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Why is my poop green? Is green poop normal? Doctors talk bowel movements

Stool, poop, bowel movements — whatever you want to call it, it's serious business. Here's what doctors want you to know.
by Marguerite Ward / / Source: TODAY

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When it comes to what goes on in the bathroom, many people don’t know what’s normal and what’s not. For example, is green poop bad? Or, how often do most people poop?

You might find it embarrassing, but bowel health is important. Do you have questions you're too embarrassed to ask your doc? Here are the answers to some of the most common bathroom questions:

Is green stool normal?

The good news is that most often, having green stool isn’t a cause for concern, doctors say.

“The typical stool color would be more of a brown color, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be the case,” said Dr. David Levinthal, director of the Neurogastroenterology and Motility Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

He added that many foods such as leafy greens or beets can cause your stool to be a non-brown color.

Dr. Shreyas Saligram, chief of gastroenterology at the University of California, San Francisco, at Fresno, agreed.

“Green stools can be normal if it is associated with consumption of green vegetables like spinach, kale or due to food coloring substances in some desserts and drinks,” said Saligram.

He added that certain antibiotics, prenatal vitamins or issues with bile digestion could also cause your poop to turn green.

“However, green color stool is something to worry about if it is persistent and associated with diarrhea as it can be due to food poisoning by infection like salmonella, parasite Giardia or norovirus,” Saligram added.

What does a 'normal' bowel movement look like?

Normal bowel movements occur on a varying basis, depending on the individual. They can happen as frequently as three times a day to a few times a week.

“What is most important is to move bowels with ease with a sense of complete bowel evacuation and no perception of applied pressure to strain excessively to move bowels,” Saligram said.

If you're worried about your bowel health, or just simply want to learn more, Levinthal recommends looking at the Bristol stool chart.

How can you improve your bowel health?

If you want to boost your bowel health, doctors suggest eating a high fiber diet, such as fruits and vegetables, which can help alleviate or avoid constipation. Foods that are high in fiber include spinach, peppers, blueberries and apples.

Avoiding foods that are high in sugar, red meat and fried food will also help improve your bowel health. Drinking plenty of water is also key!

What bowel movements require medical attention?

There are are some stool issues that you should tell your doctor about, especially if they are persistent.

If the stool is red in color or there is blood in your stool, you should consult your doctor. "While it may may be due to a local fissure (anal tear), it could also be due to hemorrhoids, bleeding polyps, diverticular bleed, bowel inflammation or something more dangerous like colon cancer," Saligram said.

Similarly, if the stool is black in color, take note.

“Stool that is truly black, jet black, that would be indicative of metabolized blood somewhere in the upper GI tract,” Levinthal said. “Tarry or sticky stool, as well as black stool, would be concerning.”

Having colorless stool is also something to take seriously. If your stool is pale or “clay color,” this could be symptomatic of something more serious, such as jaundice due to underlying liver disease, both doctors explained.

Other things to watch out for include: consistent nighttime diarrhea, changes to a person’s regular bowel habits and weight loss, as this could be a sign of colon cancer. While it was previously thought age 50 is a good time for regular colon checks, it should be noted the American Cancer Society recently suggested people start screenings at age 45.

What else should I pay attention to?

How you feel when you're going to the bathroom is important, both doctors said. It shouldn’t be a terrible experience.

“It shouldn’t be an amazing strain, and it shouldn’t hurt as it passes through the anal canal,” Levinthal said. “That might be indicative of hemorrhoids or an anal fissure.”

Persistently feeling a sense of urgency that forces you to stop what you're doing and go, or feeling like you’re struggling to pass stool or have pain is not normal. If you're worried about your bowel health, start keeping track of your symptoms and consult your doctor.

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