“Why is my poop green? What is the meaning of this poop?”
It’s a common enough question if you have a baby, but adult green poop can be just as mystifying. Trying to interpret stool color and monitor changes in wellness is a good idea for everyone, because just like the color of urine, the color of your stool can tell you a lot about your health and your diet. This article provides a brief rundown of various stool colors and what they could mean, then focuses in on potential green poop causes and what they might signal for your health.
A Rainbow of Options
Bowel movements come in many shapes and colors, most of the time due to changes in diet. Stool is comprised of not only what we eat, but also the yellow-green fluid of digested fats known as bile. Bile pigments are chemically altered as they move through your gastrointestinal tract by various enzymes. Bile pigments usually change from green to brown, but they are sometimes darker or lighter depending on many different digestive variables.
It’s rare that shades of brown and green indicate anything dangerous or unusual with your health, but if you’re at all concerned about any unforeseen changes in your body’s waste output, seek medical advice and evaluation right away. For example, bright red or black stool is not considered normal and can indicate the presence of blood.
Here are some common color variations of stool and what they could mean.
- Brown: The brown color of healthy stool is made up of food roughage (the undigestible parts of food), the leftovers of healthy gut bacteria (they need to eat too!), plus red blood cells that have served their purpose in your body and died.
- Green: Stool that appears green could be caused by green food coloring (like all the green food and beer available on St. Patrick’s Day), a diet of green leafy vegetables, iron supplements, or a case of diarrhea wherein the stool moves so quickly through the large intestine, the bile doesn’t have time to break down.
- White, light, or clay-colored: Whiteish stool could mean a lack of bile and a possible bile duct obstruction. Anti-diarrheal medications containing bismuth subsalicylate like Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate could cause this color change as well.
- Yellow: Greasy, yellow, or foul-smelling stool could mean an excess of fat in the stool, which may indicate an absorption disorder like celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. A doctor should be consulted to identify the underlying cause.
- Black: Stools that are black in color could be the result of iron supplements, black licorice consumption, bismuth subsalicylate medications, or more dangerously blood originating from the upper gastrointestinal tract or stomach.
- Bright red: Red stool could mean you’ve eaten red food coloring from gelatin or drink mixes, or red foods like cranberries, tomato soup, or beets. Red stool could also be a sign of blood in your lower intestinal tract (the large intestine or the rectum), so if you haven’t eaten something red recently, consult a medical professional.
Why Is My Poop Green? Possible Causes
If you know you’ve been eating super-green foods recently, you may already have your answer for why your poop is green. Just as corn can sometimes be consumed and come out the other end in full kernels, eating tons of spinach, broccoli, or kale can do the same, and is no more dangerous or unusual than the corn.
However, if your diet hasn’t changed recently but your stool has, you are right to be concerned. An unexplained change could indicate an underlying medical condition or a bacterial infection, or it could be the result of a recent medical procedure or antibiotic. In cases of diarrhea in which your food doesn’t spend enough time in your GI tract, the color may change as well. Here are some of the most common causes of green poop.
1. Green Foods
We’ve said it once but it’s important to say again that the most likely cause of green poop is green food like dark green vegetables or even blueberries. This is not an indication of ill health. Quite the opposite! An abundance of vegetables in your diet is something any doctor would approve of and encourage.
Likewise green food coloring might be in places you don’t expect. In food, drinks, and vitamins, green coloring may be added to increase visual appeal, and black, blue, and purple dyes could appear green in your stool as well.
Last but not least, the ingredients in your supplements may contain chlorophyll, which is what makes plants and veggies green in the first place, and that could be the culprit too.
2. Bile Pigment
Bile is a yellow-green fluid that your liver produces. It combines with your food during the digestive process and helps increase the breakdown of fat. Dietary fats are then absorbed into the small intestine and used to nourish your body. If the bile isn’t completely broken down, it is excreted with the rest of your waste. In cases of diarrhea or stomach cramping, the bile often does not have the time to break down because your body for whatever reason (virus, undercooked food, bacterial invasion) has decided to evacuate the entire factory. If your diarrhea is green, it’s most likely due to the naturally green color of your bile.
Antibiotics and other medications can cause a change in stool color. Antibiotics work by killing bacteria in your body, and are often used to fight an infection, but they don’t come with a laser focus. In the best case scenario they successfully kill the harmful bacteria in your body, but they’ll often cause collateral damage by killing off some of your good bacteria too. This decreases the amount of brown coloring in your stool, which allows the green to stand out more.
To restore your intestinal flora in such a case, you may want to look into probiotics like yogurt, kombucha, and other fermented foods. Additional medications that can cause an interruption in your stool pigments include the contraceptive Depo-Provera (medroxyprogesterone), the anti-inflammatory Tivorbex (indomethacin), an overuse of laxatives, and iron supplements.
4. Gastrointestinal Conditions
GI conditions like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and celiac disease cause upset and malabsorption issues in your digestive tract, which can result in many painful and sometimes dangerous side effects. Diarrhea, bloating, gas, and stomach pains frequently afflict those with certain gut disorders, and green stool is sometimes the result of those unfortunate symptoms.
5. Bacteria, Parasites, and Viruses
Bacterial, parasitic, and viral invasions can all cause your stool to turn green by upsetting your digestive environment. Common offenders in this arena include the salmonella bacteria, norovirus, and the water parasite giardia. When these invaders are detected by your body, it flushes your system, and you may end up flushing green-colored poop down your toilet bowl because of it. Your green stool should clear up when your body recovers, but if it does not, you may want to consult with a doctor.
Is Green Poop a Sign of Cancer?
While changes to stool color can be an indication of certain cancers, it’s black or tarry stool that needs to concern you there, not green. Green stool is quite common, and so long as it isn’t accompanied by any other symptoms, it should return to brown soon enough.
If you’re experiencing recurring vomiting or diarrhea along with stool color changes, or green poop that’s persistent no matter what you eat, an underlying medical condition may be to blame. A doctor will work to rule out certain conditions, help alleviate any digestive symptoms you have, or at the very least can reassure you that the color of your waste is in the normal, healthy range.
So in the end, the answer to “What does green poop mean?” is most likely a good amount of leafy greens going into your digestive system. Especially if it’s a one-off occurrence with no other discomfort or side effects.
Should you see bright red or black stools, contact a physician. Likewise if your stool is consistently off-color and comes with stomach upset, diarrhea, or vomiting, there may be something out of whack with your health and medical intervention may be necessary. If nothing else is amiss, however, and your diet is healthy, then with green poop you’re good to go!