If you’re reading this while sipping a cup of coffee … well, we’re about to address what you might be ready to do by the time you reach the final words of this article.
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Coffee often does more than just jump-start your day, after all. It can also make you poop — a truth you’ve no doubt seen expressed in a meme or spelled out on the side of an oh-so-clever coffee mug.
But did you ever wonder why that happens? Gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD has the answer.
Why coffee makes you poop
The caffeinated jolt delivered by coffee can certainly perk you up in the morning (or any time of the day). But that revving of the engines isn’t only happening in your head. It also hits your bowels, says Dr. Lee.
Researchers found that 29% of coffee drinkers report a desire to poop after drinking coffee. The feeling can come pretty quickly, too. (In as little as four minutes!)
The effect is no mere coincidence. Here’s what’s going on.
Coffee stimulates colon contractions
Pooping is work — and that requires muscles. Layers of muscle in your bowels contract to move feces through the winding twists and turns of your colon to reach the exit. (Medical lingo: Peristalsis is the name of this wave-like muscle movement.)
Coffee contains acids shown to boost levels of the hormone gastrin, which stimulates these involuntary muscle contractions in your stomach to get your bowels moving. And it happens with both regular and decaffeinated coffee.
There’s also evidence that coffee increases the release of cholecystokinin, another hormone that plays a key role in the digestive process.
Bottom line? Coffee can speed up your poop conveyor belt. It’s a natural laxative.
“The gastro release is stimulated by the coffee itself,” says Dr. Lee. “It gets things moving.”
Caffeine and your colon
It turns out that caffeinated coffee can help kick-start your day and your colon. Research shows that high-octane java cranks up activity deep down in your gut 60% more than water and 23% more than decaf coffee.
But as we mentioned, decaf coffee also can help move things along due to those acids. “Decaf is not as potent as its caffeinated counterpart, but it too has a laxative effect,” notes Dr. Lee.
So, it’s not just caffeine that brings on a #2. Instead, it’s how the stimulant works with coffee’s natural acids to speed things along. (That also explains why caffeine-laced energy drinks don’t make people poop.)
Most coffee drinkers reach for their cup of ambition first thing in the morning, which is pretty handy when it comes to a potty schedule.
“Your intestinal tract is more sensitive and prone to movement early in the day,” notes Dr. Lee. “Drinking a warm, soothing cup of coffee plays right into your gastrocolic reflex and facilitates transit time.”
Can adding cream to coffee increase your urge to poop?
A splash of milk or cream in your coffee doesn’t just make a difference in taste. It also may trigger extra activity in your gut.
Blame it on the lactose in milk and cream. An estimated 65% of people have some difficulty digesting lactose, which can lead to restroom runs. Lactose intolerance can cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal (GI) issues within 30 minutes of consumption.
“Most folks develop some degree of lactose intolerance — and you very well might feel it if you add cream or milk to your coffee,” says Dr. Lee. “Lactose, sugars and fats can all affect your intestinal tract and your colon transit time.”
This fact is pretty significant, too, given this café truth: Most coffee drinkers put something extra in their java to sweeten the drink.
Are some people more sensitive to coffee?
Absolutely! “There are people who are more sensitive to medications, food and even water,” explains Dr. Lee. “If that’s you, you’ll probably be more prone to have a gastro reaction occur from coffee.”
Health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also may heighten your restroom response to coffee.
But coffee drinkers also can become desensitized when it comes to coffee leading to a quick #2.
“You may eventually see little to no effect,” states Dr. Lee. “But every person is different and there’s no one rule.
Hot tip: Use coffee to your advantage
Here’s the thing about poop: You need to empty it out regularly. Letting that waste sit in your colon for too long can lead to abdominal bloating, gas, cramping and overall discomfort in your gut.
“You want to have regular, good quality BMs and leave as little stool behind in the colon as possible,” says Dr. Lee.
So, if you tend to have difficulty making that happen … well, you might want to take advantage of coffee’s power. That bean juice is a simple and effective way to keep your bowel movements on schedule.
“We know coffee can help get the job done at a higher quality on a more consistent basis,” says Dr. Lee. “That’s information you can use to your benefit.”