Nobody much likes to think, talk and especially look — at poo. But our bowel movements reveal a lot about our health. Abnormal number two’s can be an early indicator of serious issues like bowel cancer or Crohn’s Disease.

A recent British survey showed that we aren’t paying enough attention to our poo. Two-thirds of Brits asked had no idea what a healthy poop was. The study’s authors say we should be talking about our bowel health as often we do our heart health.

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Although there is no single, ideal poo, there are common characteristics that indicate if you have a healthy digestive system. So, in the interests of full disclosure, here are the expert FAQ’s on what you need to know before you flush.

How often do I need to poo?
It’s a myth that you should have a poop every day. We’re all different, and bowel activity is affected by our diet, age and activity level.  Experts suggest that anything from three poos a day to three poos a week is healthy. It should be consistent. Any dramatic changes and something could be wrong.

How much should I be pooing?
The average person poos about 30 millilitres of stool for every five kilograms of body weight a day. So for the average 70 kilogram person, that works out to about a half a kilogram (one pound) of poop per day.

What is my poo made of?
Contrary to what it might look like, a healthy poo is about 75% water. The rest is indigestible fibres, toxic substances that the body needs to get rid of and dead and living gut bacteria. Don’t worry if you see the odd bit of undigested corn in your poop — it’s normal.

What colour should it be?
A healthy poo is a natural mid-brown. The colour comes from bilirubin, a pigment that’s generated by the breakdown of old blood cells that are being transported out of your body. Any other colour on a recurring basis; yellow, clay, black and especially red, could be a sign of trouble.

What consistency should it be?
The Bristol Stool Chart  describes seven classes of poo. Yours should be a 3 or 4, like a long soft log that’s got the texture of ice cream.

What should it smell like?
It should smell bad — but not that bad. Poop smells because of the toxins and bacteria it’s helping remove from your body. But a genuinely noxious bowel movement could mean that your food isn’t being digested properly and could be a sign of a medical problem like Crohn’s Disease or an infection like Giardiasis.

Should my poo sink or float?
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional floater, but your logs should sink. Floating poo is a sign that you may have too much gas or that you’re not absorbing nutrients properly.

ONLINE EXTRA: What if your poo floats?

How long should it take?
Your movement should be smooth and pain-free. It should also be quick — about twelve seconds (find out more about that here).

What’s the best position?
Research has shown that squatting is better than sitting. So, with modern toilets, it’s best to place a small stool under your feet to push your knees up and allow the hatch to open all the way.

Having trouble with your poo? Here are a few expert tips to keep it healthy and moving.

  • Eat fibre. Fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, whole grains and nuts ward off constipation.
  • Drink water. Poo is 75% water; it keeps things soft and easy to pass.
  • Don’t use overuse laxatives.  Improper use can make things worse.
  • Reduce stress. Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol can slow down the digestive process.
  • Cut back on the coffee and alcohol. Although caffeine is a stimulant that can cause you to have a bowel movement, over the long term both dehydrate the colon and could lead to constipation.
  • Get moving! Exercise stimulates the bowels making it easier for you to go.

For more watch Myth or Science: The Power of Poo on The Nature of Things

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