What Does Stool Color Mean?

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on

Stool color can be a great indicator of what's going on inside of you.

We can learn a lot from poop. Seriously, hear me out. What comes out can tell us a lot about what’s going on inside. Color, consistency, appearance, and odor are all indications of how healthy, or unhealthy, you are. Think of it like reading tea leaves, except with hard science to back it up.

So What Can We Learn from Stool Color?

Brown might be the standard color of bowel movements, but it’s not the only color. Actually, if it comes out another color, it’s a good idea to start asking questions. While it’s probably nothing, you can’t be too cautious. The human body isn’t like a machine where you can simply take a look under the hood to make sure everything is functioning properly. What you excrete is one of the best indicators of your wellness. Let’s take a look at what some common “alternative” colors can mean.

Green Stool

Green stool is not usually a cause for concern; it’s probably just something you ate. Foods high in chlorophyll, like kale and spinach, can lend your voidings that viridian hue. Certain types of algae or other supplements can also cause stool to be green. [1]

If you’re sure, however, that such foods aren’t the culprit, it’s time to start looking into possible digestive problems. The liver produces bile, which is green in color, and uses it to break down fats. Stool should pass from the small intestine to the colon, changing color along the way from green to yellow to brown. Green stool could mean that food is passing through the digestive system too quickly and the color change doesn’t finish. [1]

It’s worth noting that infants have a much faster bowel transit time than adults. Green stool is common in breastfeeding infants and usually nothing to worry about.[2]

White Stool

Mucus is the most common cause of white stool and it’s not unusual. Mucus traps bacteria and helps waste pass through the colon. If the white disintegrates into the water, it’s likely just mucus. It can also be a sign of fast bowel transit time. [3] [4] However, kidney health concerns or issues in the biliary system are serious causes of white stool.

Yellow Stool

Like green stool, yellow stool is common and benign with newborns and something that will pass, pardon the pun. [2] Yellow stool is not normal for adults. The lone exception to this would be a situation in which a massive amount of yellow food coloring had been recently ingested. If you see yellow stool, organs such as the stomach, liver, large intestine, or small intestine, may be experiencing trouble. See a health professional sooner than later. [5]

Other Stool Colors

Dark black can indicate blood in the upper digestive tract. If your stool is dark black, you should seek immediate medical attention! [6] [7]

Dark brown can result from red wine, excess salt, or not eating enough vegetables.

Beet red can result from eating red foods or excess iron. [8]

Have you found any other interesting colors in your morning constitutional? If you aren’t shy, leave a comment and let us know.

References (8)
  1. Picco, Michael F., M.D. "Stool Color: When to Worry." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 12 Oct. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.
  2. den Hertog J, van Leengoed E, Kolk F, van den Broek L, Kramer E, Bakker EJ, Bakker-van Gijssel E, Bulk A, Kneepkens F, Benninga MA. The defecation pattern of healthy term infants up to the age of 3 months. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2012 Nov;97(6):F465-70. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2011-300539. Epub 2012 Apr 20.
  3. Shah I, Bhatnagar S, Dhabe H. Clinical and biochemical factors associated with biliary atresia. Trop Gastroenterol. 2012 Jul-Sep;33(3):214-7.
  4. Bakshi B, Sutcliffe A, Akindolie M, Vadamalayan B, John S, Arkley C, Griffin LD, Baker A. How reliably can paediatric professionals identify pale stool from cholestatic newborns? Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2012 Sep;97(5):F385-7. doi: 10.1136/fetalneonatal-2010-209700.
  5. Morris, Susan York, and Natalie Butler, RD, LD. "Why Is My Stool Yellow?" Healthline. Healthline, 21 Apr. 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.
  6. Witting MD1, Magder L, Heins AE, Mattu A, Granja CA, Baumgarten M. ED predictors of upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding in patients without hematemesis. Am J Emerg Med. 2006 May;24(3):280-5.
  7. Huang J, Zhong M, Tang Y, Lu J, Li X, Li G. Clinical features of 50 cases of primary gastric lymphoma. Zhong Nan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2012 Oct;37(10):997-1002. doi: 10.3969/j.issn.1672-7347.2012.10.005.
  8. Lancaster J, Sylvia LM, Schainker E. Nonbloody, red stools from coadministration of cefdinir and iron-supplemented infant formulas. Pharmacotherapy. 2008 May;28(5):678-81. doi: 10.1592/phco.28.5.678.

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