What the Color of Your Poop Can Tell You About Your Health

Food, meds, and underlying health concerns can all change the color of poop. Here's what each hue really means.

Though well-informed about stool color, gastroenterologist Brett Mendel, MD, of Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates, was perplexed when his wife called him concerned about their 11-month-old daughter. The concern? Their daughter's diaper had black poop in it.

"Didn't you say black poop is bad?" Dr. Mendel recalled his wife asking. Indeed, black-colored poop in adults can be indicative of a serious health concern, said Dr. Mendel. But the baby seemed fine, and the poop didn't have a tar-like consistency, another sign in adults that something may be wrong.

Since Dr. Mendel doesn't specialize in pediatrics, he did what most of us would do next and consulted Dr. Google. There, he found a potential culprit: blueberries.

"I was digging through poop," said Dr. Mendel. "But blueberries can turn baby poop black. I was unaware of this, so I was on a poop scavenger hunt."

Luckily, Dr. Mendel's daughter's black poop was nothing to worry about. But poop colors and consistency can be a window into someone's overall health and well-being. "It's usually the first finding of changes in the body that could be much more meaningful."

What Do Different Poop Colors Mean?

"It is absolutely normal for stool to vary in color," said Felice Schnoll-Sussman, MD, director of the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.

Often, these color changes are due to foods in your diet, said Dr. Schnoll-Sussman. But all shades of brown and most shades of green are considered normal.

"Brown is normally associated with the natural breakdown of bile in the GI tract," said Dr. Mendel. Bile is secreted by the liver and helps to break down fat.

Poop that isn't brown or green isn't always cause for concern. But any time there's a change of stool color or consistency–or if you're at all worried about your poop color and other symptoms–it doesn't hurt to talk with a professional, said Dr. Mendel.

Green-colored Stool

Often, green poop may be due to something in your diet, like green leafy vegetables or green food coloring. In some cases, you may even spot bits of vegetable roughage in your stool, like kale, said Dr. Mendel.

But green-colored poop may also be a sign that food is moving through the digestive tract too quickly without enough time for bile to turn stool brown. This can be due to diarrhea or something called "dumping syndrome," said Dr. Mendel. Dumping syndrome is when food moves too quickly from the stomach to the small intestine, and it is common after stomach or esophageal surgery.

Clay-colored Stool or Pale Stool

Like black-colored poop, clay or pale stool sets off an alarm bell among GI specialists, Dr. Mendel said.

"It can indicate the absence of bile," added Dr. Mendel. "And a lot of times an obstruction of normal bile flow is one of the first indicators of pancreatic cancer."

If there's something serious going on like pancreatic cancer or liver disease, clay-colored or pale stool may also be accompanied by jaundice—a yellowing of the eye­s and skin—which means bile is not being released into the GI tract.

Yellow-colored Stool

People may notice yellow-colored poop in a few different situations. Often, it's associated with fatty foods not breaking down all the way, which can be related to issues with the pancreas, Dr. Mendel said.

If the stool is yellow and also oily, greasy, and smells worse than usual, it might be a sign of celiac disease or an infection caused by the parasite giardia, Dr. Mendel added.

However, in babies, especially if they're breastfed, yellow-colored stool is considered normal.

Black-colored Stool

While Dr. Mendel learned black-colored poop in babies may just be a sign of eating too many blueberries, in adults, it's a sign that something serious could be going on.

Black poop is often an indicator of bleeding, typically in the upper GI tract—the stomach or the first part of the small intestine called the duodenum. Blood in the upper GI tract can also give stool a tar-like consistency and could be due to ulcers, sores, or tumors. If you notice black, tar-like poop, seek medical attention immediately.

But black color alone isn't always cause for concern. Pepto-Bismol, iron supplements, and even black licorice have been known to turn poop black. The consistency in those cases is usually normal.

Bright Red-colored Stool

While some foods, like beets and red gelatin, might cause reddish poop, a bright red color is often a sign of bleeding lower in the intestinal tract.

If your poop is bright red, that's something you should seek care for, said Dr. Mendel. Blood on toilet paper after straining to poop could be a sign of hemorrhoids, but blood coming into the toilet bowl could indicate diverticular bleeding or a cancer in the colon.

Why Your Stool Color Might Change

Stool color is complex, and it can change for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Bleeding: Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to red or black stool. A few potential causes of bleeding include hemorrhoids, ulcers, and in some cases, colorectal cancer.
  • Certain medical conditions: Health conditions ranging from constipation to gallstones to cancer can cause a person's stool to change color.
  • Eating certain foods: Food coloring and even certain compounds within food can change the color of a person's poop. For example, a person might notice orange poop if they eat a lot of carrots, red poop if they eat cranberries, or blue poop if they drink something with blue coloring.
  • Taking certain medications or supplements: Some medicines and supplements can lead to a change in stool color. For example, certain anti-diarrheal drugs can darken the stool.

When To Contact a Healthcare Provider

While a change in poop color is not always an emergency, you should reach out to a healthcare provider if your stool color deviates from brown for longer than a few days. If you notice the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Black, tar-like poop
  • Blood in the stool
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Jaundice
  • Vomiting blood

A Quick Review

Your poop color can change for a number of reasons. The culprit may be as harmless as food coloring, but in some cases, changes in stool color can be a sign of something more serious. You should contact a healthcare provider if you're worried about your stool color.

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8 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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