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End Results: What color is your poop and other pressing fecal matters

What you need to know health-wise about shape, consistency, color and floaters

By Scott LaFee   |   May 04, 2018

​There is no really genteel way to discuss the topic, but the bottom line is that fecal matters. What comes out is a clue to what goes on inside, and knowledge is a terrible thing to waste. Consider this your school on stool.


1. It’s a bunch of crap

In a typical bowel movement, roughly three-quarters of stool volume is water. The remaining 25 percent is a mixture of bacteria (live and dead), undigested food (such as seeds, nuts, corn and beans) and substances contributed by the intestines and liver, such as mucus and bile, which aids in the digestion of fats.


2. Shape of (stuff in) water

In truth, no two stools are the same, but there’s an actual chart that categorizes discharged waste by its shape. It’s called the Bristol Stool Scale, developed at England’s Bristol Royal Infirmary as a clinical assessment tool. The scale was devised after Stephen Lewis and Ken Heaton noticed in a 1992 study that an unexpected prevalence of defecation disorders were related to the shape and type of stool. They published their new scale in 1997 in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. The Bristol scale categorizes stool by seven types:

  • Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (severe constipation)
  • Type 2: Sausage-shaped, but lumpy (mild constipation)
  • Type 3: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface (normal)
  • Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft (normal)
  • Type 5: Soft blobs with clear cut edges (lacking fiber)
  • Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool (mild diarrhea)
  • Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces, entirely liquid (severe diarrhea)

In their initial studies, Lewis and Heaton found that types 1 and 2 were more prevalent in females, while types 5 and 6 were more prevalent in males.

3. Color My Whirled

The color of stool is most broadly influenced by what you eat and the amount of bile present. As yellowish-green bile pigments travel through your gastrointestinal tract, enzymes chemically alter their color, changing them from green to brown. The brown is also due to the presence of bilirubin, a product resulting from dead red blood cells being broken down in the intestine. All shades of brown and even green are considered normal. Only rarely does the color of stool suggest a serious health problem.

  • Green: It could be due to the consumption of leafy green vegetables, green food coloring, iron supplements or possibly food moving too quickly through the large intestine (diarrhea) so that bile doesn’t have enough time to break down completely.
  • Light-colored, white or clay-colored: Lack of bile; may indicate duct obstruction. Certain medications, such as anti-diarrheal drugs containing large doses of bismuth subsalicylate like Pepto-Bismol, can also be the cause.
  • Gray: May indicate a liver or gallbladder problem or be symptomatic of viral hepatitis, gallstones or alcoholic hepatitis.
  • Yellow, greasy, foul-smelling: Excess fat in the stool, possibly due to a malabsorption disorder like celiac disease.
  • Orange: May be due to beta carotene, a compound found in many vegetables, such as carrots and winter squash. Some antibiotics and antacids contain aluminum hydroxide, which can also turn stool orange.
  • Blue: Likely due to eating lots of blue foods (blueberries) or beverages with blue coloring.
  • Black or tarry: Iron supplements and black licorice. Bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract, such as stomach, can blacken stool, as can diseases like colorectal cancer or cirrhosis.
  • Bright red: Red food coloring, red-colored fruits and vegetables (beets, cranberries, etc.) and red drinks. Bleeding in the lower intestinal tract, such as large intestine or rectum, often from hemorrhoids.
  • Note: Occasional color changes in stool aren’t typically cause for concern. However, red or black stool — or other color changes that persist for more than two weeks — should prompt a visit to the doctor.

4. Essence-tial facts

Normal stool normally smells unpleasant, the result of bacteria in the colon breaking down digested food. Stool may smell different due to changes in diet. Spicier foods and meat tend to produce stronger smells than vegetables. Very foul-smelling excrement can be a sign of a serious medical condition, such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, pancreatitis, ulcerative colitis, infection or malabsorption.

5. Going to pot

Stool frequency is regulated by the amount of fiber and fluid you consume, with exercise and staying active playing a role. There is a lot of natural, healthy variance, from three bowel movements a day to three per week. Going longer than three days between movements is cause for concern. After three days, stool becomes harder and more difficult to pass, leading to more serious issues. The important thing to know is what’s normal for you and pay attention to notable or persistence changes.

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