For many of us, coffee is a part of our morning routine, not just for the caffeine rush but for the extra "push" to bowel movements. Without coffee, our mornings would be incomplete, as it could be one of the only things to help make us poop. For some, this can be an unexpected reaction and call for an urgent run to the bathroom. Usually, it takes about 3-45 minutes for people to feel the "urge" after drinking some coffee. And according to the general surveys, 30-40% of the population is affected by it.
Sodas and other caffeinated drinks don't have this effect on us, so what is it about coffee that causes this? What's the reason behind the laxative coffee properties that make it imperative for us in the mornings or an unwelcome experience for some?
Now we don't know the exact reasons behind this consequence of drinking coffee, but let's take a look at some widely accepted speculations
- It's not the caffeine; the coffee bean stimulates your gut
You might think it's due to the caffeine that coffee has this impact on this. But contrary to popular belief, it's the oils and chemicals in the coffee bean.
An old study suggests that coffee or a heavy meal causes more contractions in the colon than a tall drink of water. This theory was tested where the participants were given a 1000 calorie meal, coffee, and decaf coffee. Caffeinated coffee primarily stimulates the colon 60% more strongly than water and 23% more than decaf coffee.
The study found that the participants who drank coffee after meals had quicker bowel movements. This phenomenon is known as the "gastrocolic reflex." The exorphins in coffee (which bind to the opiate receptors in the gut) are absorbed into the bloodstream and directed to the colon and the brain, triggering muscle contractions in the colon. To put it simply, coffee leads to your stomach waking up and contracting, all the way down to your intestines which initiates the bowel movement.
- Release of hormones and acids
Coffee invokes the release of the hormone called cholecystokinin, which improves and triggers bowel movements. However, there's no conclusive information on whether this hormone is the only reason we poop after drinking coffee.
Coffee is also acidic in nature. Both caffeinated and decaf coffee have chlorogenic acid, which triggers stomach acid and gastric acid production as both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee have the same effect and stimulate the production of gastrin. Gastrin provokes the release of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes and relaxes the valves between your large and small intestine, along with the sphincters, amongst other things. This promotes digestion and ultimately makes us defecate. But a cup of coffee contains many chemicals, so we don't know for sure.
End of the day, it's the relaxation and contraction of your colon muscles that are sending you to the bathroom, and this is precisely what the chemicals in coffee trigger. Additionally, coffee is high in magnesium, which is also a trigger for poop. Summing up, what we do know is that there is a connection between the oils in coffee and our stomachs
- The milk and sugar, along with your coffee
The addition of cream, milk, and sweeteners also could have something to do with "doing your business". With some people who deal with lactose intolerant, coffee with dairy can trigger IBS or irritable bowel syndrome and cause indigestion or many trips to the toilet.
The sweeteners also add calories to a cup of coffee which can negate some of the positive effects of coffee and indirectly lead to making you poop. There can be some alcohol sugar found in artificial sweeteners, which can have a laxative effect and cause diarrhea.
- The frequency of coffee consumption
If you're a regular coffee drinker, this specific effect of coffee may diminish over time with habitual consumption. However, for people who rarely or occasionally drink coffee, the urge to poop comes quicker.
Some of you may be wondering if these effects of coffee could ever be done away with. Is coffee giving you IBS? Is there a remedy to nullify this effect?
Suppose you're someone who loves the aroma and the taste but is having trouble dealing with some digestive issues. In that case, there are solutions to counteract or at least reduce the laxative effect of coffee.
There are some treated or inadvertent low acid coffees available in the market. These go through some special processing techniques to reduce their acid content. You can also try some coffees from lower altitudes and darker roasts as they have reduced acid levels as well. Coffees originating from Brazil, Sumatra, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico produce coffee beans with naturally low acid content.
Cold brews all the way! A slow-steeped cold brew will be 70% less acidic than a piping hot cup of drip coffee, even if made with the same beans. Surprising, right?
But if you can't resist a steaming cup, try to skip the finely ground coffee and go for something grainier and coarser. A French press would also come in handy, as you can make hot or cold brews with a coarse grind that a French press requires.
If none of these work, try adding some eggshell to your coffee. The Swedish egg coffee is another version of this remedy that also works in reducing the acid.
Like we've mentioned, the caffeine itself isn't usually responsible for making you poop, but if you believe it is, you can always go for decaf (which has 3% caffeine as compared to regular coffee).
Additionally, you can go for darker roasters, as they are less dense, they have lesser caffeine per scoop. Also, a meal with your coffee can always be helpful in diminishing the laxative effects of coffee.
Fun fact, drinking coffee regularly helps you build resistance to this effect. If you've been looking for a sign to get a French press or a coffee maker, this could be it.
Lactose intolerance varies from person to person. Sometimes people aren't aware they're sensitive to dairy and get an upset stomach after consumption. But if you're someone who can't do without the creamer or the milk, you can opt for almond or soy milk to avoid any "accidents".