“Poop” seems like a dirty word — one that’s reserved for off-color comedians, potty-training parents, and GI doctors. While everyone squats, squeezes, and flushes, nobody wants to talk about it. Why? Because “toilet talk” is a social red flag, a sign of truly bad manners. Naturally, we skirt around it, nod and pray for the topic to drop, or run in the opposite direction. But taking a second peek at what’s in your porcelain throne — your stool’s shape and color — can save your life. So, we assembled this guide to help you decipher what your bowels are trying to say.
The Bristol Stool Chart
Type 1: Often the result of low-fiber diets, ball-shaped stool is scratchy and can cause rectal bleeding.
Type 2: Sausage-like, lumpy formations can stay in your long intestines for three or more weeks.
Type 3: Similar looking to type 2, type 3 moves through your colon in one to two weeks, causing minor flatulence.
Type 4: Smooth, soft, snake-like shapes are typical when you’re visiting the porcelain throne daily.
Type 5: Soft blobs with clear cut edges are normal when you’re going three times per day, usually after major meals.
Type 6: Mushy, fluffy consistency with ragged edges passes easily, but it may be difficult for you to control your urge to go.
Type 7: Watery stool without solid pieces causes you to eliminate 1-2 liters per day.
The “Number Two” Color Wheel:
Brown:Your ideal stool has a toothpaste consistency, banana shape, and milk chocolate color—due to bile and bilirubin, a byproduct of red blood cells and bone marrow, breaking down in your liver. Winning number twos also should be the size of a baby’s arm, 12 inches or longer, and be made up of 75% water and 25% bacteria and fiber. Bits of corn, oats, or carrots floating in the toilet? No worries. These superfoods are loaded with insoluble fiber, so they’re squeezed out fairly unchanged.
Red: Fire-engine stool is often the result of pushing too hard, which creates tears in the lining of your anal canal. Or, it could mean you’ve been munching on foods packed with red dye, such as red velvet cake, Kool-Aid, or tomato soups and sauces. If less than a teaspoon of blood is coupled with pain and discomfort, you probably have internal hemorrhoids. The other possible culprits that’ll send you scurrying to your doctor’s office: inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, fissures, polyps, or colorectal cancer.
Purple or Blue: Good news. If you’ve had a purple or blue bowel movement, there’s nothing to worry about. Edible purple and blue dye passes through your 30 feet of intestines at warp speed. Most likely, you’ve downed one too many grape sodas, beets, or Burger King black whoppers.
Orange: If you’re chomping on farm-fresh produce, such as kale, sweet potatoes, turnips, cilantro, and fresh thyme, or pre-packed foods high in yellow or orange dyes, you’ll likely have harmless orange stool. Taking a daily turmeric supplement? Expect bright orange specks to cling to your excrement. Having bright orange diarrhea? Its bright color might be caused by an infection, which blocks bile and forces food to move quickly through the digestive system, or microscopic colitis, inflammation of the large colon’s lining.
Yellow: Stress and high-fat diets can crank your digestion system into turbo drive while reducing your liver’s bile salts, which turns it a yellow color. Carboholic? Consuming gluten-laden breads and pastas might also lighten your stools. But don’t let that fool you. Greasy, frothy, or floating yellow stool is the calling card of several serious diseases: cirrhosis, hepatitis, gall stones, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, and Celiac disease. Head to the doctor and get your liver and gallbladder checked out. Then sneak liver detoxing foods like garlic, walnuts, and lemons into your diet.
White: If you have white flakes in your stool, they’re likely undigested pieces of rice, husk, seed, or grains. Had an x-ray lately? Barium, which is used for bone scans, can also turn it white. This also might be the result of popping too many antacids or vitamin supplements, but it’s usually a sign of a serious liver, gallbladder, or pancreatic issue, meaning you’ll want to wave your white flag and go see a doctor.
Green: Your Cleveland Brown can turn into a Green Bay Packer if you’re taking iron supplements or crunching loads of chlorophyll-rich greens. Parasites and bacteria—and ironically the antibiotics that treat them too—can cause your guts to flush faster resulting in Skittle-like plugs. Other possible causes are bone marrow transplants and organ rejection, so when in doubt, head to the nearest hospital.
Black: If you’ve gobbled up black liquorice, blueberries, or even Oreos, your stool might be black. Sipping Pepto-Bismol® or taking prescribed medications, like Codeine or Oxycontin, are additional benign causes of tarry, black stool. However, this dark color might have an even darker meaning. Blood could be leaking from your upper gastrointestinal tract, which is called melena. If your black stool is paired with vomiting, stabbing pain, and diarrhea, it could be a bleeding ulcer, gastritis, or a Mallory-Weiss tear, a gaping hole in the membrane that joins the stomach and the esophagus.
The dirty truth: what comes out is just as important as what goes in. Think of your daily doodie as if it were a free checkup. After all, the answers you’ve been looking for could right behind you. And don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone that you looked.