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Why Are My Stools Black?

Black, tarry stools

Bleeding in the upper portion of your digestive system can cause black, tarry stools. Ulcers or another form of irritation in your esophagus or stomach known as gastritis can cause bleeding. When the blood mixes with digestive fluids, it takes on the appearance of tar.

Certain medications can also lead to black-colored stools. Iron supplements and bismuth-based medications, for example, can darken your stools.

Sometimes, serious blood and circulation abnormalities in your digestive system can cause black, tarry stools. These can include the following:

  • bowel ischemia: a reduction of blood flow to the intestines
  • vascular malformation: misshapen veins
  • varices: large, protruding veins in the intestines

Red, bloody stools

Red or bloody stools can also be due to several different medical conditions. Your stools may be bloody due to bleeding in the lower half of your digestive system.

Cancerous or benign polyps on your colon can produce gastrointestinal bleeding in some cases. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the name of a group of intestinal diseases that cause prolonged inflammation. Examples include:

  • diverticulosis
  • ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease

IBD may cause you to release bright red or maroon-colored blood in your stool.

A common cause of bloody stools is the presence of hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are swollen veins located in your rectum or anus. Straining to produce a bowel movement can cause bleeding.

Blockages at any point in your digestive tract can cause black, tarry, or bloody stools.

Dietary causes

The foods you eat can cause your stools to appear bloody or tarry. Eating red or black foods can give your feces a dark appearance without the existence of blood.

The following foods can discolor your bowel movements:

  • black licorice
  • blueberries
  • dark chocolate cookies
  • red-colored gelatin
  • beets
  • red fruit punch

The Many Shades of Poop and What They Mean

In recent years, researchers have also been investigating what your feces can reveal about the bacteria that reside in your gut, and how it can affect many aspects of your mental and physical well-being. For example, the so-called gut microbiome may play a role in mood disorders, according to a study published in August 2015 in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. The mysterious microbes could even be a factor in the development of Alzheimer’s, as a recent study on mice published in Nature in February 2017 suggests. While you may not have the scientific tools to examine your poop’s bacterial composition, you can still learn a lot from its appearance. Read up on the meaning behind the many different shades of stool.

Brown

Poop owes its normal, brown color to bile, a substance produced by our liver that helps us digest fats, says Dr. Nandi. (Though bile is naturally green, its pigments change color to yellow and brown as they travel through your digestive system and are broken down by enzymes.) If your excrement is brown and solid, you have no obvious reason for concern.

Green

Green poop is “very much in the realm of normal,” says Arun Swaminath, MD, director of the inflammatory bowel diseases program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. It is usually attributed to something you ate, adds Nandi. Eating lots of green, leafy vegetables like spinach or kale — rich in the pigment chlorophyll — will easily give your feces an emerald hue.

White

Whitish, clay-colored poop is caused by a lack of bile, which can stem from a blockage of bile ducts. Gallstones are one possible culprit of such an obstruction, says Dr. Swaminath. In addition, “Sometimes people can see white mucus on top of normal colored stool which has a whitish coating,” he says. This can be normal or a sign of a Crohn’s flare. Crohn’s disease causes ulcers in the intestines, which produce mucus in the stool. Alert your doctor when you notice mucus in your bowel movements, especially if it’s more than usual.

For people without Crohn’s, white poop along with abdominal pain, fever, or vomiting means they should call the emergency services. But if you see white poop without any of the aforementioned symptoms, you can wait to see a doctor, Swaminath says.

Yellow

Yellow poop is another potential indicator of bile shortage, which, again, may be related to obstructed bile ducts. It can also mean that the pancreas is not secreting enough enzymes needed for digestion. “Oftentimes, a few questions about one’s health and medical history by a medical professional can suggest the underlying reason with tailored testing to confirm the diagnosis,” says Nandi. But these aren’t the only possible explanations. When people prep for a colonoscopy, their stool becomes diluted and can also turn yellow, says Nandi. This is a normal phenomenon that shouldn’t cause any concern.

Black

If you have ever taken iron tablets or Pepto-Bismol, you have likely experienced this common, though harmless, side effect: black poop. Indeed, certain ingredients in some foods or medications are the most common reason behind your stool turning dark. Even eating a full pack of Oreos can have this effect, says Nandi. If your poop is dark and solid, you probably have nothing to worry about. But black poop with a more liquid, tarry consistency and a particularly pungent smell is a sign of bleeding in the gastrointestinal system. This issue “may require emergency evaluation with endoscopy,” says Swaminath.

Bright red

Bright-red stool often results from consumption of scarlet-colored foods or drinks like beets or tomato juice, but it might also indicate bleeding. Small amounts of blood in the stool may be from hemorrhoids, colon polyps, or anal fissures, especially if you are also experiencing pain when pooping, says Swaminath. “Larger amounts of bleeding require hospital admission and further evaluation, often with colonoscopy, to identify and treat the source of bleeding,” he says.

One of the hallmark symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease is bloody diarrhea. Although this is a common symptom of the disease, it’s not normal, and you should tell your doctor how much blood is present in your stool.

Black or tarry stools

Your provider will take a medical history and perform a physical exam. The exam will focus on your abdomen.

You may be asked the following questions:

  • Are you taking blood thinners, such as aspirin, warfarin or clopidogrel, or similar medicines? Are you taking an NSAID, such as ibuprofen or naproxen?
  • Have you had any trauma or swallowed a foreign object accidentally?
  • Have you eaten black licorice, lead, Pepto-Bismol, or blueberries?
  • Have you had more than one episode of blood in your stool? Is every stool this way?
  • Have you lost any weight recently?
  • Is there blood on the toilet paper only?
  • What color is the stool?
  • When did the problem develop?
  • What other symptoms are present (abdominal pain, vomiting blood, bloating, excessive gas, diarrhea, or fever)?

You may need to have one or more tests to look for the cause:

  • Angiography
  • Bleeding scan (nuclear medicine)
  • Blood studies, including a complete blood count (CBC) and differential, serum chemistries, clotting studies
  • Colonoscopy
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy or EGD
  • Stool culture
  • Tests for the presence of Helicobacter pylori infection
  • Capsule endoscopy (a pill with a built in camera that takes a video of the small intestine)
  • Double balloon enteroscopy (a scope that can reach the parts of the small intestine that are not able to be reached with EGD or colonoscopy)

Severe cases of bleeding that cause excessive blood loss and a drop in blood pressure may require surgery or hospitalization.

These contractions help move food through your digestive tract, but if they’re too strong and long-lasting, you might wind up with IBS-D, which stands for irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea. If your muscle contractions are too weak, you may deal with IBS-C, which is IBS that causes constipation. If it’s really a toss-up depending on the day, welcome to life with IBS-M, or IBS involving a mix of both constipation and diarrhea. No matter your kind of IBS, you may also experience abdominal cramping, gas, and mucus in your stool.

If you have IBS-D or IBS-M, you might get diarrhea and have other symptoms during flare-ups, which can be triggered by stress, foods including wheat, dairy, and citrus, or hormonal changes like being on your period. As with many of the other issues on this list, if IBS is forcing your stool to rush through your body too quickly, you can wind up with green diarrhea.

If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS-D or IBS-M and you pretty much have things under control, you don’t need to freak out over the occasional green poop. But if you’re regularly having green diarrhea, and it seems to be linked with things like eating certain foods or feeling overwhelmed with stress, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor. Together, you may be able to figure out if there’s more you can do to avoid flare-ups.

5. You have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

Though these inflammatory bowel diseases have various differences, they can both make you more prone to diarrhea that might look green.

Crohn’s disease causes irritation in your digestive system, usually in your small intestine and the beginning of your large intestine, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. Diarrhea is a major symptom, and it can be green because of undigested bile, Dr. Shen says. If you have Crohn’s, you might also experience other symptoms like stomach pain, fatigue, fever, weight loss, bloody poop, reduced appetite, and malnutrition, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Ulcerative colitis happens when you have inflammation and sores in your digestive tract, usually in your large intestine and rectum, according to the Mayo Clinic. In addition to diarrhea, you might experience abdominal cramping, rectal pain, a sensation of really needing to poop, bleeding when you do actually poop, weight loss, fatigue, fever, and other unpleasant symptoms.

Much like with IBS, doctors aren’t exactly sure of what causes inflammatory bowel diseases. And, unfortunately, treating these conditions may require some trial and error. If you’re dealing with persistent poop problems, stomach pain, and anything else that seems concerning, see your doctor to see if you have an inflammatory bowel disease.

6. You’re taking iron supplements.

First things first: You should only take iron supplements if your doctor says they’re necessary due to an issue like iron deficiency anemia. This happens when you lack enough iron for your body to create hemoglobin, a protein that’s essential for healthy red blood cells. If you start taking iron supplements without a doctor’s guidance, you might accidentally ingest too much and wind up with symptoms like nausea and vomiting, so you shouldn’t just decide to take them out of nowhere.

Now that you know that, if you do need to take iron supplements, keep in mind that they can cause green or black poop, Dr. Bedford says. If your poop is black, it actually may be a sign that your body is absorbing the iron properly, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. On the other hand, green poop when you’re taking iron supplements may be a sign your body isn’t absorbing the nutrient properly, Dr. Bedford explains, in which case you should talk to a doctor to see if you need to adjust your formulation or dosage.

7. You recently had your gallbladder removed.

Now, for the last stop on the bile train: Removal of your gallbladder, which stores bile, can result in green poop. This pear-shaped organ might need to be removed if you have gallstones, which are hard deposits of material that can block the flow of bile and cause a world of hurt. Also known as a cholecystectomy, this is one of the most common surgeries in the United States.

Stools – Unusual Color

Is this your child’s symptom?

  • Stool color that is strange or different than normal
  • Normal stool colors are any shade of brown, tan, yellow or green
  • The only colors that may be caused by a disease are red, black and white
  • Dark green may look like black, but dark green is a normal color

Causes of Unusual Stool Color

  • Almost always due to food coloring or food additives.
  • Stool color relates more to what is eaten than to any disease.
  • In children with diarrhea, the gastrointestinal (GI) passage time is very rapid. Stools often come out the same color as the fluid that went in. Examples are Kool-Aid or Jell-O.
  • The only colors we worry about are red, black (not dark green) and white.

Clues to Unusual Stool Colors

Red:

  • “Bloody stools”: 90% of red stools are not caused by blood
  • Blood from lower GI tract bleeding
  • Medicines. Red medicines (like Amoxicillin). Sometimes, other medicines that turn red in the GI tract (such as Omnicef)
  • Foods. See list below.

Foods That Can Cause Red Stools:

  • Red Jell-O, red or grape Kool-Aid
  • Red candy, red licorice
  • Red cereals
  • Red frosting
  • Red food coloring
  • Beets
  • Cranberries
  • Fire Cheetos
  • Paprika
  • Red peppers
  • Rhubarb
  • Tomato juice or soup, tomato skin

Black:

  • Blood from stomach bleeding (stomach acid turns blood to a dark, tar-like color)
  • Foods. Licorice, Oreo cookies, grape juice
  • Medicines. Iron, bismuth (Pepto-Bismol)
  • Other. Cigarette ashes, charcoal
  • Bile. Dark green stools from bile may look black under poor lighting. Smear a piece of stool on white paper. Look at it under a bright light. This often confirms that the color is really dark green.

Green:

  • Green stools are always normal, but they can be mistaken for black stools.
  • Bile. Most dark green stools are caused by bile.
  • Green stools are more common in formula fed than breastfed infants. It can be normal with both.
  • Green stools are more common with diarrhea. This is due to a fast transit time through the gut. However, formed stools can also be green.
  • Dark green stools may look black under poor lighting. Eating spinach can cause dark green stools.
  • Medicines. Iron (such as in formula)
  • Foods. See list below.

Foods That Can Cause Green Stools:

  • Green Jell-O
  • Grape-flavored Pedialyte (turns bright green)
  • Green fruit snacks
  • Spinach or other leafy vegetables

White or Light Gray:

  • Foods. Milk-only diet
  • Medicines. Aluminum hydroxide (antacids), barium sulfate from barium enema
  • Liver disease. Babies with blocked bile ducts have stools that are light gray or pale yellow.

When to Call for Stools – Unusual Color

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Stool is light gray or white and occurs 2 or more times
  • Strange color without a cause lasts more than 24 hours. Exception: green stools.
  • Suspected food is stopped and strange color lasts more than 48 hours
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Strange stool color most likely from food or medicine
  • Green stools

Seattle Children’s Urgent Care Locations

If your child’s illness or injury is life-threatening, call 911.

Care Advice for Stools – Unusual Color

  1. What You Should Know About Unusual Stool Color:
    • Strange colors of the stool are almost always due to food coloring.
    • The only colors that may relate to disease are red, black and white.
    • All other colors are not due to a medical problem.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Green Stools:
    • Green color of the stools is always normal. Most often, green stools are caused by bile.
    • Green stools are more common in formula fed than breastfed infants. But, they can be normal with both.
    • Green stools are more common with diarrhea. This is due to a fast transit time through the gut. However, formed stools may also be green. This is normal and nothing to worry about.
    • If your child takes iron, be sure your child is not taking too much.
  3. Avoid Suspected Food or Drink:
    • Don’t eat the suspected food.
    • Don’t drink the suspected drink.
    • The strange stool color should go away within 48 hours.
  4. Save a Sample:
    • If the strange stool color doesn’t go away, bring in a sample.
    • Keep it in the refrigerator until you leave.
  5. What to Expect:
    • Remove the cause of the unusual color from the diet.
    • Then the stool should change back to normal color.
    • This should happen within 48 hours or 2 stools later.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Strange color without a cause lasts more than 24 hours
    • Suspected food is stopped and strange color lasts more than 48 hours
    • You think your child needs to be seen
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the ‘Call Your Doctor’ symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

Last Reviewed: 01/31/2020

Last Revised: 03/14/2019

Copyright 2000-2019 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC.

It’s not something that’s usually talked about — unless, of course, you’re in the midst of potty training — but the color, smell, and size of your bowel movements can reveal a lot about your diet and how healthy you really are. Before we dive into the details, remember that you should always consult a doctor if you notice anything irregular happening. But in the meantime, this helpful guide gives you a better idea of what your poop may be trying to tell you. Without further adieu, if your …

1. … poop is hard and in small pellets.

“You’re dehydrated and don’t have enough fiber in your system to flush everything out, stool stays in your body longer than it should and your colon extracts water out of it, resulting in hard pieces,” says Brenda Watson, C.N.C., digestive care expert and author of The Fiber 35 Diet. The solution is usually simple: be sure to drink the recommended eight glasses of water a day, and slowly incorporate more fiber into your diet via oats and flax seed. The keyword there is slowly, otherwise Watson says you could end up feeling bloated.

2. … poop is black.

This poop color could signal some sort of internal bleeding high in your GI tract, says Charles Austin, author of The Toilet Book. According to Austin, the blood is darker than the usual red hue because it has been processed and moved through the digestive system with your food.

That said, dark poop could also just be a harmless side effect of taking iron supplements (the mineral is naturally black in color) or prescribed medications, like anti-depressants, codeine, or oxycontin. If you’re unsure, it’s best to call the doc.

3. … poop is very loose, but not diarrhea.

This usually is nothing more than a sign of food sensitivity, Watson says. Having a sensitivity doesn’t mean you’re allergic, but food is irritating your digestive system and causing your body to create mucus that makes your poop more liquid-y than usual. Some of the common culprits include dairy, eggs, and gluten. Watson says in some cases, taking a probiotic supplement may help.

4. … poop smells worse than usual.

If you notice a significant difference in stench, it could mean you’re constipated and stool is sticking around longer than it should. When that happens, more natural digestive gasses — think methane, sulfur, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen — are produced and bacteria in your colon ferments. The fix: Integrate more high-fiber foods into your diet and stay hydrated, Watson says.

That said, if you’ve traveled to an international destination recently and your poop smells really foul, Watson says to see a doctor right away, as it could be indicative of a parasitic, viral, or bacterial infection.

The Whole Body Cure

5. … poop color is light.

You probably need to get your liver checked, Watson says.” Bile is produced in the liver and it’s what gives your poop the brown color that it should be. When your poop is light, the liver isn’t producing enough bile, which means your body is not detoxifying well.” After consulting with a doctor, Watson says to try adding dandelion root into your diet, as preliminary research has suggested the plant can help boost liver function.

6. … poop has blood in it.

This could signal a bunch of different things. One is that you may have pushed poop out too hard, which can lead to a small tear in the lining of the anal canal that’s NBD so long as the bleeding doesn’t persist. Or, if there’s less than a half teaspoon of blood and it’s accompanied by some pain and discomfort down there, Watson says the bleeding could be caused by internal hemorrhoids, in which case you need to see the doctor. It could also mean that there’s bleeding somewhere in your colon or lower digestive tract, so Austin suggests getting checked out either way.

7. … poop is seaweed green.

A green poop color could mean that you’re eating a lot of leafy green veggies, but if it’s a deeper hue, that could mean food is moving too quickly through your digestive system, Austin says. “Bile’s natural color has a green tint to it, so when it’s coming out in your stool, that means the body didn’t have enough time to process it into the brown color that it should be.”

8. … poop is brown and a banana shape.

Good news: This is the ideal stool situation. Watson says you’re in good shape when poop has about 75% water and 25% bacteria and fiber, and when it does, it generally exits as a rich brown color, is approximately one foot long, and has a toothpaste consistency. It also indicates that you’re getting all the fiber you need, so things are running smoothly in the digestive department, he adds.

9. … poop color is bright blue or purple.

You probably got a hold of a Burger King whopper, some intense food coloring, or you ate a bunch of beets recently. Despite the freaky look, there’s nothing to worry about here.

10. … poop is pencil-thin.

If your poop went from normal to pencil-thin, it might not be because of your diet. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the bowel (and its movements) gets really narrow with some types of colon cancer, so it’s best to set up an appointment with your doctor to rule out anything severe.

11. … poop is yellow.

Seeing yellow poop in the toilet isn’t pleasant. It typically smells foul because it’s made up of excess fat, possibly due to a malabsorption disorder like celiac disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. To find out if gluten is causing your bowel issues, contact your doctor for testing. Celiac affects 1 in 100 people worldwide, and it may require following a gluten-free diet.

12. … poop floats.

When poop floats to the top of the bowl, it’s usually due to a change in diet and you being more gassy, says the Cleveland Clinic. It could also mean your body isn’t absorbing nutrients properly, or even be a sign of a gastrointestinal infection. If it doesn’t return to normal after a few days, check with your doctor to make sure everything is in proper order.

*NOTE: These are possibilities, not diagnoses. The best course of action is always to talk with your doctor about any health concerns you may have.

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4 Possible Dark Brown Stool Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced dark brown stool. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Non specific stool change

There are many factors affecting the appearance of someone’s stools. Often a variation in stool color and/or consistency is caused by food or medicines. Leafy greens and certain vegetables like spinach and kale can make stool look green. Iron supplements and medicines containing bismuth like Pepto-bismol can turn stools black. It looks like your stool change is probably a variation of normal.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: black stool, green poop, dark brown stool, red stool

Symptoms that never occur with non specific stool change: tarry stool, weight loss, rectal bleeding, fever

Urgency: Wait and watch

Constipation resulting from dehydration

Constipation means difficulty in passing bowel movements. A common cause of constipation is dehydration, or insufficient water in the body. If the contents of the bowel are not kept full and lubricated by plenty of fluid, the waste can become dry and packed and very hard to pass.

Most susceptible are pregnant women, especially those with a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. This syndrome causes severe nausea and vomiting throughout most of the pregnancy and can easily lead to dehydration.

Anyone with an illness that causes prolonged vomiting and diarrhea will soon become dehydrated. A number of prescription medications can act as diuretics, meaning they cause the body to lose extra fluid through the urine.

The use of alcohol, or illegal drugs such as cocaine, also has a very dehydrating effect. The ill effects called a “hangover” that often happen after a night of drinking are actually due to the dehydration caused by the alcohol.

Treatment involves rehydrating, either with plain water by mouth or, in severe cases, hospitalization for IV fluid rehydration.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: constipation, constipation, general abdominal pain, pain in the lower left abdomen, pain when passing stools

Symptoms that always occur with constipation resulting from dehydration: constipation

Symptoms that never occur with constipation resulting from dehydration: vomiting

Urgency: Self-treatment

Dark Brown Stool Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your dark brown stool

Normal variation of constipation

Constipation means bowel movements which have become infrequent and/or hardened and difficult to pass.

There is wide variation in what is thought “normal” when it comes to frequency of bowel movements. Anywhere from three times a day to three times a week is considered normal.

As long as stools are easy to pass, laxatives should not be used in an effort to force the body to a more frequent schedule.

Constipation is usually caused by lack of fiber in the diet; not drinking enough water; insufficient exercise; and often suppressing the urge to have a bowel movement.

A number of medications and remedies, especially narcotic pain relievers, can cause constipation.

Women are often affected, due to pregnancy and other hormonal changes. Young children who demand low-fiber or “junk food” diets are also susceptible.

Constipation is a condition, not a disease, and most of the time is easily corrected. If simple adjustments in diet, exercise, and bowel habits don’t help, a doctor can be consulted to rule out a more serious cause.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, stomach bloating, constipation, constipation

Symptoms that always occur with normal variation of constipation: constipation

Symptoms that never occur with normal variation of constipation: vomiting

Urgency: Self-treatment

Chronic constipation

Constipation is a very common condition affecting the large intestine. It is characterized by difficulty passing stool, or passing stool less often. Commonly it is linked to not eating enough dietary fiber, not drinking enough fluids, or not getting enough exercise. Some medications can cause constipation as well.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: stomach bloating, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), pain when passing stools, rectal bleeding

Symptoms that always occur with chronic constipation: constipation

Symptoms that never occur with chronic constipation: unintentional weight loss

Urgency: Primary care doctor

The Scoop on Poop

Answers to 7 FAQs

From diet to disease, many things affect your poop. If you have any concerns that your stool is abnormal, then visit your physician.

1. What is poop made of?

In a typical bowel movement, about 75% of the stool volume is water. The other 25% is a mixture of things, primarily dead and living bacteria, food waste, as well as undigested parts of foods, typically fibrous foods such as seeds, nuts, corn, and beans, and substances contributed by the intestines and liver, such as mucus and bile (a dark green to yellowish-brown fluid). Many things can affect the balance of stool content, including diet, medications, supplements, and the presence of a GI disease, disorder, or infection.

2. What is a healthy bowel movement?

An ideal stool is medium-brown, long, smooth, and soft, which passes easily from the body with little straining or effort. Healthy individuals typically have bowel movements anywhere between three per day and three per week. More than three per day is often associated with diarrhea, and fewer than three per week typically suggests constipation, although there must be other symptoms present before the stool strictly qualifies as either diarrhea or constipation. Ideal stool requires little effort and no straining for elimination.

3. What does the colour of my poop mean?

Brown: Healthy bowel movements tend to be brown, due to the presences of bile and bilirubin, which is a product resulting from dead red blood cells being broken down in the intestine.

Black: If your stool is black, it is important to see your doctor, as it could be a sign of internal bleeding from higher in the digestive tract, especially if it smells foul and is tarry. However, there are many benign causes of black stool, including ingesting something with bismuth subsalicylate such as Pepto-Bismol® (which can also turn your tongue black), iron supplements, black liquorice, blueberries, or other darkly coloured foods.

Red or Maroon: If you are bleeding in the lower portion of the digestive tract, then this could cause bright red stool. Bleeding could be a result of inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, fissures, polyps, or colorectal cancer. However, a red stool might be unrelated to bleeding, since consuming large amounts of foods with red colouring, such as cakes or colourful packaged breakfast cereals, tomato-based sauce and soup, and beets can also colour your stool red.

Orange: If you consume excess beta-carotene from supplements or produce, such as carrots, sweet potato, squash, some leafy greens, and some herbs, then your stool can appear orange.

Yellow/Pale Brown/Grey: Bright yellow diarrhea can signify a condition known as Giardiasis (see sidebar). Stool that is yellow or pale can also result from reduced production of bile salts, since a normal, brown-coloured stool acquires its hue from breaking down bile. Pale stool (yellow or grey) can signify a problem with the liver or gallbladder, so if you have persistently light-coloured stool, then you should see your physician.

Green: Most often, green stool is the result of ingesting large quantities of green foods, such as leafy greens or foods with green colouring added. Iron supplements may also cause the stool to become green. However, green stool could also signify a colonic transit time that is too fast. Bile usually becomes darker as it passes through the large intestine but stays green if it moves through too quickly.

Giardiasis

Giardiasis is an infection caused by the most commonly reported (5-10% of Canadians and their pets) intestinal parasite in North America and the world, Giardia lamblia. Individuals most often contract it through consumption of contaminated water or exposure to an infected person. Its symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, swollen abdomen, gas, headache, and fever. If you experience some of these symptoms, visit your doctor, as effective treatment is readily available.

4. Is the texture of my bowel movement normal?

The Bristol Stool Chart is the most useful tool developed for assessing the texture and shape of your stool. On a scale of 1-7, you rate your stool on how solid or liquid it is. For instance, small, hard lumps that are difficult to pass would be a 1, and entirely liquid would be a 7. On this scale, 1-2 could signify constipation, 3-5 are healthy stools, and 6-7 point to diarrhea.

5. Why do some stools float and others sink?

Most stool sinks because the contents of feces tend to be denser than water. However, some stool just floats and, generally, this is nothing of concern, as it is usually the result of gas within the fecal matter, or a high fibre intake. Excess fat in the stool (steatorrhea) can also cause feces to float. This is especially common in individuals who have GI conditions that affect fat absorption, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, but can also happen in healthy individuals who consume large quantities of fat, which is likely the cause if the stool is also oily and foul smelling.

6. Why does it hurt when I have a bowel movement?

There are many reasons why defecation might cause pain. Depending on the type and severity of the pain, it could be anything from what you ate to an irritated hemorrhoid. In rare cases, a tumour in the intestine could make bowel movements painful. If you have any concerns about persistent pain, see your physician. Here are some common causes:

  • Constipation is the most common cause of pain; if your stools are hard and difficult to pass, this could be the culprit
  • Diarrhea can also cause cramping, leading up to elimination
  • If you eat too much spicy food, the oils can stay in your stool and cause burning upon defecation, in the same way that they can make your mouth burn when you eat them
  • Hemorrhoids, anal fissures (tears in the anus), and abscesses can cause pain and bleeding
  • Bowel conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), and colorectal cancer can also cause pain
  • Severe pain while experiencing bowel movements could signify a tumour obstructing the rectum or anus

7. Why does my poop smell so bad?

The first thing to remember is that what goes in also comes out, so if you had a spicy meal, chances are you’ll smell it strongly when it exits. Meat produces more smell than vegetables and intestinal bacteria produce several sulphur-containing compounds that are the primary smelly culprits along with fatty acids and skatole, a product resulting from the naturally-occurring process of amino acids being broken down in the intestine. The human nose can detect hydrogen sulphide in concentrations as low as one-half part per billion, making it easy for us to smell stool! Malabsorption, particularly of fats (see FAQ 5), can cause a stronger odour, so talk to your doctor if this persists.

Animals and Poop

  • The white part of bird stool is actually the bird’s version of urine. Birds have only one hole for defecation and “urination”. The white part is uric acid, which is not very soluble in water, as opposed to the urea that mammals excrete, which is why the “urine” from birds is white.
  • Adult African elephants eat 200-250kg of food a day and poop about 50kg daily. Some ingenious individuals in Thailand make paper from elephant dung – an astounding 115 sheets per day from one elephant’s deposits – which is primarily composed of fibre. They claim the paper does not smell and is bacteria-free.
  • Both the Adélie penguin and silver-spotted skipper butterfly – in its caterpillar stage – projectile poop; the caterpillar ejects its stool as far away as 1.4 meters!
  • A rabbit produces two types of digestion bi-products, leading some folks to believe they eat their poop. However, its fecal pellet is brown, hard, and spherical, with little odour, as it is composed mostly of undigested fibre (rabbits don’t generally eat these). However, rabbits also pass cecotropes, composed of nutrients from the rabbit’s digestion, which the rabbit needs to eat a second time to extract the necessary nutrition. These pellets consist of small, soft, shiny globs, each coated with a layer of rubbery mucus, and pass from the body in an elongate mass. As it contains a large mass of beneficial cecal bacteria, it has a strong odour, which the rabbit appears to enjoy. The mucosal coating protects the bacteria as they re-enter the stomach en route to the intestines.
First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 182 – 2012
Image: Rasulov | Bigstockphoto.com

Stool Changes and What They Mean

When should I see my doctor about changes in stools?

You should talk to your doctor if you have stool changes in any of the following:

Color

The color of stools varies, but typically falls within the spectrum of brown color, depending on the foods you eat. You should be concerned if your stools are deep red, maroon, black, or “tarry,” especially if they have a noticeable odor. This may mean that there is blood in the stool.

Small amounts of bright red blood on stool or toilet paper are likely caused by hemorrhoids or a scratch in the rectal area, and generally should not cause concern. However, if more than a few bright red streaks are visible in the stool or on the toilet paper, or you develop bloody diarrhea, you should tell your health care provider.

In addition, pale stools that are clay or white in color and often accompanied by a change in urine color (dark urine) could indicate a problem with your biliary tree, such as bile duct stones, or liver-related issues. You should notify your health care provider or go to your local Emergency Department if you develop fevers, chills, right-sided upper abdominal pain, or yellowing of the skin.

Consistency (degree of firmness)

Stools should be soft and pass easily. Hard, dry stools might be a sign of constipation. You should notify your health care provider if constipation lasts longer than two weeks. Also, if you have nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and have not been able to pass gas or stools, this could mean that there is an obstruction (blockage). You should tell your health care provider or go to your local Emergency Department.

If stool becomes impacted (lodged) in the rectum, mucus and fluid will leak out around the stool, leading to fecal incontinence. Call your health care provider if you have mucus or fluid leakage from the rectum.

Diarrhea is bowel movements that are loose and watery. Diarrhea is a common condition and is usually not serious. You should call your health care provider if:

  • You have severe abdominal pain or discomfort with your diarrhea that does not go away when you pass stools or gas.
  • Diarrhea is accompanied by fever of 101 degrees or higher, chills, vomiting, or fainting.
  • Severe diarrhea lasts longer than two days in an adult, one day in a child under age 3, or eight hours in an infant under six months.
  • You develop severe diarrhea and have taken antibiotics recently.
  • You are elderly, were recently hospitalized, pregnant, or immunocompromised (take steroids, TNF-alpha inhibitors such as infliximab or etanercept , or transplant rejection medications).
  • You have diarrhea that lasts for more than two weeks.

Frequency

The normal length of time between bowel movements ranges widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements several times a day, others only once or twice a week.

Going longer than three days without having a bowel movement is too long. After three days, the stool becomes harder and more difficult to pass. Constipation then occurs as bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. If you have constipation for more than two weeks, you should see a doctor so that he or she can determine what the problem is and treat it.

Only a small number of patients with constipation have a more serious underlying medical problem (such as poor function of the thyroid gland, diabetes, or colon cancer). For a patient who has colon cancer, early detection and treatment might be lifesaving.

You should also contact your health care provider if you have unexplained, sudden urges to have a bowel movement. This could be a sign of a mass in the rectum or inflammatory bowel disease.

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Peeps Oreos and 13 Other Foods That Can Change the Color of Your Poop

Last week, fans of the new Oreo Peeps discovered that eating a lot of the cookies—a vanilla shell with bright-pink filling—left them with an unexpected surprise in the toilet: pink poops. People can’t stop voicing their alarm, concern, and amusement on Twitter, Buzzfeed reports.

This isn’t the first time people have taken their poo problems to Twitter. Back in 2015, Burger King’s Halloween-themed Whopper with a black bun came back to haunt diners in the form of neon-green doo. But it actually isn’t unusual to have brightly colored bowel movements, according to Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD, a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic. Lots of other foods can have the same effect. “Normal stool is light to dark brown in color,” Dr. Wakim-Fleming says says. “The bile secreted into the intestines turns digested substances brown. When we see different colors, it’s typically because of dyes and additives that are not digested.” In the case of Oreo Peeps, it’s a food dye called FD&C Red Number 3.

You might find your poop changes color after consuming a lot of these foods:

Medicines can also affect your the color of your waste. Iron tablets and Pepto-Bismol act in your digestive system, and can turn stools black, for example. Dr. Wakim-Fleming says green, red, or white capsules can also turn up in your toilet.

Most colors are generally harmless, but Dr. Wakim-Fleming says she will always ask questions in the presence of a new poo hue. “First, I’ll check diet,” she says. “If someone says they’ve been eating green Jell-O and have green stools, then we’ve usually figured it out. But I’ll also check and make sure there are no other symptoms, like fever, diarrhea, or weight loss.”

If the stool is very light tan, then there’s a reason for concern. “Since bile turns the stool brown, a tan color means the bile didn’t get into the intestine,” Dr. Wakim-Fleming explains. “There could be an obstruction in the bile duct, a stone or tumor in the pancreas or the liver. Hepatitis can also turn the stool tan and the urine dark in color.”

RELATED: 5 Ways to Make Every Poop a Great One

When red or black stool is accompanied by changes in consistency, Dr. Wakim-Fleming says it’s usually caused by blood. “If the stool is black and tarry, then there’s typically blood from the upper GI; this could be from an ulcer or NSAID use, or varicose veins in the stomach or esophagus,” she says. “If the stool is maroon, there’s typically blood lower in the GI tract, and we’ll check for things like inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease.”

Bright red blood is typically a bleeding issue in the colon, like hemorrhoids. If you suspect you have blood in your stool, then call your doctor ASAP. If you’re ever in doubt, err on the side of caution and get it checked out.

The color of your poop can provide you with useful information about what’s going on inside your body.

While some color changes are simply related to the color of food you ate, other changes may indicate severe medical conditions.

This article explains potential reasons for your poop color.

How Is Poop Formed?

Poop, also referred to as feces or stool, is the solid waste humans eliminate.

The food we eat goes from the mouth to the stomach, the small intestine and eventually the large intestine and rectum. Food is mostly digested and absorbed upon reaching the large intestine, where it’s referred to as chyme.

The end-product of digestion is poop, which is stored in the rectum until it’s ready for elimination. Poop consists of mostly water as well as bacteria, protein, fiber, fat, and other organic solids. The amount of each of these components varies based on the individual’s diet and health status.

Keep in mind it takes about 18 to 72 hours for food to become poop. This process, also known as intestinal transit time, may be shortened in cases of diarrhea and lengthened in cases of constipation.

Summary: Poop is the eliminated product of digestion and includes mostly water as well as a mixture of organic solids.

What’s Considered “Normal” Poop?

Normal poop can say a lot about your health status.

It’s typically described as light to dark brown in color and semi-solid with a light mucus coating. The brown color comes from bile, bilirubin particles, and dead red blood cells. Additionally, it contains about 75% water and appear like a soft and smooth sausage.

Most refer to the Bristol Stool Scale for help classifying characteristics of poop. Essentially, the amount of time chyme spends in the large intestine impacts how the final product appears and how easy it is to pass. A healthy goal is type 4 on the chart below.

Bristol Stool Chart (scale). Image source. Click to enlarge.

Other features indicating normal or healthy poop include a “S”-shape, 1 to 2 inches in diameter, and a “natural” odor. There is no set standard for normal bowel movement frequency, which can range from 3 per day to 3 per week.

Summary: Normal poop is light to dark brown and ideally appears as type 4 on the Bristol Stool chart, reflecting a smooth, soft sausage or snake.

Why Is My Poop Green?

Poop may appear green for a variety of reasons.

Green Foods

Consuming high amounts of foods with green pigments may produce green colored poop.

Green pigments may come from natural sources like chlorophyll in asparagus or leafy greens. Additionally, green pigments may come from artificial sources like green food coloring in processed foods and candies.

Excess Bile

It’s important to note that bile, the fluid that helps with fat digestion, naturally has a green-yellow hue.

Excess bile in the poop also produces a green color. This may occur when there is inadequate time for the body to reabsorb bile and therefore it ends up being excreted.

Conditions that can speed up intestinal transit time like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may all result in green poop. For example, those with a food intolerance may get green poo after eating high FODMAP foods.

Additionally, excess use of laxatives, caffeine and alcohol produce a similar effect (1).

Changes to Microbiome

Factors that change the bacterial composition of the gut can also change the color of poop, typically to green.

Parasitic, viral and bacterial infections, medical procedures, and antibiotic use all potentially impact the microbiome (2).

Summary: There are numerous reasons for green poop including consuming high amounts of green foods, excess bile, and changes to the gut microbiome.

Why Is My Stool Yellow?

Yellow stool is often a red flag for poor fat digestion.

One may experience greasy and foul smelling poop along with the yellow color. These are all signs that the body struggles to properly digest and absorb fats.

Conditions impacting the pancreas like celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, chronic pancreatitis, and/or pancreatic cancer all potentially reduce the pancreas’ ability to manufacture and release digestive enzymes. Without adequate flow of these enzymes, fat doesn’t breakdown and absorb normally (3).

In addition to enzymes, the body also needs bile to digest fats. Liver cancer, hepatitis, cirrhosis, and gallstones (and gallbladder removal) can all potentially reduce bile production and/or flow, resulting in poor fat digestion and yellow stool.

Summary: Yellow poop is often accompanied by a greasy appearance and foul odor due to poor fat digestion. This may occur due to conditions that impair the pancreas and/or liver, which reduces the digestive enzymes and bile necessary for fat digestion.

Why Is My Stool Black?

Black stools can simply reflect food intake, or more serious issues such as gut injuries.

Black Foods

Foods that may produce a dark black hue to your poop include blueberries, blackberries, black licorice, and even deep red foods like beets, red gelatin and fruit punch.

If you are worried, be sure to first thoroughly review your diet for potential darkly hued foods that may contribute to black poop.

Blood

Depending on where the bleeding occurs, it can make poop appear black or tarry.

A gut injury occurring higher up in the digestive tract (i.e. the esophagus to the lower small intestine) creates the appearance of dark black or tarry poop because the blood is broken down by digestive enzymes.

Additionally, reduced blood flow to the digestive tract can also create this appearance.

There is more information about blood in the stool in the next section.

Medications & Supplements

Iron supplements, bismuth subsalicylate products (i.e. Pepto-Bismol and Kaoepectate), and other medications may cause black poop.

Cancer

Stool color alone is not a sign of cancer; however, it is important to inform your doctor and seek further workup.

Summary: Dark black poop is typically a sign of blood in the stool, but could also be related to diet, medications and supplements.

Why Is There Blood In My Stool?

Blood in stool is typically related to conditions that cause gut injuries, but can also be related to your diet.

Red Foods

Foods that may create a similar red-blood appearance in your poop include those with natural and artificial red hues.

These include processed foods, juices, red gelatin, and candies as well as beets, cranberries, and tomato products. Review your diet for potential sources of red color contributing to a bloody appearance of your poop.

Gut Injuries

The brightness of the blood relates to the potential location of the gut injury.

Injuries on the lower intestines often produce a bright red color, whereas injuries on the upper intestine produce a darker red and sometimes black color.

Additionally, intestinal transit time impacts the shade of blood in poop. When things move through the gut faster, this usually produces a brighter red color (4).

Intestinal injuries can be caused by numerous factors:

  • Hemorrhoids: enlarged blood vessels in or around the anus
  • Colon polyps: a small clump of cells that form in the colon
  • Anal fissures: a tear in the lining of the anus
  • Diverticular bleeding: diverticula (small pouches) in the colon rupture, leading to diverticulitis
  • Tumors: abnormal growth of tissue, may be benign or malignant
  • Ulcers: intestinal sores common in IBD, may also be present in the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, colon or rectum
  • Excessive straining: too much force to relieve solid waste
  • Arteriovenous malformations: arteries or veins rupture due to abnormal communication
  • Low platelet count: reduced ability to form blood clots

Summary: Blood in poop may simply be related to a red appearance from foods, or due to a more serious gut injury. The brightness of the blood reflects where the injury may be located.

Why Is There Mucus In My Stool?

A small amount of mucus is your stool is normal, but when you notice too much it may indicate a problem.

Mucus is secreted to help moisten and lubricate the inside of the colon. This helps poop to pass through easily, with minimal straining.

If you notice increased amounts of mucus or accompanied symptoms like blood, abdominal pain or changes in stool consistency, then this should warrant further workup with your doctor.

Ulcers along the intestines produce mucus. Therefore, conditions that produce ulcers like Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis or even cancer may be present.

Additionally, diarrhea may result in excess mucus, so intestinal infections and IBS could also be potential causes.

Summary: While a little mucus is normally present in poop, too much or in addition to other symptoms may be a sign of more serious issues like IBD, cancer, infections or IBS.

When Should I Be Concerned?

Changes in stool color happens to most of us and is typically not a sign of concern.

Pay attention to these signs as your poop color may be indicating something more severe:

  • The color change is persistent
  • Other symptoms accompany the color change including upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, cramping, itchy anus, etc.
  • You find large amounts of blood
  • The stool is tarry and foul smelling.

Please seek the help of a doctor if you notice these symptoms. Further investigation including a physical exam, stool and blood tests, scans, endoscopy and colonoscopy may be warranted.

Summary: Most shouldn’t be concerned with mild changes to their poop color. However, if the change is persistent and additional symptoms are present, please seek proper medical advice.

Preventing the Poop Rainbow

Remember that stool color is one sign when assessing the health of your digestive tract.

Normal healthy poop ranges from light to dark brown. Changes in color from green to yellow to black to red all indicate potential problems. They can also reflect specific colorful foods consumed in excess.

Seek proper care from your doctor for any on-going color changes as it can be a sign of concern.

What It Means When Your Poop is Green, Black, Floats, and Everything Else Your Doo-doo Could Be Trying To Tell You

I hope I’m not overstepping my boundaries here, guys, but I think that we should talk about how your poop looks. Sorry — too much, too soon? Should we have had some warm-up talk about Mockingjay or Scarlett Johansson’s secret wedding or something? Well, it’s too late for any of those formalities; I am very sorry about that, but we’re going to talk about everything you need to know about your poop, and we’ve gone too far to stop now. After all, for something we end up spending two to three years of our lives making, most of us know surprisingly little about what our poop might be trying to tell us. I mean, consider this for a minute: Do you really know what the different textures of poop mean? Why it’s sometimes green, black, or red? Whether eating cheese actually makes you constipated? Why there are certain times of the month when women poop more? Or why, for that matter, saying the word poop still makes you giggle?

I thought not. Come along with me, as we investigate why your poop looks the way it looks, why it does the things it does, and what it might be trying to tell you when it changes form. Are you there poop? It’s me, slightly grossed out.

FLOATY POOP

Usually, you poop sinks to the bottom of the bowl like the Titanic. But sometimes, your poop floats near the surface of your toilet, like Kate Winslet in Titanic. What’s up (sorry) with that? The occasional floating poop is usually caused by gas — and gas-inducing foods like bean sprouts or cabbage can make your poops rise. It’s only a health issue if you find you’re having floating poops frequently, or they’re accompanied by an oily residue, which means your body might be having a problem absorbing fats from foods. But otherwise, don’t worry — your fart will go on (sorry AGAIN).

LIGHT-COLORED POOP

Surely among the grossest and most startling poop types around, light-colored poop — the kind a doctor would refer to as “clay-like,” because doctors are, frankly, totally foul — is usually caused by a medication you’ve taken recently, primarily Pepto-Bismol and other anti-diarrhea drugs. If your poop stays light-colored for a while, it could mean that you have a bile duct obstruction or other internal issue, so go see your doctor.

GREEN POOP

Green poop is so common, it even got a shout-out in the “Mr. Hankey” song. We’ve all had green poop because we’ve all eaten leafy green vegetables, one of the primary causes of green poop. The other culprit behind poop that makes it seem like it’s St. Patrick’s Day inside your toilet bowl? Bile, the chemical in our stomach that helps us digest fats. Bile is yellow-green, and when food moves through our intestines too quickly —because, say, we have diarrhea — bile doesn’t have a chance to break down completely, leaving you with some festive poop. Food coloring and some iron supplements can also leave you with jolly green poops, but green poop is almost never a cause for concern.

BLACK POOP

We’ve all had the occasional black poop, and usually, it’s nothing to worry about — food additives like the dye that turns licorice black can tint your poop, too, and in some cases, Pepto-Bismol (really, again?) can even turn your poop black. But if you’re getting consistently black poop, and haven’t been consuming anything with black dye, hit up your doctor — it can be a sign of internal bleeding, which can be caused by scary health issues like an ulcer, or even colon cancer.

RED POOP

Dixon Cidermouth on YouTube

As anyone who has eaten a beet salad, forgotten about it, and then had a red-colored terror poop a day later knows, the foods you eat can color your stool. Beets and red-colored dyes, like the ones found in popsicles, can often turn your poop red and make you falsely assume that you are dying of internal hemorrhaging. Of course, actual blood in your poop is a serious matter — it can signify anything from an anal fissure to hemorrhoids to cancer. But the next time you freak out over a red-tinted toilet bowl, try very hard to remember what you ate in the past few days. Like the skit says: it’s probably beets.

PERIOD POOPS

So why does getting your period tend to make you poop so much? Well, a group of hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins are how your body communicates to your uterus that it’s time to contract and slough off the uterine lining. But prostaglandins can go also astray … and hit you right in the bowel. And when prostaglandins hit your bowel, your bowel contracts just like your uterus, creating the common “wave of non-stop pooping” that can enrich our menstrual lives. Fun!(?)

LOOSE POOP

Poops that don’t look like the traditional cartoon poop — meaning anything from small mushy lumps, to poop with a near liquid texture — are usually diarrhea. But what causes diarrhea? It’s actually what happens when your body is cleaning toxins, viruses, or bacteria out of your intestinal tract, and most adults get it about four times a year. Foods and drinks can also cause diarrhea — and yes, I am talking about the infamous “beer sh*ts.” But booze isn’t the only thing making you run to the can: caffeine can also cause diarrhea, and so can fructose, which is why your attempt to “get healthy” by eating ten oranges in one sitting ended in tears. You can usually just wait out diarrhea, though if you’re getting it often, you might want to rethink some elements of your diet.

POOP WITH STUFF IN IT

Does your poop reveal whether you got the mild or corn salsa the last time you went to Chipotle? If so, don’t sweat it: corn, seeds, tomato skins, and other pieces of healthful fiber are supposed to come out in your poop. It’s totally normal, and doesn’t mean that your body is having any kind of difficulty breaking down food, so just roll (or poo) with it.

FREQUENT POOPING

Frequent pooping can be a sign of a health problem, like Crohn’s or hypothyroidism, but in those cases, it’s usually accompanies by other symptoms, like abdominal pain, or rectal mucus, so don’t automatically assume that frequent pooping is related to illness. Frequent poops can also be due to positive lifestyle changes, like exercising more often, or consuming a more fiber-filled diet. In which case, good for you! And you may want to consider getting some more magazine subscriptions (you know, for the times when you forget your phone).

HARD AND/OR MARBLE-SHAPED POOP

Nobby, lumpy poops that are painful to pass are the second-worst thing to ever happen in bathrooms (the actual worst is, of course, when you find a spider in the shower after you’re already in the shower). Whether they come out in gross little compact nuggets, or as one big lumpy turd that feels like it is tearing you open, hard poops are a sign of constipation. But contrary to popular belief, constipation doesn’t mean that you rarely poop —even if you poop every day, if those poops are consistently hard and/or small and marbly, that means that you’re probably constipated. Happily, you can soften up your poops by eating more fiber, staying hydrated, and exercising.

Of course, plenty of people (including Alicia Silverstone) believe that eating a lot of cheese will stop you up like the majestic Hoover Dam. But is that actually true? Turns out there’s not a magical element in cheese specifically that plugs up your pump; cheese is just one of many low fiber foods that can cause constipation. So feel free to keep housing those string cheeses; just make sure that you’re also eating a lot of high fiber foods as well, and staying active (exercise helps you stay regular, which may explain why, no matter how noble and spiritual your intentions, you will probably fart during yoga class).

And remember: Ain’t no shame. Everybody poops.

VistaVariety on YouTube

Images: Carolyn Sewell/Flickr, Giphy (9)

Sometimes, you can’t help but notice that instead of brown poop, what you’ve just dumped into the toilet has a distinctly green twinge. It might even have a St. Patrick’s Day type of bright neon green color.

Seems alarming, but that might just mean you’re normal. To understand why green’s OK sometimes, you have to know why it’s typically brown. Normally, your liver helps you digest the fats you’ve eaten by producing a greenish fluid called bile. That fluid does many helpful things: It helps you break down fat for the rest of your body to absorb, it has anti-microbial properties, can neutralize acidity or pH for vitamin absorption and enzyme activity, and it keeps you regular.

Bile mixes with food and waste products to form stool in your large intestine. When things in your gut are working as they should, bacteria in your large intestine break down the bile through a process called oxidation, which helps turn the whole mixture brown.

When bile does not have time to be broken down, green happens. Some foods—like spicy foods, coffee, and alcohol—make your body fast-forward through the digestion process, so there’s not enough time for bile to be broken down. This may happen if you don’t usually consume these foods and drinks, or if you suddenly consume a large quantity of them. Most of the time, your body will adjust and slow digestion down accordingly so it can break down that bile. But not every time is “most of the time.” Your gut may not respond to these foods the same way each time, so don’t be alarmed by the occasional color change.

In addition to spicy foods, coffee, and alcohol speeding transit time, there are some other reasons your poop might be green:

  • Artificial coloring in candy or processed foods. But you’re not eating those, right?
  • A higher-than-usual volume of leafy greens. If you decided to change things and go all-in on greens like spinach or kale, or even green foods like kiwi, avocado, or cucumbers, you may have green poop until your digestive tract adjusts.
  • Diarrhea. Ingredients like senna, which can be found in digestive enzyme/probiotic/health products claiming to help you lose weight, will increase transit time and could affect the color of your stool.
  • You’re on antibiotics. Any antibiotics—maybe you’ve been taking them for bronchitis or a skin infection—can alter the microbiome and may also increase the speed of transit.
  • Food allergies or celiac disease. If you have these conditions, food may not be digested properly and may pass through your colon quickly.
  • Gallbladder surgery. The gallbladder usually stores bile, but without it, there is more bile in the GI tract that may not be broken down. People without a gallbladder may not always have green poop, but they’re more likely than the average person to have it be that color.

Some sources suggest that iron supplements or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) could give you green poop, but those are more likely to make waste turn a dark color, not necessarily green.

If you experience an occasional green bowel movement—occasional being once every few weeks or month—it’s probably okay, especially if you have a diet high in vegetables. However, if it’s consistently green when you flush, you should consider seeing your doctor especially if your stools are liquid in consistency and are more frequent than your normal bowel habits. It could be a sign of a number of things, including carbohydrate enzyme deficiency, pancreatic disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or an infection. Best to get it checked out.

Chethan Ramprasad. M.D. is an internal medicine resident physician at NYU Langone.

Baha Moshiree M.D., is a gastroenterologist and internist and director of the Motility Program at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, NC. She also works with the International Foundation for GI disorders patient advocacy groups.

Meaning of poop colors

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