How to Treat a Crohn's Flare

Stool Colors

What Do Different Stool Colors Mean?

Different stool colors can mean different things, mostly depending on what you’ve eaten.

You’d probably notice if your poop is a different hue than normal. But what does it mean if it’s green? What about red, yellow, white, or black? Or orange?

Most of the time, minor changes in the color of your waste are due to diet. After all, we don’t eat the same thing at every meal, every day. But sometimes a color change can signal a minor health issue. In rare cases, it means something serious is wrong in your digestive system.

If the color you see before you flush worries you, call your doctor.

Normal Poop Color

Poop is normally brown. The color is the result of what you eat and how much bile is in your stool.

Bile is a fluid your liver makes to digest fats. It starts out as a yellowish green color. But as the pigments that give bile its color travel through your digestive system, they go through chemical changes and turn brown.

Green Poop

Your poop can sometimes have a slightly greenish hue, or even be a more vivid green. Most of the time, green or greenish poop is normal.

Is your diet causing green poop?

Think back on what you’ve been eating. These foods and supplements can cause your poop to be green:

  • Green veggies, like spinach or kale
  • Green food coloring, such as in drink mixes or ice pops
  • Iron supplements

Other causes of green poop

If you have green diarrhea, the color of your food may not be to blame. It’s likely that your meal moved through your gut too quickly, so the fat-digesting bile didn’t have time to turn brown.

Yellow Poop

There may be times when your poop looks more yellow than brown.

This shade is also normal for many people. It’s common for babies, especially those who breastfeed. But if you have yellow poop that looks greasy and smells very bad, it may have too much fat. That could be a sign your body isn’t digesting food properly.

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Is your diet causing yellow poop?

Indirectly, your diet could cause yellow poop. If you have celiac disease, your body can’t handle a protein called gluten, which is in wheat, barley, and rye. If you have the condition and eat foods that have gluten, like many breads, pastas, and cookies, your intestines won’t work as they should. So, if you’re eating those foods, and your poop is yellow, it may be time to see a doctor.

Other causes of yellow poop

There may be other causes of yellow poop that’s greasy and smelly. If it happens to you often, tell your doctor.

White, Pale, or Clay-Colored Poop

Sometimes, poop may not have much color at all.

Is your diet causing pale poop?

If your poop is pale, it’s not likely directly due to a food. But medicines for diarrhea like bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol) can sometimes cause pale or clay-colored poop. So can barium, a chalky liquid you drink before you get X-rays of the upper part of your digestive tract.

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Other causes of pale poop

A more serious cause is a lack of bile in your stool. (Remember, bile gives poop its brown color.) Your body makes bile in the liver, stores it in the gallbladder, and releases it into your small intestine to help digest your food. If there’s not enough of it to give your poop its typical brown color, it could be a sign of a problem along the way.

Liver disease, such as hepatitis, can keep bile from getting into your body waste. So can a blockage in the tubes (called ducts) that carry bile. This can happen because of:

  • Gallstones
  • A tumor
  • A condition you’re born with called biliary atresia

Black Poop

Babies’ poop is black for the first few days after they’re born. Otherwise, it may be because you ate something very dark-colored or took a medicine or supplement that causes black poop. But this color can be a sign of a more serious problem: bleeding in the upper part of your digestive tract.

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Is your diet causing black poop?

Foods and supplements that turn poop black include:

  • Black licorice
  • Blueberries
  • Iron supplements

Medicines that have bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol) can also cause very dark stools.

Other causes of black poop

Poop that looks like tar is often a sign of bleeding in the digestive tract. Some causes include:

If you don’t think black poop came from what you ate, you need to talk to your doctor.

Red or Reddish Poop

If you see red or reddish poop in the toilet, don’t be alarmed right away. First ask yourself if you’ve had red foods lately.

Is your diet causing red or reddish poop?

Several foods can change the color of your stool to a pink or reddish color:

  • Beets
  • Tomato soup
  • Gelatin dessert
  • Red drinks

Other causes of red or reddish poop

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If you don’t think your diet is the cause, the red you see may be blood. And if it’s bright red, the blood likely comes from the lower part of your digestive tract. Common causes include:

  • Noncancerous tumors
  • Cancer
  • Inflammation in the colon, called colitis
  • Growths called polyps in your colon
  • Conditions caused by small sacs in the wall of the colon, called diverticular disease
  • Hemorrhoids

Call your doctor if you see red that’s probably not from food you ate.

Orange Poop

Poop can often come out the color of the food that went in, especially if you have diarrhea. If your poop has an orange hue, it’s most likely due to some orange foods.

Is your diet causing orange poop?

Foods that have beta-carotene can turn your poop orange, such as:

Foods with orange coloring, such as sodas, candy, or gelatin dessert, can also give your poop an orange color.

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Also, antibiotics and antacids that have aluminum hydroxide in them can make your stool orange.

Other causes of orange poop

Rarely, poop can be orange if you have a problem with your liver that causes it to make less bile than normal, or a blockage that keeps bile from leaving the liver and entering your system. But usually, if this is the case, your poop will be pale or clay-colored.

When to Get Help for Poop Color Changes

Most of the time, poop that’s a different color from what you’re used to isn’t something to worry about. It’s rare for it to be a sign of a serious condition in your digestive system. But if it’s white, bright red, or black, and you don’t think it’s from something you ate, call your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on August 25, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Stool Color: When to Worry,” “White Stool: Should I be Concerned?”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “What Can Your Child's Poop Color Tell You?”

National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Definition & Facts for Celiac Disease,” “Gastritis,” “Symptoms & Causes of GI Bleeding.”

UC San Diego Health: “End Results: What color is your poop and other pressing fecal matters.”

Healthy Children.org: “Stools -- Unusual Color. “

Merck Manual: “Cholestasis.”

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