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What your poo says about your health

A change in colour of your stools may point to medical conditions – see your doctor immediately if there is cause for concern.

What your poo says about your health

Look down in the loo for a quick health update.

Are you reading this article while doing your Number 2? You are not alone because up to 75 per cent of people check their smartphones in the loo.

If you need something else to kill time with while on the porcelain throne, we have a healthier suggestion: Look down.

That’s right, look down into the contents on the bowl.

The colour of your poo can tell you a lot about your general well-being. Although these checks are not as thorough as the Faecal Immunochemical Test or a colonoscopy, visual cues can give you a heads-up to schedule an appointment with the doctor should you find anything amiss.

Two things give stools their characteristic colour – the food that you eat, and the bile secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, said Dr Reuben Wong, a gastroenterologist from Gleneagles Hospital. Sometimes, the change in colour may point to medical conditions.

Here's a quick checklist on what the colour you find in the bowl might mean about your health. See your doctor immediately if there is cause for concern.


Had a big steak dinner last night? Your stools may look darker in colour. "Red meat contains myoglobin, which is high in iron, hence it can create dark coloured stools," said Dr Wong.

You may also produce dark stools after taking medications such as bismuth, charcoal pills, iron supplements, and/or ingesting food and drinks such as blueberries and dark stout beer, said Dr Constantinos Anastassiades, consultant and head of the Division of Gastroenterology at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, a member of National Healthcare Group.

But if you haven't been doing any of that, black stool can indicate bleeding in the digestive system, most often in the upper part.

"The colour is caused by blood mixing with digestive juices in the gut, making it turn black before it gets passed out," said Dr Anastassiades. "Black stool can be associated with stomach ulcers that are bleeding, or any disease in the stomach or intestine that causes bleeding, including cancer."

"If black stools cannot be traced to a medication or food that you'd recently consumed, you should see a doctor immediately as this could be a sign of bleeding," said Dr Anastassiades.


"The other extreme of stool discolouration is pale, clay-coloured stools resulting from an obstruction to the bile ducts," said Dr Wong.

Bile acids are what give stools their distinct brown, but because of the blockage, they can't reach the stool and colour it.

You should schedule a medical appointment to have this sorted out.


Fruits and vegetables with strong natural colours, such as beetroot, can create reddish stools, said Dr Wong. But if you see bright red, it can sometimes point to a bleeding haemorrhoid.

"The blood from haemorrhoids does not pass through the intestine to turn black, and can be seen on the toilet paper or on the surface of the stools," said Dr Anastassiades.

Bright red blood in the stool, according to Dr Massarat Zutshi, a colorectal surgeon with Cleveland Clinic, can also indicate a polyp, inflammation, diverticulitis or even colon cancer.


Again, think back to what you ate over the past 24 hours: Are you in a salad phase? That might be the reason for the unusual colour. But if the only vegetables you eat are the garnish on the plate, green poop may be a sign of infection, said Dr Taz Bhatia, an integrative health expert and author of What Doctors Eat and The 21-Day Belly Fix. 

"If it is consistently green and unrelated to food, then it may be a sign to monitor your health closely and see a physician,” she said.

Source: CNA/bk(pw)