Why Is Your Poop Floating? Exploring Causes and Solutions

Why Is Your Poop Floating? Exploring Causes and Solutions

Published on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 by Emily Hamm

Are you ever just alarmed by your poop and wonder what is going on? Why are you having abnormal stool? 

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon; many experience chronic changes in their stool and are fearful to find out what is going on. We are here to help with providing some insight and help you make a step to figuring out what is going on.

Floating stools or steatorrhea (also fatty poops) is an unpleasant symptom of gastrointestinal distress. It’s a hallmark sign of malabsorption of nutrients (mainly fat and fat-soluble) in the small intestine. There are numerous reasons you may experience steatorrhea. Let’s explore more to learn about the causes, associated medical diagnoses, and practical tips to help reduce this unpleasant symptom.

Beyond Buoyancy: Decoding the Reasons Poop Floats

Steatorrhea is different from normal poop- it may look loose, have a foul smell, and be lighter in color (think clay colored). You may also experience more symptoms like gas and abdominal pain or cramping after eating a meal. This can occur occasionally after a high-fat meal (like fried food or a fatty dessert), but if it's happening frequently despite what you’re eating, it might be time to dig a little more to see what’s going on in your digestive tract.

The small intestine is the site of fat digestion and absorption. It collaborates with the pancreas, gallbladder, and liver to facilitate the proper breakdown of fat. Eating food travels down into the small intestines, where bile (produced by the liver) is excreted from the gallbladder along with pancreatic enzymes (lipase) to break down fat molecules. If your digestive organs are not functioning correctly, they hinder the body's ability to digest fat properly, leading to fat excretion through your stool. This process is also where the body absorbs fat-soluble vitamins for its use.

Your gut microbiome also plays an essential role in digesting food and absorbing nutrients. Any alteration in your microbiome (bacterial infection, viral infection, overgrowth of bacteria) could affect your gut's ability to work effectively, resulting in malabsorption of nutrients.

When left untreated over the long term, malabsorption syndrome can lead to a range of serious health consequences. Deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients can result in various conditions and symptoms that significantly impact overall health and well-being. For instance, a lack of vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weakened bones, increasing the risk of fractures and bone-related injuries. Malnutrition and muscle wasting may occur, resulting in unintended weight loss and extreme weakness, impairing the body's ability to function optimally.  Dehydration can also occur due to the body's inability to properly absorb water and essential electrolytes. 

Anemia, characterized by a deficiency in red blood cells or hemoglobin, can lead to irritability and fatigue, affecting daily functioning and quality of life. Women may experience amenorrhea or missed periods due to hormonal imbalances resulting from malnutrition. Additionally, deficiencies in specific vitamins, such as vitamin A, can lead to night blindness, while a lack of vitamin K may manifest as bleeding gums and nose bleeds. 

Furthermore, a deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause a sore tongue and other neurological symptoms. Overall, the long-term consequences of untreated malabsorption syndrome underscore the importance of early detection and intervention to prevent or mitigate these adverse health outcomes.

From Bloating to Bellyaches: Digestive Disorders Linked to Floating Stools

Below is a synopsis of possible disorders or diseases linked to bowel habit changes.

  • IBS – chronic inflammation of the intestines can lead to damage and cause malabsorption
  • Crohn’s disease – causes swelling of the tissue in the gut
  • Celiac disease- inability to digest gluten, leading to inflammation
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (i.e., secondary to cancer, surgery, pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis) - the pancreas is not able to make or send the enzymes needed for digestion into the small intestines to break down food
  • Frequent infections/small bacterial overgrowth – too much of the bad bacteria or too much of the good- dysbiosis of the gut
  • Parasitic infections (giardia)
  • Diet (i.e,. high-fat diet, lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity)
  • Surgery (i.e., bowel resection and gastric bypass surgery) – when part of the GI tract is missing, malabsorption occurs

Beyond the Bowl: Examining Lifestyle and Medical Triggers

Besides medical conditions, other things can lead to changes in bowel habits. Stress, medication use, rapid weight loss, and intense exercise may also be the culprit.

Make note if any significant life changes have occurred at the time of first noticing symptoms. By finding ways to manage stress, you can achieve normalcy again. Also, make sure to get adequate rest. Our bodies have a hard time working correctly without appropriate rest. Stress on the body may also look like rapid weight loss and intense exercise; sometimes, our bodies cannot keep up.

If you use medications, check the side effects and talk with your doctor to see if there are other options out there or if you can cut back on the medication. Common medications that cause steatorrhea: orlistat (weight loss drug), octreotide and lanreotide (somatostatin analogs used in cancer treatment), and statin drugs (used to treat high cholesterol)

Charting a Clear Course: When to Seek Help for Buoyant Bowels

If this is something you have been dealing with, seek professional help! Sometimes it is a coincidence, and sometimes it’s not. It’s important to rule out any major health problems and find ways to correct your digestive issues.

Key points to know that it’s time to get help:

-          Chronic fatty stools (not just an occasional occurrence)

-          Blood in stool (either bright red or black tarry color)

-          Unexplained weight loss

-          Lack of appetite

-          Abdominal pain

You can seek help from a gastroenterologist or a qualified medical provider, such as a functional medicine doctor- they can run different labs and tests and conduct procedures to rule out specific causes.

Work with a registered dietitian to modify your diet and lifestyle to improve bowel habits- you may need to restrict fat in your diet for a time and consume fat-soluble, vitamin-rich foods that are lower in fat. Other necessary interventions may be pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy and a water-soluble A, D, E, and K (ADEK) vitamin supplementation.

  • Vitamin D-rich foods: fortified low-fat dairy, lean beef, fish like salmon and tuna, fortified cereals, eggs
  • Vitamin A-rich foods: eggs, orange-colored produce (carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, mango, papaya, cantaloupe), beef liver, spinach, salmon, broccoli, kale
  • Vitamin E-rich foods: asparagus, red peppers, mango, olives, butternut squash, kiwi, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, turnip greens
  • Vitamin K-rich foods: green leafy vegetables like spinach, collard greens, broccoli, cabbage and lettuce

Take charge of your digestive health journey today. If you've been experiencing persistent digestive issues or abnormal stool, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Remember, small changes in diet and lifestyle can make a big difference in improving your digestive health. Let's work together towards a healthier gut and a happier you. Join our community discussion below and share your insights or questions about gut health. Your journey matters, and together, we can empower each other towards better well-being!

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