To determine whether concentrations of potentially toxic lipids in the aqueous phase of human stool are responsive to changes in dietary fat, calcium, and fiber, 20 male volunteers were placed on a high-fat, low-calcium, low-fiber or a low-fat, high-calcium, high-fiber diet for 4 days. To assess toxicity of the fecal fractions, we examined the ability of fecal supernatants to lyse human erythrocytes. Bile acid concentrations in fecal water from the low-fat group were reduced significantly from 180 +/- 60 microM to 100 +/- 70 microM; in the high-fat group, increased from 190 +/- 60 microM to 250 +/- 100 microM. Erythrocyte lysis was 76% for the high-fat group, 37% for the low-fat group. There was a significant weak correlation between aqueous bile acid concentration and cell lysis. Results suggest that diet can influence concentrations of detergents in the aqueous phase of human stool and the potential toxicity of this fraction to cell membranes.