Remember way back pre-pandemic when you were a little nervous about taking a cup of coffee into the morning meeting? That's because you knew that soon, you'd have to head to the bathroom for a poop. Now, you might be able to amble about your house and take care of business whenever nature calls. Still, is it really the coffee?
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You're not imagining anything — coffee absolutely makes some people poop.
"There has been research evaluating if coffee stimulates colon contractions. What's been found is that drinking coffee likely increases colon function similar to a large meal," says Amar Naik, MD, a gastroenterologist and director of the IBD Program at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago.
That research was a small 1998 study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology that placed probes into the colons of 12 people and monitored them as they drank black coffee, decaf coffee or water, or consumed a large meal. (Yes, this happened.) All three drinks triggered colon contractions, though caffeinated coffee had the strongest effect.
Coffee appears to prompt the body to release several hormones that stimulate the gallbladder as well as motility waves in the last part of the colon, explains Baldeep S. Pabla, MD, gastroenterologist and assistant professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. "That leads to stool being propelled into the rectum, which tells you that you're ready to have a bowel movement," he says.
Research indicates this can happen as quickly as four minutes after drinking coffee. So, um, get ready.
Also, be aware that if you are lactose intolerant, adding dairy to your coffee might be the main culprit behind your bathroom trip, Dr. Pabla says. Some people are also sensitive to artificial sweeteners and find that consuming these makes them have to go (and have loose stools).
So, What if You Can't Poop Without Coffee?
So, yes, coffee makes you poop. But should you "use" your coffee to get things moving?
It's fine to drink coffee for the perk-you-up energy and the clear-you-out BM.
But, back up (ha!), it doesn't make everyone poop. A rather old study, published April 1990 in Gut, reported that just 29 percent of people in their sample said coffee made them want to poop, and nearly two-thirds identified as women. Nothing's wrong with your GI system if you can drink it without the laxative effect.
What's more, it also depends on you and your BM habits. If you have several BMs a day, that means you may just be more vulnerable to these contractions and your body is primed for coffee to do its thing, Dr. Pabla says. If you go just a few times a week, then coffee might not move you as readily. You may not be an every-day pooper — and that's OK.
If you want to increase the chances that your cup of coffee will produce a poop, here are some things to try:
- Don't drink it black. Adding cream (or full-fat milk) will increase the amount of fat, which gets those colon contractions going to move things through.
- Have breakfast with coffee. Eating stretches the stomach to stimulate your gastrocolic reflex, which can prompt you to poop.
- Give yourself time. You know your body best, Dr. Pabla says. So, if past experience with java tells you that you need to jet off to the bathroom after, make sure you're giving yourself plenty of time and opportunity to successfully have a BM when the urge strikes.
- Get in the rhythm. You can help condition yourself to go by reinforcing that brain-gut connection if you make drinking coffee and going to the bathroom part of your morning routine.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.