If you drink coffee regularly, you may have noticed that you stay pretty regular going to the bathroom. We all usually have daily routines that involve when we drink coffee. It may be when you first get up, with breakfast, or maybe when you first get to the office and read your favorite coffee blog (like Gathering Grounds).
In life there is usually a cause and effect rule. You know the effect. You go to the bathroom. The question is what causes that to happen?
What stimulates your internal systems to drive the need to go to the bathroom?
I wanted to know, so here’s what I found out doing the research:
Follow the Theory
Researchers all the way back in 1990, yes the last century, were studying why coffee had an effect on your gut. They found that coffee has a “gastrocolonic response” on your stomach and bowels.
For some it makes you run to the bathroom within a few minutes of drinking coffee. For others it doesn’t do much and you don’t feel too much of an effect an hour later. The question is why? There wasn’t a conclusive answer back in 1990. They just knew that coffee stimulates the epithelial tissue of the stomach and the small intestine.
It’s the Caffeine, Right?
Caffeine typically gets the credit for making you poop. It’s a stimulant and gives you that morning pep.
The study from 1990 found that individuals that drank decaffeinated coffee still had a similar effect of needing to go to the bathroom. Remove the supposed stimulant, and they still had the same result.
Isn’t caffeine a diuretic agent that makes the body excrete more liquid than normal?
Yes, but that not be enough.
It’s still a gray area as to what it does physically to your body.
In a 2003 study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, drinking two to three cups of coffee every day starts to build a tolerance to the diuretic properties of caffeine. As with anything, the more you do it, the less effect it will have on you.
The amount of caffeine has an effect, your sex, age, and other factors. It’s really dependent on you and what it can do to you specifically, not just the mere presence of it.
See this post for more about the effects of coffee on the body.
If not Caffeine, What Else Could Cause Me to Go?
An additional finding from the 2003 study was that coffee promotes the release of gastrin. Gastrin is a hormone produced in the stomach and increases the motor activity of the colon. That is a direct correlation to a laxative effect.
The acidic nature of coffee also causes increases of bile acids in the body. The liver creates bile and stores it in the gall bladder until it’s needed for digestion in the intestines. This release of the bile rushing to the intestines can cause diarrhea in some people.
Beyond the coffee and caffeine, those of us who like extras in our coffee could be causing ourselves more trouble than we realize.
Artificial sweeteners can cause bloating, diarrhea, and gas. Dairy products like cream, milk, half-and-half, or anything with lactose could be causing a stomach and bowel irritation too. Whether you have an issue with lactose now, that could change in the future. We tend to lose a portion of our ability to digest lactose as we get older.
Is There Anything I Can Do About It?
The simple answer is: maybe.
Coffee is going to do what coffee does. Your body’s circadian rhythm wants you to poop within the first two hours after waking up. Our colons usually take a rest when we do.
We sleep, they go dormant. When we wake up in the morning, they wake up and start the morning ritual.
If you fire up your small french press and drink coffee in those first two hours, you’re adding to the issue potentially. If you can wait for that first cup until after your morning trip to the bathroom, you may not have the same situation.
You can also try a lower caffeine or reduced acid coffee to see if that has any effect on the morning ritual. Both can change the frequency and time from when you drink until your bathroom trip. You can also change what you add to your coffee. A different creamer, or something with less lactose, may also change the result.
You Can’t Handle the Truth
There you have it. Inconclusive evidence to prove the theory of why coffee makes you poop.
Maybe the answer really should be that “it just does”. Studies are still on going to identify which chemical or attribute of coffee is the true root cause that causes bowel movements. Until the time that it’s discovered, you can rest assured that it’ll keep you regular.