Everybody poops – there’s even a best-selling children’s book about it. While it’s perhaps gross or embarrassing, taking regular number twos is a crucial component of normal digestive function, and any sudden change in your bowel movements could be a sign that something is wrong or abnormal. The color of your stools can be affected by a number of different things including diet, infection, digestive obstructions, or more. Let’s talk about what the color of your poos may say about your health, and when it might be a cause for concern.
First things first: what are feces, anyway? When you eat, food passing through the body is broken down in the gut, and nutrients are absorbed through the intestinal tract. What is not broken down traverses the excretory system and emerges from the anus when we defecate. On average, poop is around ¾ water, with the remainder made up of digestive bacteria, undigested proteins, carbohydrates, and fiber, and a small amount of bile, a digestive fluid that is produced in the liver. Varying amounts of any of these, or the presence of other components in feces, may affect the color of your bowel movements.
Feces get their normal brown color from bile, which has a yellow-green shade when it is produced in the liver but changes in pigment due to a series of chemical reactions that occur as it is processed by the digestive system.
So what does it mean when your number twos are not that familiar dark brown color?
If your bowel movements are coming out green, there’s not necessarily any reason to worry. This is usually a result of eating a large amount of green vegetables like spinach or kale. It could also result from consuming green food coloring or certain supplements.
Waste that is yellow in color can have a variety of possible causes. Yellowish turds are relatively normal, especially in infants who are breast-feeding. However, yellow poop that is greasy in texture and particularly foul-smelling could mean that your bowel movements have very high-fat content. This could be caused by a disorder such as celiac disease or gluten intolerance,
Excrement that appears unusually pale often indicates a low concentration of bile, which is what gives stool its brown color. This could mean that there is a blockage in the bile duct, or an issue affecting the liver or gallbladder such as a tumor, gallstones, or alcoholic hepatitis.
Unless you’ve recently eaten a whole mess of blueberries or black licorice, black stools should be treated as a potential cause for concern. This frequently means that there is bleeding somewhere in the upper digestive system, which can be caused by ulcers, acid reflux, or even cancer.
A red bowel movement might be alarming, but don’t panic – it could just be something you ate. Beets, tomato soup, and red jell-o are just a few examples of foods that can result in reddish feces. However, it could also mean there is blood in your stool, which could have a number of causes ranging from mild to serious. Specific sources of fecal blood can include menstruation, hemorrhoids, colitis, polyps, abnormal blood vessels, or cancers of the lower digestive tract. If your poop is coming out bright red and there is no clear dietary cause, you should call a doctor immediately.
In all cases of unusual stool color, it’s important not to jump to conclusions – very often it will just be the result of something you’ve eaten. If you notice abnormal stool without a clear dietary cause, that’s when you should contact a doctor in case the issue may be something serious. Medical Offices of Manhattan’s Dr. Andrea Culliford is a board-certified gastroenterologist with extensive knowledge of conditions affecting the digestive tract. We also offer colonoscopy for diagnosis of these issues. If you encounter unusual bowel movements or any other digestive issues, don’t hesitate to set up an appointment.