The Color of Your Bowel Movements--What It
Means

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January 26, 2008, last updated April 17, 2014
By Arthur Stevens, Contributing Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other
members of our Editorial Board.]



My stool is black, what does this mean? My bowels were bright
red, should I be concerned? How many times have you looked
at your stool and secretly worried that your body had just
given you a major clue that something is terribly wrong? We all
have. We all study our stools. But few if any of us know what
we're looking at.

First, some basic facts. Your stool comes through your small
and large intestines. The intestines are filled with mucus. They
add bacteria and water to food, break it down, physically
manipulate the bolus as it moves along the intestines. They add
bile --a yellow green product from the gallbladder (the bile is
only produced in the
gallbladder)  --- to help break it down
more.

The whole system works a little like a compost pile in your
backyard.


Once the food is broken down, the nutrients are absorbed
through the small intestines into the blood stream. What's left,
the glob, contains leftover indigestible fiber, bacteria, some
water and some oil. It can also of course contain bile and
mucus.


Stool naturally comes in different colors. It is affected mostly
by what you eat. Eat beets, your stool will be red. Drink blue
Kool-aid, your stool will be bluish.  Eat lemon peels, and you'll
have yellow stool.

People often become concerned about the color of their bowel
movements when they see red stools, which they believe,
sometimes mistakenly, indicates the presence of blood in stools.
(
Read more about the causes of and remedies for bloody
stools.)



































But the color of your stools is also affected by the amount of
bile in the mix.  Bile turns brown stool into a yellow-brown or
green.


So, here is a chart of the stool colors you might see and what
they mean:















































































































1.
Black Bowel Color Can Mean Internal Bleeding

When your stool changes from regular brown to black it is
often the sign of bleeding in the stomach or the intestines – the
blood changes the color of your stool. If your black bowel
movements are also sticky and tar-like (as well as foul smelling)
you are probably suffering from an injury or disorder in your
digestive tract, so see your doctor. A black stool can also be
caused by gastritis, bowel ischemia, a Mallory-Weiss tear, or a
stomach ulcer.

An underlying cause of gastritis is said to be infection with the
organism Helicobacter pylori. Probiotics are said to help inhibit
the growth of this organism, making it less likely you’ll suffer
from gastritis and black bowel movements. Research including
a 1998 study from Tokai University School of Medicine,
Isehara, Kanagawa, Japan and a 2001 study from University
Hospital, Lausanne, Switzerland show probiotics have a positive
effect against the development of gastritis.

2.
Does a Red Bowel Movement Mean Bowel Cancer?

If your stool is red it is also a sign of bleeding but from a
different location – red or maroon bowel color is often due to
bleeding from the lower part of the intestine. Most of us are
worried if we see a red bowel movement and automatically
assume we have
bowel cancer.

Red stools may be a sign of
bowel cancer but there are other
reasons for blood in the stool, including hemorrhoids, anal
fissures, ulcers, and polyps.

Hemorrhoids are one of the most common reasons for red
bowel movements. Ten million people in the United States
suffer from hemorrhoids, according to 1990 research from the
Department of Medicine, Veterans Administration Medical
Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can get rid of painful
hemorrhoids, or piles, by getting regular exercise and eating a
lot of fiber as part of a healthy balanced diet. You could also try
increasing your intake of bioflavonoids. Bioflavonoids are
found in fruits and vegetables – the results of a 1994 study
from Hôpital Rothschild, Paris, France found that bioflavonoids
from citrus fruits helped reduce the severity and frequency of
hemorrhoids.

You can help protect yourself from bowel cancer and other
disorders of the digestive tract that produce red bowel
movements by increasing your intake of fiber. Those of us who
eat the most fiber have a 40 percent lower risk of bowel cancer
than those that eat the least fiber, according to a 1992 report
initiated by the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer.
Fruit and vegetables, whole grains and whole cereals are all
good sources of fiber.

3.
Yellow Stool Is a Sign of Digestive Malfunction

Yellow bowel color is usually due to a problem in the digestive
system and the way fats pass through your body. Yellow stools
are less common than red or black stools and can be a sign of
pancreatic disease. When the pancreas is not doing its job
properly the fat in your diet is not completely digested and
produces yellow-colored poop that may also be greasy in
appearance and smell bad. Diseases that cause yellow stool
include pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, Gilbert's Syndrome, or a
parasite infection. It’s a good idea to visit your doctor for tests
if you suffer from a yellow bowel movement.

Chronic and acute pancreatitis can be caused by alcohol abuse,
gallstones, trauma and infection. According to a 1989 study by
the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New York chronic
pancreatitis leads to a malabsorption of fat, which in turn leads
to
vitamin A and vitamin E deficiencies. If your yellow stools
are due to pancreatitis then it is worth taking a multivitamin
and mineral supplement to prevent further nutritional problems.

Update:

But Yellow Stools Are Normal In Infants

Among infants, yellow stools are quite common. At age 4
weeks, almost all infants have yellow stools, which eventually
turn to brown by the age of 6 months, according to a 2009
study led by Drs. Steer and Emond from the University of
Bristol in the UK.

4.
What Do Green Stools Mean?

If you’re experiencing a green bowel movement it may be
because your stool is passing too quickly through your system.
When stool transit time is fast it doesn’t have time to be broken
down by bile – bile changes the stool from green to brown.
One herb that is said to increase bile production is South
American boldo. Studies such as a 1991 research paper from
Laboratoire de Pharmacognosie, Université de Metz, France
have attempted to prove that boldo is useful for increasing bile
production but results have been mixed and more research is
needed.

Green bowel movements may also be caused by eating green
food or drinking green beverages. Kool-Aid and gelatin contain
high amounts of green food coloring and may change the color
of your movements.

5.
What About Blue Bowel Color?

Blue poop is certainly unusual. Again, the most likely reason for
blue bowel movements is something you’ve eaten. Cake
frosting, Kool-Aid and anything else with a strongly
concentrated blue coloring can alter the color of your bowel
movements. Blue stools are not associated with any specific
disease or condition but if you are worried about your stools
then see a doctor who can put your mind at rest.

6.
The Meaning of White/ Clay Stools

Stools that are white or clay colored are not being properly
exposed to bile during the digestive process. Conditions such
as hepatitis and gallbladder disorders disrupt the flow of bile
from the liver and can cause clay or white stools to appear.

Eating lots of fatty foods can also change the color of your
stool to white or clay, so cut down on your fat consumption to
prevent white bowel color.

Of the fat which changes your stool color white, fried meat fat
is the worst.

Studies have found that eating meat fried at high temperatures
can trigger the growth of cancerous cells in your stool. A 2011
study led by Dr. Daniela Shaughnessy of the Laboratory of
Molecular Carcinogenesis, National Institute of Environmental
Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health (NIH), discovered
that eating fried meat changes the composition of the cells in
your colon to a pre-cancerous stage.  

The good news is that the researchers also found that eating
yogurt and cruciferous vegetables can help to combat the bad
effects of eating fried meat.  

A 1991 study from the Istituto di Medicina Interna, Università
di Padova, Italy showed that the herb "milk thistle" improves
the liquidity of bile and may be of help in treating gallbladder
disorders.

Update:

In infants, pale colored bowels indicate hepatobiliary disease,
and obstruction of the bile ducts which can be serious and even
fatal. But this condition, which can be successfully treated with
surgery if caught early enough, is often misdiagnosed by
doctors, according to a 2012 study from King's Medical College
in London. About 33% of doctors and nurses cannot properly
diagnose this condition indicated by pale stool, the study found.



Related:

Blood in Stools --Causes and Cures

3 Best Tips to Cure Irregular Bowel Movements

The Secret to Why Americans Read in Bathrooms

Urine Color --What It Means

Bowel Movements-Best Clue to Your Health

Exercises That Increase Bowel Movements

Acolic Stools -Top 7 Causes and Treatments

Child Constipation--Causes and Top 10 Natural Remedies

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Snoring Linked to Stroke

Why Americans Read In Bathrooms-The Hidden Epidemic of
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Foods That Reduce Blood Pressure

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Stool Color
Cause
Food That
Produces
Color
What You
Should Do
Brown
Normal
Almost all foods
produce brown
stool. The brown
color comes from
the bacteria that
occur naturally in
the intestines
Nothing. If its
medium soft, about
the size of a small
banana, you're
fine. If it's marble
sized, you're
constipated.
Mucus
Normal
None. Mucus comes
from the intestines
themselves. Only if
a lot of mucus is
present, is there a
concern. If so, get
checked for Crohn's
or ulcerative colitis
See a doctor only if
there's a lot of
mucus, if it
continues for more
than a week or two
or if there's red
from blood.
Green
Bile. Your food is
moving through the
intestines too fast.
As a result, the bile
stays green --not
brown, as it does
when it has time to
process the food
and finish breaking
it down. Green or
darkish stool is
normal in infants
who are fed formula.
In addition, all
babies (even those
who are breast
fed), pass a first
stool called the
"meconium" which
is slimy and green
and is passed only
once. After that,
normal patterns
settle in
Diarrhea can
produce green
stool. Diarrhea
means the food is
moving too fast
through the
intestines. Bile is
naturally
greenish-yellow. As
it moves through
the intestines,
enzymes turn the
bile brown. (Read
more about
how to
stop diarrhea.)
 
Yellow
Excess fat in the
intestines. Oily,
yellow stools can
also mean that you
have a disorder
which makes your
intestines unable to
break down oily
food. Yellow or
mustard colored
stools are normal in
breast-fed infants.
Yellow stools in
infants can also
indicate bilaria
atresia. Less
common causes of
yellow stools
include Gilbert's
syndrome.
Gluten (Read more
about
quinoa and
other gluten-free
foods).
See a doctor if it
continues to rule
out Celiac's disease
Red
Depends on what
makes it red. If it's
blood, see a doctor
and be screened for
colon cancer,
Crohn's and
ulcerative colitis.
(Read more about
causes of  blood in
your stools.)
Beets, Red Kool-aid
or other dry powder
drinks, peppers,
even tomatoes and
tomato sauce,
pepperoni
sausages. Other
causes are
Diazepam syrup,
phenopthalein,
medications such as
Ampicillin
Viprynium
or
Dioralyteoral
rehydration solution.
If it's blood, see a
doctor, could be
colon cancer,
Crohn's or
ulcerative colitis.

Blood in stools
accompanied by
diarrhea is a
symptom of food
poisoning. (Read
more about
common
causes of
and remedies for
food poisoning.)
White, Pale or
Clay Colored
Not enough bile.
Your bile would
change this color of
your stool to brown
Bread, flour, rice
Your bile duct may
have an
obstruction. Or your
medications could
be the cause (even
over-the-counter
meds like
Kaopectate, Pepto
Bismol, Tums). If
the white or light
color continues, see
a doctor

Pale or clay-colored
stools can also
indicate problems
in the biliary
drainage system,
which affects your
pancreas, liver and
gallbladder. The
condition is called
acolic stools.
Typically, your skin
also turns yellow
(
jaundice) when you
have acolic stools.
Other conditions
that can produce
pale or clay colored
stools include
alcoholism,
gallstones, liver
cirrhosis, cysts and
cancer.
Black or Dark
Green
Iron. Or, it could
also mean that
your stomach or GI
tract is bleeding.

Pepto Bismol can
also turn stools
black due to the
ingredient "bismuth
subsalicylate".
Iron pills, liver,
meats, dark
vegetables such as
spinach or kale,
broccoli, black
licorice, black olives
Usually clears up on
its own once you
re-balance your
diet. See a doctor if
it continues
because it could
mean your stomach
is bleeding



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Eating meat fried at high temperatures can
change the color of your stool.