Get the Scoop on Your Poop - Stool Color and Stool Shape - What it Means

Wait. Hold that flush- if just long enough to look at the contents in your toilet bowl.  Really? Yes, because what you excrete can tell you volumes, not only about the health of your digestion system but also about your overall internal health.  Are you having Diarrhea?  Constipation? Bloating After Eating?  Read On!

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For example if your gastrointestinal tract is not functioning properly on a regular basis, you may have stools that are difficult to pass or just the opposite, loose frequent bowel movements. Or you may nave abnormal shapes, texture, colors and smell. 

There are four basic characteristics to observe – regularity, color, consistency and shape. Here’s a quick look at what’s normal and when it’s time for concern. 

Stool Regularity 

While professional opinions differ, many agree that normal bowels are regular bowels. If you eat three or more times a day, as most of use do, logic follows that you would also need to eliminate on a daily basis too. Anything less than that indicates the food is not being assimilated or the food has become stagnant resulting in constipation. More than three bowel movements per day can also be a sign that you are not assimilating your food.

Stool Color

The food we eat, bile levels, and transit time are all factors that contribute to stool color. You may have IBS with varying stool colors such as IBS and yellow stool, or IBS dark brown stool. Identifying the color of you stool can yield valuable information.

Medium shades of Brown are best.  You can remember this by thinking “MBBM is normal”. Even brownish green is considered normal from eating green foods unless the green comes from excessive diarrhea. A consistently dark brown stool may indicate a sluggish colon and an imbalance of intestinal bacteria. 

 Yellow or greenish stools that are greasy and foul smelling may be due to malabsorption disorders, such as celiac disease, or parasites such as giardia when accompanied by diarrhea. Yellowish stools may be seen with severe diarrhea, antibiotic use and a lack of probiotics. Frequently ibs and yellow stools occur together and patients say that they have yellow stool IBS.  Green colored stools may indicate gall bladder malfunction or insufficient stomach acid. 

Tan colored stools suggest you may have difficulty digesting your fats, which causes congestion in the liver and gall bladder.

Gray/white ashy colored or clay like stools can indicate pancreas or liver problems.  Also, possibly gallstones, pancreatitis or cirrhosis of the liver. 

Red, dullish colored stools may be from eating red foods, such as beets  and may also be related to certain medications. But red can also indicate diverticulitis, hemorrhoids and bleeding in the lower GI tract. 

Black, tarry like stools are in need of urgent care because that is a sign of dangerous, deadly internal bleeding in the upper GI tract. Sometimes black stools may be produced with iron supplements, a heavy meat dish, bismuth   (Pepto-Bismol) and some other types of drugs.

Stool Consistency 

Observing the consistency of your bowel movements can yield important information about your health as well.

Undigested food in the stool may be a sign that you are not chewing your food well. So take my grandmother’s admonishment to heart- chew your food until it’s almost liquid. If you’re chewing your food well, and still have undigested food in your stools, you may have insufficient stomach acid, or insufficient pancreatic enzyme production. Supplementing your diet with a professionally formulated enzyme formula supports better digestion. 

Mucous usually indicates irritation to the gastrointestinal tract. This can be caused by food sensitivities and emotional stress. Testing for food sensitivities, modifying your diet, and desensitizing your body from any food intolerances and sensitivities can help you improve digestion.

Loose stools, can indicate malabsorption of minerals, vitamins and key nutrients. They can also indicate that you may be getting too many carbs and diarrhea.

Hard stools, associated with constipation, can occur if you have delayed transit time, too little fiber, and dehydration or decreased stomach acid production. Constipation subjects your body to toxic alcohols, which are produced by putrefying food. Failure to eliminate regularly stresses your liver and immune system, which creates a number of chronic conditions.

Stool Shape 

Ribbon-like stools are common with a spastic bowel and irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, but can indicate more serous conditions such as narrowing of the bowel, or a partial obstruction. 

Small, round and hard stools are often found with chronic constipation. 

Floating stools often indicate a malabsorption problem—usually excessive amounts of fat in the diet, or poor fat digestion. Note: Fast food may create floaters! Frequently patients will say they have IBS and floating stool, or IBS floating stools together. Floating stools indicate that there may be undigested fat in the stool, or excessive amounts of gas in the bowel. 

Diarrhea may indicate that you are not digesting a major food group. It’s not uncommon to see excessive carbs and diarrhea, or diarrhea and lactose intolerance. Diarrhea may also indicate a sensitivity to certain foods. Patients often ask can gluten cause diarrhea? And the answer is yes, frequently we will see gluten diarrhea, which is a traditional sign of gluten intolerance.

When Ick means Sick

Nourishing your body daily depends on your body’s ability to digest the food you eat. Good digestion also means that cellular waste is transported and eliminated from the body effectively. Failure to assimilate and eliminate properly may produce fatigue, headaches, skin rashes, yeast overgrowth, excessive gas, bloating irritable bowel and more.  

Bowel irregularity will give you more to be concerned about than your health. It may eventually impact your social, family and work life. I encourage you to take your bowels seriously and if you see anything abnormal, consult with a doctor who uses a functional and neurological approach to improving your digestion and overall health. 

A doctor who uses a functional approach understands that the digestion system is not functioning for one of two very basic reasons: There is either something about the system that is not working or there is something that is being put into the system that is causing the malfunction. This view, coupled with a neurological approach, which uses the body’s connection between the digestive organs and the brain/nervous system restores the digestion system back to what it is designed to do - nourish you from the inside out.

Since 1999, Dr. Patrick Giammarise, DC has helped thousands of people  from the Chico-Redding California area, and the Sacramento Valley, by using a whole-body systems approach to health. He specializes in providing drug free relief for food and environmental sensitivities, intolerances and digestion problems. For more information contact Dr. Patrick at 530-899-8741, or attend one of the free monthly educational seminars he offers in Chico.

Call Dr. Patrick at 530-899-8741 For a consultation if you suffer from tan colored stools or any of the above irregularities in stool.

© 2016. Dr. Patrick Giammarise, DC. All Rights Reserved


First published in the Lotus Guide for Healthy Living, Summer 2014

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