If you’ve ever checked your pee or poop, you’ll notice they’re the usual color, but what does it mean when they’re not? Many things occurring within the body can change the color of our waste; however, some underlying medical problems like cancer or liver diseases can also alter their shape and hue, providing a stark warning to seek medical care. But if your poop is green, the odds are it has more to do with what you eat rather than a medical condition.
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A simple way to see what’s going on inside your body
Just about anything you ingest comes out in your excrement after passing through the digestive tract. Expelled as either a liquid (urine) or solid (stools or feces), your waste accurately reflects what is happening within your body which is why it’s so important to monitor them.
It’s an awkward conversation for some, but regularly inspecting stools can give you a sense of which colors, shapes, or consistencies are the norm. That way, you’ll notice when something is wrong right away and when you should contact your healthcare provider.
Concentrating on your stools, they should hold together and sink in water, with a ‘floater’ denoting the presence of too much fat – which can happen when you eat too many fatty foods.
Another shape to watch out for is feces that come out as “thin little ribbons,” which can mean a narrowing or obstruction of the passage due to cancer. Don’t panic just yet, though, as the early stages of diarrhea may also present in the same fashion. There are almost always other symptoms that indicate the “gastro-cancers” such as black or bloody stools, weight loss, fatigue, or anemia.
Cathy Wong, a certified nutrition expert and journalist, explains that most day-to-day variations in the appearance of the stool have to do with what you eat or drink. “While the biggest concerns are unusual poop colors or shapes that persist, consult your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about your stool, or if you notice any changes in your bowel habits or additional symptoms,” she explains.
Green poop could be a sign that you’ve eaten too many greens the body hasn’t had time to process yet. But it could also indicate diarrhea, parasites, or even some gastrointestinal issues. Let’s break it down.
How does the digestive tract affect the color of feces?
The first thing you need to know is that your feces essentially is what’s left when the nutrients have been absorbed from what you ingest — it’s pretty much the useless stuff your body doesn’t need. These remains are mainly water, undigested food, medications, bacterially altered bile, and dead tissue cells from the gut lining. In fact, bile is the reason why poop is generally brown in the first place.
“Stool color is generally influenced by what you eat as well as by the amount of bile — a yellow-green fluid that digests fats — in your stool. As bile pigments travel through your gastrointestinal tract, they are chemically altered by enzymes, changing the pigments from green to brown,” explains Dr. Michael Picco, consultant in gastroenterology at the Mayo Clinic.
A significant factor in how comfortable our poop is to pass, most of the water is extracted into the colon, the last part of the digestive tract. So logically, the longer the stool stays there, the less water it has and the harder it gets meaning it will be more painful to pass – if you are straining to pass stools three times a week or less, you may be constipated and should see a doctor if this persists.
Once excreted, you’ll be happy to hear that you have a lot of leeways as to the standard color of poop which is just about any shade of brown there is. This color directly results from what you’ve consumed and how much bile it contains. Bile, whose primary function is to break down fats, is a liquid made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder, where it’s then released into the small intestine to mix with chyme (digested food) and begin its journey through the digestive system.
The bile is green or yellowish, but it changes color to brown as it passes through the intestines. Green stool can be caused by undigested material traveling through your digestive system too quickly for it to change from green to brown. So things like coffee, alcohol, and chili pepper speed up your metabolism, just like foods high in fiber, causing a laxative effect and turning your poop green. Similarly, digestive disorders such as food poisoning or irritable bowel syndrome-which may cause diarrhea-can also turn the feces green.
When this bile system malfunctions due to hepatitis, cancer, or any other damage to the liver and gallbladder, you may produce pale stools accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, swollen legs, or dark brown urine. If you experience white or clay-colored feces with any further complaints, it’s time to contact your doctor.
Do green stools indicate an unhealthy diet?
No, not necessarily; although small servings are unlikely to affect your poop, eating large amounts of healthy garden vegetables like broccoli, kale, or spinach is another reason for dropping a jade deuce. You have nothing to worry about here; these are just antioxidant-rich foods that contain chlorophyll to give plants (and your poop) their green hue. Keep eating those leafy greens!
“Green vegetables and fruits contain chlorophyll, which is the pigment that gives plants and algae their green color. Generally, an average serving of green vegetables won’t change stool color. Still, larger servings of green vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, bok choy, green peppers, etc. could contribute to green stool,” says Emily Haller, a registered dietician at Michigan Medicine, in an interview with Health.
Haller remarks that it’s “completely normal and healthy” to have green poop due to eating your veggies, and this is not a bad thing — quite the opposite. “Not only are these vegetables tasty, but they are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber,” she states.
Green, purple, blue, and black food coloring (remember that ice cream and cake frosting you had recently) is another obvious suspect, and other green foods and herbs such as avocados, green apples, and basil. A little less obvious are blue and purple foods like blueberries and innocuous over-the-counter medications like iron supplements or Pepto-Bismol!
Another cool effect is foods containing blue and yellow food dye that churn together in your intestines to alter your stools. But be wary here because if you’re eating enough of these additive-laden foods to change the color of your poop, the chances are you’re eating too many processed foods like canned goods and dyed sugary cereals.
When should I see a doctor?
If you’ve recently been prescribed antibiotics, it’s not unusual to see a color change in your stool, says Shanti Eswaran, MD, a gastroenterologist at Michigan Medicine. “Antibiotics will alter the bacterial content of the stool, sometimes also leading to a change in stool color,” Eswaran explains that it can also be common to have antibiotic-induced diarrhea and ensuing tummyache. Still, she stresses that this should clear up a few days after you complete your course of medication.
She adds that for the same reasons antibiotics alter your poop, bacteria invading the gastrointestinal tract could cause a green tinge to your feces. “Bacterial infections can also change the normal flora in the stool, changing its color,” says Eswaran. “Bacterial infections—like salmonella and norovirus—will also make the stool looser and more frequent.”
Likewise, green stool can occur during pregnancy, even before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Some women pass it in the earliest weeks of their pregnancy, and many continue to have green poop right into the third trimester. Mums-to-be should also be on prenatal vitamins, which can change the color of their stools. And in a charming turn of events, breastfed babies may have green poop because of something in their mother’s diet. So be careful of what you’re eating, mom.
At the end of the day, if you persistently have a green stool and you’re worried about it, just consult a doctor. They should be able to help you figure out if it’s a cause for concern or not.
Is green stool a sign of cancer?
Understandably, some people may panic or imagine the worst if they pass green stools. Different-colored stools can indeed signify cancer. But with this disease, stools are often a tar-like black, indicating bleeding from somewhere in the upper gastrointestinal tract. Likewise, sometimes bright red blood feces is produced in cancers of the large intestine, the appendix, colon, rectum, and anus (lower gastrointestinal tract).
And even though green stools aren’t usually a cause for concern or a sign of cancer, you shouldn’t ignore green stools accompanied by other symptoms, such as recurring diarrhea or vomiting that doesn’t improve; this can indicate another serious medical condition. If you haven’t eaten anything unusual, take a picture and make an appointment to show your GP.
The most important takeaway here is to regulate the color of your poop by eating a healthy diet that invariably involves large quantities of “green foods.” And while this means having green poop isn’t usually a cause for concern: it is essential to keep an eye on the color, shape, and texture of your stool and urine. That way, any changes can be reported to a doctor immediately when accompanied by other symptoms. To conclude – snoop that poop!