Science, Now + Beyond

Here’s what your poop says about you

Big ups to corn for always making its presence known.

Suppress that giggle, this is serious shit.

Poop is useful as more than just the fodder for some great jokes; it can be an indicator of changes in our gastrointestinal health.

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Suppress that giggle, this is serious shit. Click To Tweet

With poop, pretty much anything is possible. By that, I mean — every color of the rainbow has been observed, though some are “artificially” induced by diet.

Let’s take a look at the beautiful spectrum of the poop rainbow!

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1. Brown

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Even though many of the foods you eat are probably not brown, it’s usually normal, as you may have guessed from living for years.

This color is produced by a process in our digestive system involving our liver, gallbladder, and intestines. Red blood cells get metabolized in the liver and broken down into a molecule called bilirubin, which is excreted in bile. Bile, which is yellow, travels from your liver to your gallbladder, and the gallbladder releases it into your small intestine to aid in digestion. This bile/digesting food mixture churns together with bacteria in the intestines and transforms the bilirubin into another product, stercobilin, which turns the feces brown.

2. Red

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This can mean a lot of things, from the benign to the worrisome.

If there is blood coming out separately from the feces, and it seems like the feces themselves are brown, this can mean a bleed really close to the surface — hemorrhoids, or an anal fissure. Another clue is if wiping with toilet paper produces blood with no stool by itself. If the entire stool is red or maroon, this can mean a bleed further up in your colon. In young people, it can be a sign of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis) while in older people it may be cancer, diverticular disease, and more. Either way, the best thing to do is consult your doctor — and let them know of any other non-poop symptoms you may be having.

Before you freak out -- think about your diet, too. Click To Tweet

HOWEVER, before you freak out — think about your diet, too. Beets, cranberries, and red food coloring are common culprits — as well as the infamous Flaming Hot Cheetos.

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3. Orange

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You’re probably eating a lot of carrots, sweet potatoes, or pumpkins, my dear.

4. Yellow

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If this poop also felt greasy coming out or was particularly foul-smelling, take note. When fat does not get digested and absorbed into your body, it feels like fat coming out.

This can happen from a parasitic infection called giardiasis where protozoa invade your small intestinal cells and block nutrients from being absorbed. If you’ve gone to the mountains or woods lately and drank untreated water, or traveled abroad where you may have consumed contaminated water, you may have been at risk.

Other non-infectious absorption issues may be a cause, such as Celiac disease. See your doctor!

5. Green

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Ever wondered why diarrhea is often green?

When food moves too quickly through your digestive tract (like when you have an infection causing diarrhea), your body does not have time to break down your food and do that whole bilirubin-bile-intestinal bacteria-stercobilin process too well. If it doesn’t have time to convert into stercobilin, it won’t turn brown.

Ever wondered why diarrhea is often green? Click To Tweet

Or, you may have taken that kale/spinach juice cleanse too far.

6. Blue

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Either you’re an alien, you ate some artificially blue foods or grape soda, or you have porphyria. The latter is rare, but see your doctor in the absence of dietary causes and in the presence of bothersome symptoms.

Either you're an alien, you ate some artificially blue foods or grape soda, or you have porphyria. Click To Tweet

7. Purple

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There’s a tiny chance of porphyria again, but it’s probably just beets.

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8. Black

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Medically, there is a concern for a bleed within the beginning part of the gastrointestinal system (nose/mouth to the small intestine), and when it is, this stool is called melena. The blood turns black, instead of staying red, due to digestive chemicals and intestinal bacteria breaking it down along that long path.

Ulcers are the most common cause in which case medical help should be consulted, but first, rule out foods like licorice, blood sausage/blood soups, and iron supplements. Over the counter medications like Pepto Bismol and Maalox can contribute, and make sure to look up side effects of new medications you’ve started — quite a few can cause black stools.

9. White/Pale

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Without bile, which contains bilirubin, the poop cannot turn brown — the bilirubin cannot be converted to the darker stercobilin.

Therefore, if the bile duct is obstructed, such as (most commonly) from gallstones blocking those ducts, the bile cannot come down into the intestine to darken the stool. Bile duct obstruction can be one cause of pale stools, but also take a look at your medications.

Without bile, which contains bilirubin, the poop cannot turn brown Click To Tweet

Happy bathroom days, everyone!

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Tatyana Zinger

Tatyana Zinger

Dr. Tatyana Zinger was born in Belarus and raised in New York. She obtained her medical degree from LECOM and holds a B.S. in Medicinal Chemistry from University at Buffalo, sharing alumni status with the great Wolf Blitzer. She is a lover of science and writing, art and cooking. Tea runs through her arteries and comes back through her veins as insight.

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