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The Physics of Poop

Energy, resources and no small amount of technological innovation have been dumped into the process of physically removing fecal waste to the extreme periphery of our society. This makes sense because defecation may be a universal activity, but the results are difficult to ignore and decidedly unpleasant. 

As important as proper disposal may be for hygienic purposes, the study of feces is also important. A recent report in Scientific American shares a number of observations about the history of fecal analysis and the science behind bowel movements.  

Fecal analysis has a surprisingly lengthy and storied tradition. Ancient civilizations believed they could tell a person’s future by examining their feces. This practice, known as copromancy, is not as far-fetched as it may sound at first glance. Feces contain a number of biological indicators and can tell you a great deal about your health. 

Dietary changes will often lead to significant changes in your stool, which you can use as a visual tool to monitor your underlying health. Another handy tool for gauging the health of your digestive tract and stool is the Bristol Stool Chart. The "perfect" stool should be shaped like a torpedo. It should be smooth, soft and easy to pass, as opposed to small and hard (pellet-like) or overly loose. 

The appearance and frequency of your stool gives you clues about how your gastrointestinal tract is functioning and can even signal serious disease processes that could be occurring, like infections, digestive problems and even cancer. 

The duration of the defecation process, five to 20 seconds, varies little between animal species. This short of a time frame may be a surprise to the millions who strain to produce a healthy bowel movement. Dietary deficiencies are not the only culprit. Your body is designed to eliminate feces by squatting. 

It may seem remarkable that it takes an elephant no longer to defecate than a cat, but when it comes to defecation, the real outlier is the modern toilet. It places your knees at an unnatural 90-degree angle to your abdomen, which actually hinders elimination by pinching off your anal canal, which increases your risk of constipation, hemorrhoids and more. 

Squatting, on the other hand, places your knees closer to your torso, and this position changes the spatial relationships of your intestinal organs and musculature, relaxing and straightening your rectum. As a result, you maximize the efficiency of elimination. This prevents fecal stagnation and the accumulation of toxins in your intestinal tract that can fester and contribute to bowel problems and a variety of discomforts.

Non-Westernized societies, in which people squat rather than sit, do not have the high prevalence of bowel disease seen in developed nations; in some cultures with traditional lifestyles, these diseases are virtually unknown.

What is to be done about the modern toilet? Rapidly phasing out and avoiding this flawed design is not practical. One simple solution is a foot stool that allows you to get into a more natural squat position without renovating your entire bathroom and replacing the commode with a hole in the floor, which is what you'll find in some non-Western countries. If you have trouble with bowel movements, I highly recommend giving the squat position a try.
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