Coffee is one of the most popular drinks to have in the morning, and many people rely on it for a boost of energy to get them through the day in one piece. Not only does it provide energy, but coffee also has been proven to provide numerous long-lasting health benefits when consumed in moderation. However, some coffee drinkers may also notice themselves taking more trips to the bathroom after enjoying their morning cup of Joe, which leads us to the question of, "why does coffee make you poop?"
If you're someone who's ever had the sensation of needing to run to the bathroom after finishing your coffee, you're not alone. For instance, some people have turned to things like coffee enemas to relieve constipation. Also, one study surveying 92 participants—58 men and 34 women—found that 29% of the total cohort reported needing to poop within just 30 minutes of finishing their cup of coffee.
To better understand the reasoning behind these digestive effects of coffee, we turned to two doctors, Adil Maqbool, MD, a researcher affiliated with the team at Toho University, Japan, and a peer-reviewer at the Lancet, as well as Onyx Adegbola, MD, Ph.D., physician-scientist, lifestyle medicine physician, and the founder of Casa de Santé, a virtual IBS clinic that provides gut-friendly, low-FODMAP products, supplements, and resources for IBS. Maqbool and Adegbola explain that there are two main drivers behind coffee's effect on our bowel movements: One has to do with the way coffee interacts with the muscles in our colon, and the other is related to how this beverage impacts our production of gastric acid.
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Coffee can stimulate your colon
The movements and contractions of your colon is what causes bowel movements. For example, according to Mayo Clinic, the walls of your colon separate and stretch, which not only physically push the stool further down toward your rectum, but also signal to your body that you need to poop. One of the main reasons coffee give you the sensation that it's time to use the bathroom is because of the way it interacts with this process in your colon.
"Drinking coffee can stimulate the muscles in your colon, which can lead to the sensation of needing to use the bathroom," says Maqbool. "This is because coffee contains caffeine, which is a compound and a natural stimulant, that triggers the movement of the colon's muscles, leading to bowel movements." In other words, coffee loosens things up so you can use the bathroom more easily.
Interestingly enough, even decaf coffee, which still contains a small amount of caffeine, can stimulate the colon. According to a study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, caffeinated coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and food were more effective in causing colon contractions than water. Even though decaf coffee did lead to some colon movement, caffeinated coffee was still 23% more effective.
It releases stomach acid
Another common way that coffee can make us poop is by interacting with our stomach acid.
"Coffee acts as a natural laxative because it stimulates the production of gastric acid in our stomachs and intestines," says Adegbola.
"This increased acidity helps speed up the process of digestion, which can result in the urge to poop." This interaction may also "lead to stomach discomfort or cramping in some people," adds Maqbool.
Some research suggests that the triggered production of gastric acid in your body can actually be determined by the level of acids found in the specific type of coffee you're drinking. Common types of acid in coffee include N-alkanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamides, trigonelline, and N-methylpyridinium, and certain coffees contain these acids in different numbers. In one study published in Molecular Nutrition Food Research, a dark roasted coffee that contained smaller levels of three common coffee acids was found to cause lower production of gastric acid than another market blend.
If you feel like coffee is making you take a trip to the bathroom too often, or if you sometimes feel acid reflux symptoms after drinking your cup of Joe, the Cleveland Clinic suggests a few types of lower-acid coffee options: dark roasts, espresso, cold brew, or or mushroom blends.
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It depends on the individual
What both doctors want you to know is that, at the end of the day, the extend of coffee's impact on your bowels truly varies based on the individual.
"Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others," says Adegbola. "Those who are particularly sensitive may experience stronger effects from drinking coffee, including an increased urge to go to the bathroom."
"In any case, it's always a good idea to stay well hydrated and listen to your body," adds Maqbool. "If you feel the need to go to the bathroom after drinking coffee, it's OK to do so."