Once food completes its passage through the digestive tract, the body expels it in the form of a bowel movement. Stool color and texture can provide clues to overall gut health or point to an illness. Yellow bowel movements may be due to a person’s diet or symptomatic of a specific health issue.
Doctors consider medium-brown to be the usual color of a bowel movement, but stool color depends on the individual. What is typical for one person may not be for another. Day-to-day diet and any changes to it can lead to variations in color. If there are additional signs along with the color change, these symptoms could help a doctor identify the health or medical issue in question.
Eating foods with high levels of beta carotene can cause yellowish-orange bowel movements. Carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and winter squash all contain high amounts of the antioxidant. Consuming the spice turmeric can lead to a similar color change. Artificially colored yellow foods turn bowel movements yellow because the body cannot properly digest the pigment.
A microscopic parasite, Giardia, feeds off of other organisms to survive. It causes an infection in the intestines called giardiasis and passes from the body in the feces. Foul-smelling, bright yellow diarrhea is a symptom of the condition. Individuals can be infected if they come into contact with infected surfaces, people, or bodies of water where Giardia bacteria live. Eating uncooked food that contains the organisms can also lead to infection.
Brown stools attain their color from the breakdown of bile. Yellow or pale poop results when a person's body produces fewer bile salts. Cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis are two conditions that cause bile salt reduction. Yellow stools can also be a symptom of gallstones or cancer of the liver, pancreas, bile ducts, or gallbladder. Cholestasis, which sometimes appears during pregnancy, prevents the flow of bile from the liver to the intestine, causing yellow or light-colored stools. These are serious disorders that require medical diagnosis and treatment.
When the body has a condition that reduces the pancreas' ability to produce or transport the protein lipase, yellow stools may result. This may also occur if an individual has pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, or cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung and pancreatic disorder. Doctors may prescribe pain medications, intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration, and fasting to allow the pancreas time to recover.
A person experiencing bouts of yellow-to-pale colored stool with an oily or greasy appearance may have a malabsorption disorder. These disorders can prevent the body from absorbing vitamins, nutrients, and trace minerals, leading to nutrient deficiency and significant weight loss. Celiac disease is a hereditary gluten malabsorption disorder that can also cause anemia, thyroid disease, infertility, and osteoporosis.
Some people experience a buildup of bilirubin in their blood due to Gilbert syndrome. Abdominal discomfort and yellow stools are symptoms. Dehydration, menstruation, intense exercise, and long periods between eating can lead to its onset. It is a mild condition that occurs as a result of the changes in the UGT1A1 gene that provides instructions for the removal of bilirubin from the body. Diagnosis occurs primarily in adolescence.
Mental wellness plays a large role in gut health and the digestive process. Stress and anxiety can prevent the body from absorbing nutrients from the diet. These conditions can also aggravate gastrointestinal issues, leading to many additional physical symptoms, including diarrhea and yellow stool.
Females under the age of 50 who have anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues are more likely to experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This condition generally runs in families. Individuals with IBS experience bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and yellow diarrhea. Eating fatty or greasy foods may exacerbate the symptoms.
If an individual starts to experience dehydration, weight loss, and pain as a result of diarrhea, medical experts advise seeing a physician. Most bouts of yellow stool are not serious. However, a doctor should evaluate any ongoing digestive tract issues or recurring conditions. Physicians may perform blood work, stool tests, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy to diagnose the problem.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.