When you can provide specific information about your bowel activity, it can help your doctor spot potential problems. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

America is talking a load about No. 2.

Maybe it stems from a growing awareness of probiotics and why we need trillions of microbes in our gut.

It could be a more casual popular culture, with earthier comedians, poop emojis and unicorn-poo cupcakes.

Or it could be the explosion of new product categories, talking about a range of bodily functions that include periods and breastfeeding.

Certainly, cheeky ads are changing the conversation.

There’s the Squatty Potty, a footstool for more effective elimination, for example. Or Poo Pourri, essential oils that make your bathroom smell better.

Gross? Many still think so. But health care providers say society’s gradual opening up about bodily basics is good for us.

“I certainly have seen an increase in willingness to seek consultation,” said Randall Meisner, MD, who specializes in gastroenterology for Spectrum Health. “And it’s very important for physicians to make a patient feel comfortable discussing their bowel patterns.”

When people are too shy or squeamish about mentioning problems like constipation, diarrhea and even bleeding, providers don’t have the valuable clues they need to diagnose problems correctly.

Dr. Meisner wishes everyone understood there is nothing a patient can ask that he hasn’t heard a million times.

Often, people have been embarrassed about a bathroom habit for years.

“One example is requiring digital manipulation to eliminate,” he said. It’s not an uncommon need among people with chronic constipation.

Or they might come in with one complaint for something else, he said. They may say they have diarrhea, when they have stool incontinence.

“So they’re soiling their undergarments, but that can have many different causes than diarrhea, requiring a different treatment approach,” he said.

Getting to the best care plan requires lots of specifics.

“That’s why it’s so important for physicians to foster an open environment,” he said. “We want our patients to be as comfortable as possible when they talk to us, so we can get the most accurate description of what’s going on.”

Because there have been so many taboos, people suffer needlessly. They may squirm with embarrassment or self-treat symptoms that are perfectly normal.

It’s perfectly OK to poop three times a day, or three times a week, for example.

But shame can also cause people to stay silent about symptoms that signal serious problems—and are highly treatable.

“We deal with some very serious and difficult diseases,” Dr. Meisner said. This can include liver disease, Crohn’s disease and colitis and many types of chronic constipation and diarrhea.

“Some of these are very tough clinical diseases for patients,” he said. “The more patients talk about what’s happening, the more we can help.”