoodRX, told us.
Regularity is another important component in promoting a good poop. However, there is no one answer to how often you should poop. You might poop every morning like clockwork or three times a week—both are normal, so long as your feces is soft, smooth, and passes without excessive effort.
How long should it take you to poop?
When it comes to how long it should take you to poop, anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute is ideal. Anything upward of one minute indicates constipation, particularly if you have to strain significantly, Dr. Sonpal told Well+Good, and, as mentioned, this can impact your mood. Thankfully, ingesting foods that make you poop immediately (or even spices that make you poop) can cut your time in half.
That said, too short a time on the throne isn’t ideal either, and if your stool has a watery texture, it could point to diarrhea. If that seems to be the case, drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and avoid foods and drinks that might further irritate your stomach. (Think spicy food, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol.)
How to promote regular, feel-good poops
Looking to boost your regularity? Below are a few tips that GIs say can help you achieve more satisfying poops:
1. Ensure you eat enough of the right foods
What you eat is as important as how much you eat, board-certified gastroenterologist Avanish Aggarwal, MD, told Well+Good—and you’ll likely want sufficient fiber and healthy fats to help keep things moving. He also mentioned that you may want to up your intake of water-rich foods, too little of which can lead to constipation.
2. Drink water
Water also plays a crucial role in promoting good poops. As Erin Lisemby Judge, RDN, LDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Gutivate, told Well+Good: “Water keeps your stool soft and your gut muscles healthy, which is essential to pooping.” The water you need will depend on your age, size, activity level, and more. However, as a general rule, you’ll want to drink anywhere from 11.5 to 15.5 cups of water daily.
3. Don’t hold in your poop.
Lastly, don’t deny your body its natural processes. Holding it in won’t just rob you of the satisfaction of going No. 2; it can also cause you harm. According to a 2015 study, resisting the urge to poop can lead to inflammation and increase bacterial counts in the gut, as well as hemorrhoids. So if you have to go, by all means, go.
- Breit, Sigrid et al. “Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders.” Frontiers in psychiatry vol. 9 44. 13 Mar. 2018, doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044
- Raahave, Dennis. “Faecal retention: a common cause in functional bowel disorders, appendicitis and haemorrhoids–with medical and surgical therapy.” Danish medical journal vol. 62,3 (2015): B5031.
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