a selection of different pastas and breads

Q. As far back as I can remember, my stool has floated. I never worried about it until I saw something on the web about pancreatic cancer and floating poop.

I did some research and found that if you have pale poop that floats it could be serious. There might be something wrong with the gallbladder, liver or pancreas. Since I have lived with this for decades, I reasoned that it probably wasn’t pancreatic cancer or I would be long gone.

Additional searching turned up celiac disease as another possibility. I have experienced quite a few symptoms of celiac disease besides tan floating poop, though my doctors have dismissed my problems when I’ve asked.

I’ve stayed off wheat for several weeks and feel better. What else should I be doing?

A. Celiac disease is an inability to digest the protein in wheat, barley and rye. Such foods destroy the lining of the small intestine in those who have celiac disease.

Symptoms include fatty floating stool (tan or light gray), bloating, digestive distress, fatigue, joint pain, muscle cramps, anemia, osteoporosis, burning or tingling in the feet and itchy, watery skin rash. Although the variety of symptoms can make it difficult to diagnose, celiac disease is much more common than most doctors were taught. It is treated with a strictly gluten-free diet.

We discussed the latest diagnostic tests and treatments of this condition with one of the country’s leading experts, Peter Green, MD, Director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. You’ll find more information in our radio show #856, available as an mp3 or on CD.

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  1. Edward

    The average Modern Man diet produces an average stool weight of 4 ounces; the average Native Americans and Australian aboriginal people have an average stool weight of 2 pounds. The average American gets less than 15 grams of fiber per day even though the Minimum needed to keep the bowls clean and healthy is 30-50 grams. Many Native people get over 100 grams of fiber per day. SFC McNair

  2. MS

    All of my 53 yrs of life, I have always had the same bowel regimen until about a month ago. I have always had a bm every 3/4 days, about twice a week – that was always normal for me. Now, for the past month I am going every day and it is floating every single time. Everything I have been reading for possible causes does not fit. I don’t eat a high fiber diet. I hardly eat any fiber. I have no other symptoms. I’m going to dr. soon so hope they can figure it out.

  3. cpmt

    RES, no, since dr. Oz mentioned on TV, everyone does it now. poop can tell you many things about your health.

  4. RES

    FLOATS??? I JUST FLUSH….doesn’t everybody???

  5. JN

    I had almost all the same symptoms and thought it was due to gluten and lots of stress (IBS). Being off gluten seemed to help but not all symptoms went away.
    Finally went to physician and she tested for everything under the sun. Turns out I tested positive for H pylori bacterium. Didn’t see that one coming. Very $$ antibiotic + lots of probiotics = stools no longer float or smelly. That one change alone was amazing.
    Get tested for H pylori, too.

  6. S.J.

    Celiac is tested through endoscopy from your mouth. Colonoscopy won’t catch it. Still protects you from colon cancer so must do it! :)
    I agree with the person that suggested check for celiac or gluten intolerance. If you get plenty gas, there’s food not being digested and bacteria eats it and produces gas. Lactose intolerance can cause the same. So look into what foods you can digest well without producing gas. Usually meat, eggs, some healthy fats won’t make gas. Start from there, and add. I use gas as a telltale sign I cannot fully digest some grains.
    Beano of course can help in some cases, adding enzymes to break down otherwise indigestible nutrients!

  7. BAC

    For a while I was adding wheat bran to my meals. It helped keep me regular and added buoyancy.

  8. WB

    For as far back as I can remember, my stool has always floated. I am 77 years old, jog 2 miles almost every day, and don’t have celiac disease. I eat 1 1/2 servings of oatmeal every morning. I suspect the floating stool is fiber intake related.

  9. Eldon W.

    This seemed to add a another caveat to the patient beware requirement. I have no colonoscopy evidence of celiac but reducing wheat seemed helpful. Some of the symptoms seemed relevant and I wonder what might be relevant to a wheat sensitivity which isn’t an allergy per se. Trying to eat gluten free is very difficult though one Italian restaurant we really like was able to provide gluten free pasta when we went there to eat. That is accommodation.
    The other aspect of this conundrum is the role that GMO wheat and also modern wheat might play in this seeming epidemic of digestive disorders or is it just more accepted to talk of stool and poop?

  10. TH

    I think you should get tested for Celiac Disease. You need to get the blood test first. You should keep eating gluten a few weeks before the blood test; otherwise, you could get a false negative. Celiac Disease gets overlooked more often than not. I would tell your doctors that you would like to get a blood test. If it is positive, then you should see a gastroenterologist who will perform an endoscopy to verify your blood test results with a biopsy.

  11. KH

    At this point, he definitely should do more than avoid gluten. He needs to be tested for Celiac Disease before it’s too late. His doctor can order blood tests that indicate either gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease. The most specific blood test for Celiac is Anti-Tissue Transglutaminase-IgA. There are two DNA tests, as well, but these are less definitive, as he might have the gene(s), but not the disease. The “gold standard” of Celiac diagnosis is biopsy of the small intestine.
    He must get the biopsy before he has been off gluten for long, because in the absence of gluten the intestine heals, so over time, the biopsy will show a false negative. After avoiding gluten for a while, the blood tests also will be negative, and this can indicate that his diet truly is gluten-free. I had avoided most (but not all) gluten for a decade when my blood tests came back positive. Fearing a false negative, I declined intestinal biopsy. Now that I’ve been strictly gluten-free for years, gastroenterologists agree that it’s too late for me to be biopsied. I feel certain I am Celiac, because in addition to three positive blood tests, two positive DNA tests, and vast improvement in my health living gluten-free, now if I accidentally eat gluten, my digestion fails and I experience miserable symptoms for three weeks.
    I fear that should I ever be admitted to a hospital, doctors may not believe I am Celiac, because I don’t have the “proof” of a biopsy. As an in-patient I may have difficulty ensuring the safety of my nutrition. I urge your reader to eat gluten a little while longer, get the blood tests, and if they are positive, get the intestinal biopsy. (With positive biopsy results, pricey DNA tests are unnecessary.) He’ll be so glad to have definitive proof of his illness, if indeed his is Celiac.

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