Cracking the Colon Color Code

By Riva Preil

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the medical information that can be gleaned from one’s urine (refer to What Version is Your Urine? April 11, 2014).  Today, I have a similar opportunity to do so regarding … bowel movements!  Warning: If you are enjoying my blog while eating your lunch, or if you are about to do so, you might want to hold off until you have finished eating.  Just thought you would appreciate that public service announcement.

That being said…stool is the body’s garbage.  Waste products, dead blood cells, bile, gastrointestinal bacteria, and other non-absorbable items (remember that time that you accidentally swallowed that penny?  Yep, that’s what I’m referring to) are excreted in one’s bowel movements. Stool is covered in a mucus sheath to help it slide out of the body.  Those who don’t drink enough water may experience straining and discomfort while passing a bowel movement, because mucus production is dependent on adequate water intake (8 cups a day).

The color of one’s stool may provide valuable information regarding one’s health.

  • GREEN stool may indicate sensitivity to Anise oil, an ingredient found in some licorice candies.  It may also indicate that stool is passing through the large intestine (aka colon) too rapidly for bile (which aids in the digestion of fats) to be fully broken down.  This may also occur when one consumes large amounts of green leafy vegetables and/or artificial food colorings.
  • WHITE or clay colored stool may indicate a bile duct obstruction, perhaps by a gallstone, enlarged lymph node, or scarring of the bile duct.  Other symptoms that accompany bile obstruction include abdominal pain, dark urine, and jaundice.
  • YELLOW stool that smells like sour eggs and appears greasy may indicate excessive amounts of fat in the stool. This is a common symptom of Celiac Disease, during which bile does not properly break down fat
  • BLACK stool could be a result of too much Pepto-Bismol, black licorice, or even beer.  However, if the stool is black, sticky, and foul smelling, it may also be a result upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding.  One should seek medical attention if they experience the aforementioned symptoms.
  • BRIGHT RED stool, as with black stool, may simply be the result of overconsumption of certain foods (ex. beets, cranberries, tomato juice, red gelatin, or Kool-Aid)…or it may indicate lower gastrointestinal tract bleeding.  Once again, one should consult with their physician if they suspect anything “out of the ordinary.”

For more information check out this article, “What Your Poop Is Trying to Tell You,” on Gizmodo!

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