The Poop Palette: What Do All of Those Colors Mean?

Imagine the shock a parent must feel when their child says his poop is pink! Surprisingly, it can be common. While normal stools are usually brown, green, or yellow, there are reports from around the world of oddly colored poops due to uniquely colored foods.

Stools are normally brown due to a pigment called bilirubin. Bilirubin is made in the liver. Bilirubin starts off a greenish-yellow and from the liver it is secreted into the small intestine with meals. As it travels through the intestine and is broken down by the body, it becomes brown. If bilirubin is unable to leave the liver due to a blockage, the stools will turn white which is always something that should be addressed by a physician.

However, certain food dyes and naturally occurring colors cannot be broken down by the body. Or, these dyes are only partially broken down into peculiar colors which come out in the stool. From beets to cranberries to cereals to candies to hamburger buns, numerous foods have all been associated with weird colored poops.  Surprisingly, some medicines prescribed by your pediatrician can actually turn stool certain colors too. The oral antibiotic cefdinir is notorious for turning stools a brick-red and some over-the-counter medications, like Pepto-Bismol, can make stools black.

It is important to note that these color changes are temporary. When the medicine is stopped or the offending food is out of your system, the stools should return to a normal brownish color. This also underscores the importance of making sure your pediatrician is aware of all the medications and supplements your child is on in order to prevent any unnecessary testing.  If your child has an oddly colored stool without any other symptoms, observation is probably best. If issues persist, it would be wise to discuss with your doctor.

For more information on Nationwide Children’s Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Resources, click here.

Steven Ciciora, MD, is the director of division educational activities in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital and an assistant professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Dr. Ciciora’s clinical interests involve all aspects of pediatric gastroenterology, including celiac disease, motility disorders, functional disorders and liver disease. His published research has focused on motility disorders. He has presented his work at national meetings and earned distinguished presentation honors at the American Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society’s Young Investigator Forum. His work in the community led to him being awarded the Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio’s Commitment to Excellence Award. He is also an author for the American Academy of Pediatrics inaugural pediatric GI review program.

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