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

We know poop color isn't exactly the most glamorous topic of conversation. But the shades of your stool can tell you a lot about your health.

Let's start with the basics. Normal, healthy stool will be in the brown to greenish-brown family. But some colors—primarily black, red, and gray—could indicate that something's up. In general, the color of poop isn't a clear assessment of how healthy you are, but it's still important to keep track of and note if anything seems off, says Joshua Peck, M.D., a fellow in gastroenterology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "Anytime you have an unexplained change in the color of your stool, you should see a health care professional," he says. "It could be a side effect of something else." Here's a peek at what the different colors might mean.

Black

Seeing black? Quick: Think back to the foods you've eaten and the medications you've taken recently. If you've had anything with black food dye (such as licorice) or took an iron supplement or Pepto-Bismol, there's no need to panic. Each of those can turn your stool black temporarily, Dr. Peck says. If you haven't ingested any of those things, put on your detective hat and note other qualities of the stool. "Black poop with a liquid, tarry consistency and a particularly pungent smell is a sign of bleeding in the gastrointestinal system," Dr. Peck says. Consider that a medical emergency and head to the doctor ASAP.

Green

Not exactly what you want to see, but green poop is completely normal. Most likely, it's a result of eating leafy greens, like lettuce and spinach (go you!), which your body doesn't digest very well, Dr. Peck says. It could also be a sign that your stool has moved through your system very quickly, such as when you have diarrhea. Dr. Peck explains that your liver makes bile, which drains into your intestines and gives stool its normal brown color. If things are moving quickly, there's not enough time for the stool to absorb bile, and that's how you end up with that scary green shade on your back-to-back trips to the bathroom.

Yellow

Yellowish stool with greasy oil drops is a sign of malabsorption, which means your body isn't absorbing fats well. It could be the result of a handful of medical problems. "You see that in problems with the pancreas, problems with intestines absorbing food, and certain kinds of enzyme deficiency," Dr. Peck says. "It's not an emergency, but you should see a health care professional." If the stools smell particularly nasty and they float (sorry for the visual), it may turn out to be celiac disease.

Gray or Pale

A pale, grayish color indicates there's a lack of bile in your stool. "Gray or pale can mean there's a blockage of the drainage system of your liver, which is very concerning, and people definitely need to seek medical attention right away," Dr. Peck says. Check for other tip-offs that your liver isn't working properly, such as yellowing of the skin or eyes.

Red

Most of us know that any redness—a clear sign of bleeding—is something to worry about. Eating certain foods, including beets or those heavy in red food dye, could be the reason you spot the alarming shade in your poop. But in the absence of having eaten something that would change the color of your stool, red poop could indicate something serious. "The most common reason for blood in the stool is hemorrhoids, but you could also have blood in your stool for colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, among many others," Dr. Peck says. Take redness to mean something's wrong, and visit a doctor.

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