Healthy stools should be a medium brown colour thanks to bilirubin, a byproduct of red blood cells produced by the liver. The liver sends bilirubin and bile to the gallbladder which enters the intestines and eventually exits the body in poop.
The colour of your stools can fluctuate based on what you've eaten. However, if you're pooping rainbows or if your poop is consistently a colour other than brown, your body might be sending you signals that something is off in the gut.
Here are some common colours that can indicate it's time for a gut check.
If you suspect something is medically wrong, please contact your doctor for an assessment!
What Yellow Stool Means
Unless you ate a lot of yellow foods, yellow stools occur because of undigested fat, especially if the stool looks greasy, frothy or is floating. There are several potential reasons this can occur:
Liver/Gallbladder Problems: If there is not enough bile in the intestines, stool can turn yellow. This can occur because the liver is not making enough bile due to liver disease like hepatitis or cirrhosis or because the bile isn't moving into the intestines due to gallstones of gallbladder sludge. If the gallbladder has been removed completely, this can also cause yellow stools.
Pancreas Problems: The pancreas produces enzymes that help break down food. In conditions like pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, or a blockage in the pancreas, enzymes will not be produced/released and the stool can turn yellow.
Giardia: This parasite is found in ponds and lakes, dog parks, and can be picked up through fecal contamination of food or water. One of the most common symptoms of Giardia is yellow, foul-smelling diarrhea.
Fast Transit Time: Food should take 18-24 hours (optimally) form your fork to the toilet. If your transit time is much less than this, due to stress, parasites or dysbiosis, stool can appear yellow because the digestive process wasn't complete.
What Red Stool Means
If you've eaten beets in the last couple of days and your stool is red, don't worry! That's 100% normal. If not, it may be time to call your doctor as this could be an indication that there is blood in your stool:
Hemorrhoids or Fissures: Internal or external hemorrhoids are extremely common and can bleed, which will be visible in stool.
Gastrointestinal Bleeding: Due to inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn's or Colitis, diverticulitis, polyps or potentially colon cancer.
Infection: Certain pathogens can cause bloody stool, including E. coli and Rotavirus.
What Black Stool Means
Black stool can be completely harmless or a sign that there is something serious going on in your gut.
Iron Supplements: If you recently started taking an iron supplement and are now seeing darker or black stools, it could be due to the excess iron leaving through your poop. If this is combined with constipation or stomach pain when you take the supplement, you may need a gentler form of iron.
Bismuth: Pepto bismol can cause dark or black stool, which is normal and harmless.
Upper-GI Bleeding: Ulcers in the stomach or duodenum can bleed and by the time the blood leaves though stool, the colour will have darkened to black. This can also be a sign of esophageal or stomach cancer.
Black Foods: Naturally black foods or dyed black foods can change the colour of your stool to match. This will not be accompanied with any pain or symptoms.
What Green Stool Means
The most common cause of green stool is the consumption of green foods like green veggies or greens powders. Other potential causes that should be ruled out include:
Biliary Imbalances: Bile is a green colour, so if there is excessive bile production or poor breakdown of bile acids, they will colour the stool green.
Iron Supplements: For some people, iron supplements take on a green hue in the stool.
Antibiotics: The good bacteria in your large intestine contribute to the brown colour of healthy stool. If you've been taking antibiotics, the resulting loss of these good bacteria can cause stool to remain a green colour.
Infections: Pathogens such as Salmonella, Giardia, C. difficil, and norovirus that cause diarrhea can also cause malabsorption leading to green stool.
What Chalky/White Stool Means
Certain medical tests that require the consumption of barium will cause while stool when the barium leaves your body. Otherwise, very pale or white stool is usually a cause for concern:
Liver Disease: White stool can indicate the liver is damaged or diseased and requires immediate care.
Bile Duct Obstruction: When no bile reaches the stool, it will turn a very pale colour. When this occurs, immediate treatment may be required.
If you've already seen your doctor for abnormal stool and need help identifying further imbalances that can be supported for optimal gut health, check out my program Gut Rehab Intensive.