Your poop is a quick and easy way to check the state of your health. Many times, one can find pointers that will lead you to uncover illness, when you check your poop. These pointers are often changes to your poop’s color, texture, shape, amount and odor.
In this article, we will look at how poop is formed, what causes white or clay-colored poop and what to do next.
How Is Poop Formed?
When food is ingested via the mouth, a series of changes occur to it before it is used in the body. These changes are necessary for food to reach the fractions useful for the body’s nourishment and energy needs.
Enzymes (chemical agents), bacteria as well as different sections of the digestive tract carry out certain functions in the process of digestion. By the time food reaches the large intestine, the useful part has already been stripped from it.
What remains is the undigested component of the food, water and dead cells from the lining of the digestive system. This is the content of our poop.
Prior to the arrival of food in the large intestine, Bile – a greenish substance produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder – mixes with food in a section of the small intestine. This greenish mixture is then converted into a brownish mass due to the action of enzymes and bacteria in the large intestine. This is what gives stool its normal brown color.
If the bile cannot get to the small intestine for any reason, poop is lighter than it normally is. In disease conditions, poop may be of different colors other than brown, including red, white, pale or clay, orange, black and green.
What Causes White Poop?
Medically speaking, a white or clay-colored stool is actually poop that is ‘pale’. Pale stools may mean that there is an absence of bile in the intestines.
This is may be due to
- failure of the production of bile.
- a blockage of the ducts that ferry bile from the liver to the gall bladder.
- a blockage in the ducts responsible for carrying bile from the gall bladder to the intestines.
Here are some reasons why you may have white or clay-colored poop. Although, you should see a doctor to find out why in your specific scenario.
Bonus: You can download our free poop checklist for a healthy gut below
Milk or nuts only diets may cause you to have a pale poop. This is commonest in children.
2. Liver disease:
This may be caused by viruses (chiefly Hepatitis A, B, C viruses), and prolonged excessive alcohol intake (alcoholic hepatitis). Here, the liver is swollen and inflamed. Work (the detoxification processes), including the production of bile and other chemicals, is halted or at a minimum when this happens.
Sometimes, the bile ducts in the Liver are inflamed and blocked, leading to the collection of bile in the liver rather than in the gall bladder. This condition called Liver Cirrhosis is a serious medical condition and should be handled by a specialist.
3. Pancreatic disease:
Several factors may cause pancreatic disease, including heavy alcohol use, genetic disease, and autoimmune disease (when the body fights against itself). Symptoms that may accompany the passage of pale poop include nausea and vomiting, weight loss, and diarrhea. There may also be abdominal cramps and bloating. Pancreatic cancer has also been known to cause pale stools.
These are hardened deposits of bile products which develop in the gallbladder. As a result, the flow of bile is blocked. A tumour in the gall bladder may also stop the flow of bile through the ducts.
5. Parasites and bacterial overgrowth:
Parasites may cause the digestive process to become less efficient, causing a reduction in fat absorption. Bacteria may also breakdown bile salts rapidly before their action is completed.
6. Diseases of the digestive system:
This includes tropical sprue (a rare disease and thought to be responsible for the damage to the absorptive surfaces of the intestine), and celiac disease (gluten insensitivity causing fat malabsorption). These diseases are responsible for the reduced efficiency of the digestive system which in turn causes a reduction in fat absorption
Some medications may cause you to have pale stools. These include antibiotics (like tetracycline), painkillers (like ibuprofen), anticoagulants, birth control pills and antacids. These medications can cause inflammation of the liver (drug-induced hepatitis) but often resolve once the drugs are stopped.
Barium from barium swallow or enema may also cause your poop to become pale.
How Is A Diagnosis Made?
It is often difficult to tell what may be wrong if all you have is a white or clay colored poop. Other symptoms that may accompany the passage of a discolored poop are very important in making a diagnosis. These symptoms must be reported to your doctor. Some of these symptoms are:
- Dark urine
- Pain in the right upper part of your abdomen
- Swollen male breasts
- Loss of muscle tissue
- Easy bruising
If you have any of the above symptoms, you should go see your doctor, especially if it occurs more than once. While it may seem trivial, it is best to get clearance from your doctor.
To make a diagnosis of the specific cause of white or clay colored stool, you doctor will ask some detailed questions about the passage of these stools, examine you, then order for one or more of the following tests, to make an accurate diagnosis.
- Blood tests to assess liver function and check for infections,
- Computed tomography (CT) scan to check if you have any liver or gall bladder swelling or a swelling in any of the ducts
- Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), a pictorial analysis of the liver and gall bladder
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), the use of a probe with a camera attached to visualize the inside of the pancreas and bile ducts.
- Abdominal ultrasound, for a picture of the state of affected organs
- Stool assessment/culture, for fat quantification in poop and to check for disease-causing entities
How Is White Poop Treated?
Treatment is offered via medications, dietary advice or surgery (to remove or repair infringing parts), based on the specific cause of the poop discoloration and severity of symptoms.
In some cases, medications are first attempted before surgery is proffered, like in the case of gallstones. In any case, your doctor will likely prescribe supplements to replace lost vitamins and minerals in your body and advise you to avoid alcohol.
Once treatment is completed, your poop should return to the normal brownish color.
Your poop should normally be a shade of brown. If you are passing out white or clay colored stools, it is not normal and you should see your doctor. If the passage is frequent and you have other symptoms like dark urine, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping or weight loss, you should consult your doctor immediately.
P.S: You can download your free poop checklist for a healthy gut below.