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Don’t rush to flush

A peek at your poo can reveal a lot about your health. Time to bust the myths and get schooled on stools

THE MYTH:
EVERYONE GOES ONCE A DAY

STOOL SCHOOL: We’re supposed to be regular, but what does that mean? ‘You might go once daily, three times a day or a few times a week – so it’s what’s regular for you,’ says Dr Kinesh Patel, consultant gastroenterologist at Royal Brompton Hospital. As long as you don’t see a change in your habits, your schedule is probably OK. If you haven’t been regular or you’re straining to go, upping your fibre and water intake and keeping active can help reduce constipation.

THE MYTH:
BLOOD IN YOUR BUSINESS ALWAYS MEANS PILES

STOOL SCHOOL: Bright-red blood after passing a stool (plus an itchy bottom) can be caused by swellings containing enlarged blood vessels in or around the bottom – also known as haemorrhoids or piles. These often clear up on their own, or after simple treatment. ‘But bleeding from the bottom or blood in poo can be one of the signs of bowel cancer, so always see your GP to check,’ says Dr Patel.

THE MYTH:
IT ALL LOOKS THE SAME

STOOL SCHOOL: From cracked sausages to nut-like lumps, poo can come in all shapes and sizes, depending on what you’ve eaten. ‘Generally speaking, healthy diets trigger happier stools, which are soft, well-formed and easily passed,’ says Dr Patel. ‘To keep your colon content, make fibre (such as fruit, veg and wholegrains) your friend and have water with your meals to help soften stools and prevent constipation.’

THE MYTH:
POOS ARE ALWAYS BROWN

STOOL SCHOOL: Slight variations can be nothing to worry about. For example, if you peer into the porcelain and see a lawn-coloured number two, it’s probably all that spinach soup you ate yesterday. Some colours, however, can be a red flag. ‘If your stools are very pale and clay-like, or jet black, and there’s no obvious reason for this (side effects of certain medications, such as iron tablets, can include “ebony poo”), see your GP to rule out health concerns, which can include bleeding or a problem with your bile ducts,’ says Dr Patel.

THE MYTH:
BOWEL CANCER ONLY TARGETS THE OLD

STOOL SCHOOL: While the highest incidence rates are in older people, it can affect any age group, so we should all be aware of the signs of one of the most common cancers. ‘Symptoms can be subtle, but if you see a persistent change in bowel habits or blood in your stools, or you have abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating brought on by eating, talk to your GP,’ says Dr Patel. Aged 60-74 in England, or 50-74 in Scotland? Repeat after us: ‘I will not ignore the NHS bowel cancer home-screening kit that’s posted to me every two years.’ After all, your number twos should be a number-one health priority!

*Available in selected stores. Food supplements do not replace a healthy, balanced and varied diet.

Words Nicola Down Photography Getty Images

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