But, wait! Don't flush that just yet! Although it may feel like TMI, taking a closer look at what's in the bowl can reveal a lot about the state of your overall well-being. In short, a peak can help shed light on underlying factors at play—like food choices and medication—that are potentially altering the state (and color) of your stool. The good news? More often than not, your poop color meaning won't be cause for concern. Ahead we delve into the colorful world of poo with the help of a gastroenterologist who guides us on what you can learn by noticing stool's ever-changing hues.
- Brooke Scheller, DCN, MS, CNS, Dr. Brooke Scheller is a Doctor of Clinical Nutrition and personalized nutrition expert specializing in nutrition strategy, brand and innovation in the health and wellness industry.
- Mark Pimentel, MD,, Mark Pimentel MD, an associate professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology at Cedars-Sinai.
What stool color means?
Before we get into the potential colors you might see, let's discuss what can affect your poop color in the first place. For starters, as you can imagine, your food intake plays a significant role in the pigment and texture of your stool. Quick science break: The fluid in your stomach, called bile, breaks down food and nutrients for the body to absorb. However, food that your body can't digest—like fibers and some proteins—move through the small intestine, large intestine, which then is, well, what you poop. As such, what you eat, can pretty much become what you get (literally). (Read: Beet-colored number twos after eating a healthy serving of beets.)
But what you eat isn't the only factor that can play a role in poop color meaning. Other key players include: hydration levels, medicines, and other bodily fluids like blood and bile, that can also influence the colors of your stool. Again, a friendly reminder that the majority of the time the color of your stool isn't anything to worry about, especially if it falls between the greenish and brownish color spectrum. Green and brown shades of stool are typically normal, other colors can be concerning unless you had medicine or food that influences the shade, says Mark Pimentel, MD, an associate professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology at Cedars-Sinai.
So, let's get down to business, shall we? Here are five explanations behind different poop colors and when you might want to check in with your doctor to rule out any potential underlying factors:
5 common stool colors—and what they can tell us
When most of us think of what a healthy bowel movement looks like, the image of the cheerful brown poop emoji might come to mind, which is apropos considering brown-colored stool is usually a good sign when it comes to gut health. When your stool is darker brown, it's generally healthy unless you have other symptoms, says Dr. Pimentel. So, how does the food you eat get to this point in first place? Research shows that as bile and food move through the digestive tract, enzymes typically alter these materials changing them from green to brown.
If you are eating a lot of chlorophyll-rich foods that make you poop, like spinach, broccoli, and kale—you might see that reflected in your poop color. This is because these fiber-rich foods might have more chlorophyll than the bile in your stomach can manage to break down before it's expelled from the body. That's why you might notice a more-green-than-usual stool if you ate a substantial amount of green veggies before. Additionally, your body may have a hard time processing higher fiber quantities to begin with, which can result in an inability to digest all of it. That said, although green is less common than the typical brown when it comes to stool colors, it's not a cause for concern unless you have additional discomfort or symptoms.
3. Pink, purple-ish, red
If you noticed some pinkish hue to your poop, it might be coloration from beets, cranberries, red candy, cherry-colored frosting, or other red foods. So, if you ate a bunch of beets or other red-tinged goodness the day before (or a few days before) but have no other symptoms, that's more than likely the culprit. However, there are instances where bright red or purple poo can signify some blood in the stool says Brooke Scheller, MD, a doctor of clinical nutrition says.
In this case, it's best to seek medical care as soon as possible to rule out any more serious underlying conditions. Some common (and typically treatable) causes of blood in the stool include hemorrhoids, anal fissures, gastritis, or constipation. Although, it's best to consult with a medical professional to determine the best treatment plan.
Lighter tan or yellow stools aren't typically the standard, but they aren't necessarily an immediate cause for concern either. Many factors can trigger lighter-colored poop, including over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), which can also cause dark-colored stool.
If your stool is generally always on the lighter brown side, it may be your body's typical hue. And if it's yellow every once in a while, you probably don't need to worry. However, if you have yellow stool accompanied by unusual odor and textures, it may mean there's something else at play. This can indicate an issue with your liver, gallbladder, or pancreas or an inability to process fats or gluten, Dr. Scheller says.
Another stool color to take special note is black. Black (like, midnight black) is usually a sign of digested blood, says Dr. Pimentel. He adds that this usually indicates internal bleeding higher up in the digestive tract like the esophagus or stomach. Before you panic, though, Dr. Pimentel says that taking iron pills and bismuth subsalicylate can make the stool black or near black. In which case, there's no reason to worry if your stool is black due to these medications. However, if you have not taken those medicines, it's best to call your doctor.
When should I go to the doctor for poop problems?
Ultimately, you know your body better than anyone else, and it's great that you're paying attention to the information your body is giving you. So while a few stool hue changes aren't typically cause for major concern, it's always best to chat with your doctor, especially if you're experiencing unusual symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, or anything out of the ordinary.
It's also worth noting that color is just one of the many indicators of healthy poop. That's to say, you may also want to take note of how your poop smells and looks, especially if it's noticeably different than usual. For example, if your poop smells like sulfur, it may be related to malabsorption of nutrients and difficulty with digesting certain foods. Meanwhile, thin poop might mean your pelvic floor is too tense and you may need the help of a pelvic floor therapist to get things back on track (literally). Plus, if you're getting poop sweats, it can be indicative of other more serious bowel issues like irritable bowel syndrome, vasovagal syncope, or bowel incontinence. So, before you flush, take some notes.
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