It may not be your favorite routine health task, but you need to at least glance at your stool once in a while. Changes in diet and possible medical conditions can be indicated by the color of your stool. Often, it is nothing to worry about. For example, Christmas-colored stool -- green and red -- can result from lime gelatin, drinks and ice pops containing green food coloring, or from consuming beets and drinks dyed with red food coloring. Pale stool, however, may signal something serious.
Taking large amounts of anti-diarrheal medications, such as those containing bismuth subsalicylate, can lighten stool and turn it the color of clay. Antacids with aluminum hydroxide, certain antibiotics, vitamin supplements, anti-fungal drugs and the barium used in barium x-rays sometimes result temporarily in white-colored stool, according to Dr. Robynne K. Chutkan, the Assistant Professor of Medicine at Georgetown University Hospital. Flecks of white in stool may indicate undigested rice, grains, husks or seeds. These causes aren't typically anything to worry about and your stool should return to normal within a few days.
Biliary System Problems
The biliary system controls the drainage of the gallbladder, liver and pancreas. It is normal bile salts from the liver that give stool the brown color indicating health. Pale, clay or putty-colored stools are usually the result of problems or blockages of bile in the liver, or you may have an infection. If you have yellow, jaundiced skin along with the pale stools, this is usually a clear signal of a build-up of bile in the body due to blockage.
Poor Fat Absorption
Obstructions of the biliary system or the absence of fat-digesting enzymes in the pancreas often prevent fat absorption in the small intestine. The colon becomes irritated by these unprocessed fats, resulting in white diarrhea or pale stools that are quite malodorous. This color change may arise after eating a heavy, fatty meal, but it can also be attributed to acute or chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer or an abundance of the fungi candida in the lower intestine.
Inflammatory diseases of the intestinal tract, such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease, may lead to an abnormality in your stool. These conditions cause your body to poorly absorb certain nutrients, possibly causing them to cause right through your gut undigested. You could have loose, watery, foul-smelling pale stools as a result, the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse explains.
Is This an Emergency?
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Crohn's Disease
- Medline Plus: Stools-Pale or Clay-Colored
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House: Celiac Disease
- Health Hype.com: Pale, Gray, or Clay-Colored Bowel Movement and White Diarrhea
- The Dr. Oz Show: What Your Stool Is Telling You