Patients often ask us if tan colored stools are normal. The simple answer is they aren't.
"Bile emusifies fat, breaking it down into smaller, more easily digestible gobules so it can be absorbed into the body."
in a healthy functioning digestive system, normal stools should be brown colored. Stools derive their normal brown color from bile, a detergent-like fluid made by the liver, and released by the gallbladder.
Bile emulsifies fat, breaking it down into smaller, more easily digestible globules so it can be absorbed into the body. You may be familiar with the process of emulsification that occurs when we use dish washing detergent to wash greasy dishes. Without detergent it's more difficult to clean a dish full of ribs or cheese enchiladas.
When your stool is tan colored, it's a sign that bile is not being delivered to your small intestine. Inadequate flow of bile into the intestine is like trying to wash a plate of of ribs or cheese enchiladas without detergent. Without bile, you can not digest the fats in your food because your body cannot break the fat into small globules. Inadequate amounts of bile also creates problems with digesting your protein and carbohydrates. That's because the fat coats all your food, not just fatty foods. When fat coats your food and forms a greasy layer around food, your own digestive enzymes cannot get to the food to digest it. Often this will result in symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and produce constipation or diarrhea.
Tan colored stools are a warning sign that the billiary system, your liver, gallbladder and bile ducts are not functioning properly. There may be an obstruction in the ducts, gallstones, or more commonly sludge in the ducts that prevent the flow of bile. Many patients experience back pain and indigestion when they are having problems with the gallbladder. Tan colored stools may also be a sign that your stomach is not producing enough stomach acid, as stomach acid is one of the factors that determines how much bile is released by your gallbladder. Tan colored stools often accompany an intolerance to fat, and a deficiency in the enzyme lipase, which helps us digest fat. Poor fat digestion can lead to problems such as hormonal imbalances, dry skin, and poor immune function.
While obstructions are usually addressed by surgery, gallstones and billiary sludge can be dissolved by dietary changes, along with specialized supplements to support the liver and thin the bile. If you your stool is frequently tan colored, getting tested is your first step to improving your bowel and digestion. Our testing can help you find the cause of your tan colored stools, and help you restore your digestion. If you are not digesting your food well, or you are not a fan of tan, take our quiz. and call us at 530-899-8741 to find out how you can put your digestive system back on track again. Local Patients can visit our office in Chico, California and out of town patients may call for an appointment.
For more on what the color of your stool can tell you about your health, and a chart of normal and abnormal stool colors click here.
Yours in health,
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome- What’s Your Poo Teling You? a look at what color, shape, and consistency of bowel movements indicate about your digestion.
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