What Causes Orange Stool?

If Your Stool Changes Suddenly It Might Need To Be Checked Out By A Doctor

Carrots
Eating foods that have beta carotene, like carrots, can cause orange stools. Image © Patrycja Cieszkowska

Stool can come in a variety of colors, and while something out of the ordinary can be a surprise, it is not always a symptom of a disease or condition. What is considered to be a "normal" stool color is unique to each person, and is often a spectrum, rather than just one color. Orange stool is most likely because of eating foods that are orange in color (either natural or artificial color) but it can also occur after taking certain medications.

While it is less common, orange poop could also be from a medical condition, such as a problem with the gallbladder.

Stool color is affected not only by the actual digestive process, but also by diet: food and drink. The color of foods, both artificial colors and those that occur naturally from fruits and vegetables, can change the color of stool. Eating a lot of food that is orange or even red could lead to stool being orange, especially if it is artificial coloring, which tends to last much longer and have deeper color. As it moves through the digestive tract, the digesting food changes color from green to yellow-orange to brown. The final brown color is due to the bile and bacteria that is present in the stool.

Foods That Cause Orange Stool

There are several common and benign reasons for passing orange stools that are no cause for worry. Supplements and medications that can cause orange-colored stools include those containing beta-carotene (which is sometimes found in vitamin A) and aluminum hydroxide (which can be found in antacids).

Foods that can cause orange stool include:

  • Any food with an artificial yellow or orange coloring
  • Apricots
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Collard greens
  • Fresh thyme
  • Kale
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens
  • Winter squash

Digestive Problems That Cause Orange Stool

In most healthy people, orange stool would most often be the result of eating one or more of the foods or supplements listed above.

However, there are also some medical conditions that cause cause stool to turn the color orange. If the stool is still orange when it is eliminated as a bowel movement, it could mean that the stool is not being exposed to, or it is not absorbing enough, bile salt. Bile is a yellowish-green, and when it reacts with the natural enzymes present in the bowel, it turns the stool brown.

In order to understand why a stool is orange because of a lack of bile, the question that needs to be answered is why it is not absorbing the bile. One reason that stool may not be absorbing enough bile is that the stool is moving through the digestive tract too quickly. This rapid transit could be caused by one or more of several different conditions, including diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or short bowel syndrome (SBS).

Another possible medical cause of orange stool is an actual lack of bile. Not having enough bile could be because the body is just not making enough of it. A second reason for the low bile levels is that the bile ducts are actually blocked. The bile ducts are the way the bile travels from the liver, where the bile is produced, to the small intestine, where the bile comes into contact with the stool.

A blockage in the bile ducts could be caused by gallstones, inflammation, cysts or tumors.

When To Call The Doctor About Orange Stools

One orange stool isn't something to be too terribly worried about because it's most likely from a food or supplement and not from an underlying medical condition. When the orange turns up multiple times, however, then it is time to think about the possibility that there could be another reason for this to be happening and that it might need attention. If you can not attribute the color of your stool to a dietary reason (such as orange or yellow foods), or if you have other symptoms (such as diarrhea, constipation, weakness, or dizziness), consult your physician.

A physician will most likely first ask about diet, especially orange or red foods, and then move on to determining if other tests are needed to find out what's causing the orange stool.

Sources:

ADAM. "Bile duct obstruction." ADAM. 11 May 2016.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Your Digestive System and How It Works." National Institutes of Health. Sept 2013.

Kevin Pho, M.D. "What could be causing my Autistic son to have orange stools?" MedHelp.org 16 Sept 2013.

Continue Reading