Stool, digestion, and color
Your body is always producing waste. It takes an average of three days for food to move through your digestive system, so there’s always some waste moving through your body. Depending on what you eat and drink, your stool can take on many different appearances. While a sudden color change can be alarming, many types of stool are natural and simply a result of your diet.
One common variation in your stool is a change in color. Many people will notice that their stool appears green from time to time, for example. While this color change can be surprising, in most cases, it’s completely benign. There are several other factors to consider when you’re identifying the cause of green stool, including consistency and your recent diet.
Recognizing the signs and causes of green stool is important to identify why the color has changed and whether you need to reach out to your physician.
Signs and symptoms of green stool
Green stool is often the result of eating food that is heavily dyed green. These dyes aren’t broken down in the intestines, so they make their way into your stool.
Other symptoms connected to green stool may include:
Compared to solid stools, diarrhea is more likely to be green. This is partially caused by the speed at which the waste has passed through your system. When stool moves through your intestines too quickly, your intestines don’t have time to reabsorb the bile that your gallbladder has added to the mix. This bile is green, and may make your diarrhea appear green as well.
Green poop is more frequent in young children than in adults. Infants are especially prone to green stool while they are being fed formula or breastmilk. This is completely natural, and may be linked to their size and diet.
Changes in diet
Any significant change to your normal diet can cause a change in your stools. Eating a large amount of green food one day may lead to green stools several days later. Remember that food takes time to pass through your digestive system, so there may be a several-day delay between when your diet changes and when the change becomes visible in your stool.
Causes of green stool
There are many potential reasons why your stool is green. Food dye is a frequent cause of green stool in both children and adults. Other underlying causes may include:
Iron supplements can sometimes cause stools to appear a dark green that is almost black. Not only is this normal, some physicians consider it to be a sign that the supplementation is effective. If the stool color bothers you, you can work with your physician to lower your dosage.
Diet rich in spinach
Dark green vegetables like spinach or broccoli can sometimes lead to green stools as well. These foods are rich in chlorophyll and fiber, so it’s not uncommon for large quantities of the green color to make it to your stool.
Finally, if you are feeling intestinal cramping or experiencing diarrhea, your green stool is likely caused by bile. This can be caused by a number of intestinal illnesses, from gastroenteritis to Crohn’s disease.
Diagnosing causes of green stools
If you are concerned about your stool, you can talk to your physician. They will talk to you about your recent diet, any medications or supplements you’ve been taking, and your general digestive health. Green stool is rarely something concerning; even when it is caused by a stomach illness, it’s the illness itself that should be treated, not the stool.
Treatments for green stools
Green stools are generally harmless and will resolve on their own. If you want to treat green stools, there are a number of ways you can potentially return your stool to its standard shade.
If you’ve been eating large amounts of green vegetables, they are likely the cause. Reducing your spinach intake may return your stools to their normal color. Similarly, if you’ve started taking iron supplements, lowering your dose will likely help.
For short-term intestinal problems like gastroenteritis, your priority should be to keep yourself hydrated and comfortable. The illness should resolve by itself in a few days to a week and your stools will return to normal.
If your stomach problems continue for longer than a few days or you’re having trouble staying hydrated, you should reach out to your physician for medical treatment.
Digestive Disorders Resources
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Johns Hopkins Children's Center: "What can your child's poop color tell you?"
Merck Manual: "Gastroenteritis."
Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children: "Green Poop."
Seattle Children's Hospital: "Stools - Unusual Color."
UC San Diego Health: "End Results: What color is your poop and other pressing fecal matters."
University of Michigan Medicine: "Bowel Function Anatomy."
UpToDate: "Patient education: Anemia caused by low iron in adults."