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We have the answers to 14 of your most awkward 'number two' questions.

Image: iStock.

There are occasions when I believe you can judge the passing of time not by the lines on your face but by the conversations you have with your friends. So last night, I found myself discussing the subject of bowel movements with mine.

We discussed how her new Nutribullet makes green smoothies that look like Shrek poo, then that got us onto the Bristol stool chart and then that, because we are both a bit competitive, degenerated into an argument about whose stools were the most perfect according to said chart.

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You may dismiss this as middle-aged toilet humour but on a serious note, you can tell a great deal about your health and diet by your bowel movements so, below, are the answers to a few questions you may not be old enough to discuss with your best mates…

1. What’s the difference between irregular and constipated?

It’s all down to what’s normal for you. While the popular wisdom is that everyone should go twice a day some people only go twice a week. People with slow metabolisms also tend to have slow bowel movements. The important thing is to note your normal and then note changes. Some changes such as frequency, consistency and colour are down to age, diet, medications or lifestyle. Others may be cause for concern. (Post continues after gallery.)

2. Why does it smell bad?

The healthier a person’s digestion, the less strain and the less smell. A low sugar, high fibre diet should keep stools relatively smell-free. If you suspect fruit is the problem, choose low sugar fruits such as apples, pears and berries and keep fruit away from main meals. Eating lots of red meat can cause stools to smell particularly rancid.

3. Why does it contain large food particles?

Certain foods. such as corn or seeds, will come out whole anyway. But if you are seeing food particles regularly, you need to start chewing your food more and slow down your eating. Digestion begins with chewing. Other ways to improve digestion include sipping water with lemon juice or high quality apple cider vinegar or eating bitter foods such as dandelion, rocket and endive.

RELATED: How to deal with constipation. Yes, we’re going there.

4. Why does it contain mucous?

That’s often a sign of candida or thrush. Try building up good gut bacteria by cutting down on sugar and increasing the probiotic content of your food. Try quality yoghurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso and keifar. A good probiotic supplement can also help.

5. Why are they a pale colour?

Don't worry. We've got all the answers here.

Light coloured stools may indicate some disruption with your liver, gall bladder, bile or some medications. Bile is a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in our gallbladder. Stools get their normal brownish colour from bile which is excreted from the liver into the small intestines during the digestive process. Mention it to your health practitioner and consider cutting back on excess alcohol, high fat and highly processed foods.

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6. Why are they dark?

It could be that they’re streaked with blood in which case you should see your GP. It could simply be a haemorrhoid but it's essential to eliminate other possible causes such as bowel cancer, Crohn's Disease or stomach ulcers. Some red foods such as beetroot can also cause a change in stool colour. Iron supplements will also lead to darker stools.

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7. Why do I produce pellets?

Your bowels are not moving as quickly as they should so include more whole foods into your diet. If you find that difficult, try sprinkling chia or ground flax seeds onto salads, cereals or into smoothies. Ensure you drink plenty of water as well. Magnesium is also good for people who need to move their bowels more often — try high magnesium foods such as pumpkin seeds, spinach, soy beans, sesame seeds, halibut, cashews, almonds and dark green leafy vegetables or supplements. Some medications can cause pellet poos but if the problem is consistent, se your doctor.

8. Why are my stools floaty and difficult to flush?

If your stools require multiple flushes before they disappear, smell bad and are a yellow colour, you may have a problem with fat digestion. If you know fatty meals do leave you feeling queasy, it could be a sign of liver, gallbladder or digestive problems so see your nutritionist or GP.

9. Why do my stools sink?

Ideally a stool should half float, half sink. If it sinks quickly and completely, it may indicate some impaction in the colon due to longer transit time. Try eating more fibre and whole foods and make sure you're well hydrated.

10. Why are my stools so skinny?

See your health practitioner for a colonoscopy if your stools are becoming thinner over several weeks. It can be a sign of rectal cancer.

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11. Why do I suffer diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea without nausea can often indicate food intolerances, especially dairy, gluten and fructose. The artificial sweetener sorbitol can also cause problems. Try keeping a food diary to see if you can spot any culprits.

If it's accompanied by nausea, it usually has a viral or bacterial source. Alcohol is also an intestinal irritant and can lead to diarrhoea although drinking clear spirits such as gin or vodka appears to be less problematic.

If there is no obvious culprit, and you're suffering prolonged diarrhoea, see your GP. It can be a symptom of Crohn's Disease or other inflammatory bowel conditions.

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11. Why does travelling affect bowel movements?

First stop: the ladies'

We all have our own comfort time for moving our bowels and the change of time zones, environment, familiar toilet, food and drinking patterns can all upset our systems.

12. Why do men seem to have less bowel problems than women?

Women probably just talk about their bowel movements more than men. They're also more prone to emotional and mental stress and that can contribute to the state of our bowels just as much as physiological factors. Women also tend to get embarrassed by smells and noises in public bathrooms. This often results in holding on which can lead to constipation.

RELATED: “I knew something was wrong when I saw blood in the toilet.”

13. Why does exercise help bowel movements?

Exercise increases our metabolism and decreases the time it takes food to move through the large intestine. It also helps the natural contraction of intestinal muscles that contract efficiently to move stools out quickly.

14. Why is it painful to move your bowels after eating spicy food?

The very last portion of the anal region is lined with the same type of cells as the mouth — so your Mexican can burn as much on the way out as it did on the way in. Spicy foods in general serve as irritants to the intestinal tract and can speed up the passage of material through the digestive system.

This post originally appeared on Bev Hadgraft's website The Unstoppables.

Tags: bowel-movements , health , toilet , women
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