Be your own Stool Detective

by jodie on August 25 2010

We aren’t really a nation that talks that much about poo, but it’s a pretty good indicator of how healthy we are. As herbalists we often ask a lot of questions in consultation about stools and digestion as a whole as it’s such an integral part of the human body’s functioning.

Colour, texture, consistency, and other ‘properties’ can give clues to what is happening in digestion and for the rest of the body.

Keep an Eye on Your Stools

Although many of us never look at our stools it is helpful to keep an eye on your bowel movements and if you notice a significant change over a period of time inform your health practitioner.

What is normal?

You should pass a stool every day (contrary to what some health practitioners say it’s not healthy to miss days at a time! Think about all that decaying matter in your gut) for an indication of what your stools should look like click here

So what can I tell by looking at my stools

Dark Coloured Stools

This can indicate platelet function disorders, iron deficiency anaemia, liver cirrhosis, colorectal cancer, peptic ulcer, or stomach cancer. Liver disease may include a yellow tone to the skin and whites of eyes (jaundice) and brownish urine.

Black or Tarry Stools (Melena)

This may indicate that un-digested blood is in the stool. Other possible causes of ‘melena’ stools are, iron deficiency anemia, cirrhosis, colorectal cancer, peptic ulcer, or stomach cancer. Very dark stools, for example, may indicate an ulcerative lesion in the higher digestive tract.

Blood in the stool (Hematochezia)

Red or “frank” (obvious) blood in the stool could be caused by hemorrhoids, this is the most common cause. Bloody stools can also be seen in amebiasis (parasistes in the gut), anal fissures (cracks in the anal area), or colorectal cancer. Bright red blood in the stool is most likely to originate from a problem in the colon or rectum.

Gray stools, pale stools, putty or clay coloured stools

May be seen in hepatitis, gallbladder disorders, or malabsorption conditions. Bile salts in the stool excreted by the liver give it a normal brown colour. Obstruction to bile flow out of the liver (called “cholestasis”), or liver infections like viral hepatitis (A, B, C, etc.), may produce clay colored stools. Possible causes for clay coloured stool result from problems in the biliary system (the drainage system of the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas).

Malabsorption problems can cause undigested fat in the stool (steatorrhea) which is characterized by foul smelling, light yellow to gray, greasy or frothy stools. This may also be caused by low bile output.

Heavy, fat-rich stools

Can indicate various intestinal and pancreatic disorders. They can also be due to malabsorption or insufficient fat breakdown.


The passage of an increased amount of stool. This is frequently considered to be 3 or more stools per day, or excessively watery and unformed stool. Chronic diarrhoea occurs when loose or more frequent stools persist for longer than two weeks.

There are many causes of diarrhoea and we treat many patients who suffer with frequent episodes of it and sometimes chronic diarrhoea, which has been going on for some months.

There are many causes of diarrhoea – for example infections, malapsorption, medications, food poisoning, infammation in the digestive tract and immune deficiency.

Floating stools

Stools that float are generally associated with some degree of malabsorption of foods or excessive flatus/gas. Floating stool is seen is a variety of conditions, the majority being diet-related. A change in dietary habits can lead to an increase in the amount of gas produced by bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Patients often notice floating stools when they make changes to their diet as these diet changes can effect the amount of gas that’s produced by bacteria in the gut.

Stinky Stools

Stools normally have an unpleasant odour but passing a bowel movement shouldn’t make you dash out of the bathroom because of the smell! Stools that have an extremely bad, out-of-the-ordinary odor may be associated with certain medical conditions. Foul-smelling stools also have normal causes, most notably diet and alcohol related. The most common cause of extremely foul smelling stools is bacteria overgrowth. Some bacteria produce hydrogen sulfide which has a characteristic ‘rotten egg smell’. Often patients who are very constipated pass these foul smelling stools as the smell can be linked to old food matter putrifying in the gut. If you don’t clear you bowels regularly then you can get a build up of toxic matter which doesn’t smell very nice.

Yeasty stools

“Yeasty” stools indicate the presence of yeast, but are not the only indication of yeast. This type of stool may appear during either yeast growth or die-off. Possible yeast-looking stools include:
• cottage-cheese looking stools
• frothy stools…like yeast bread rising
• yeasty smell to stools
• stringy-ness to stools…like cheese strings

To find out what you can do about your stools call 01303 760001.

  • jodie

    Hello Doreen,

    It’s quite possible that your stools could smell of herbs if you eat plenty of fruit and vegetables as many of the chemical constituants of herbs are also present in vegetables. It’s also quite common for your stools to vary and the smell can vary too. It is true that often some patients do smell differently when they have Cancer, but often this is due to the fact that their detoxification processes are under strain and so they can often smell ‘toxic.’ The way we smell is linked to chemical and hormonal chages withing our bodies so it can indicate and imbalance. Have you changed your diet recently or started taking any supplements at all? This can affect the way the stools smell.

    I couldn’t tell you whether stools smell like herbs when a patient has Cancer, I would imagine that any illness can affect faeces in some way.

    Hope this helps,


    Jodie BSc(Hons)MNIMH

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