If one day you notice that the pile of stools in the toilet bowl are a much lighter shade of brown than usual, maybe even tan in color, this could be unnerving. 

Perhaps you’ve read somewhere that “light color” stools can be a sign of a serious disease such as liver cancer.

Normally, poop color ranges from a medium to a dark brown.

On occasion it could be maybe less than medium or closer to a brownish-black, and these outskirt variations are almost always nothing to worry about.

Sometimes, a lot of mucus coating one’s bowel movements can make them appear brownish-grey. Scrape off the mucus and you’ll see brown underneath.

But what about a true light brown or tan color?

“Seventy-five percent of stool is made up of water, while the remaining 25 percent is constituted from bacteria (live or dead), undigested food matter, and intestinal contents such as mucus and bile,” explains Nadeem Baig, MD, a board certified gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Monmouth Gastroenterology, a division of Allied Digestive Health.

“Bile has a green color and is made in the liver, which when mixed with other material turns the stool brown.

“Diseases of the liver and bile ducts can impede the bile production and transit from the liver to the intestines, which in turn will make the stool lighter in color to the point it becomes light brown or tan color.

“If someone notices their stool being this color consistently for several days, the individual should consult with a physician.

“It is also possible for stools to be a lighter color while having normal liver and bile function.

“This can be due to accelerated intestinal transit caused by medicines or stress, incomplete digestion of foods or food coloring.”

If a recent bowel movement appeared a lot lighter than usual, it’d be wise to monitor your poops for the next several voids. Chances are pretty high you won’t see a repeat of the light brown or tan hue.

Diseases of the liver include cancer, hepatitis, alcoholic cirrhosis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Diseases of the bile ducts include cancer, infection, abnormal narrowing and stones.

Dr. Baig’s specialties include gastrointestinal cancers and liver disease, plus gallbladder, biliary tract and pancreatic disorders. He is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


Top image: Shutterstock/Andreas Poertner