If you find yourself running to the bathroom with the first sip of coffee, you're not alone. Many people have this after drinking coffee. While it wakes you up, it may also get your bowels moving because it can stimulate the digestive tract. But does your morning cup of joe cause coffee diarrhea?
While the jury is still out on the effects coffee has on digestion, research links coffee with the urge to go. In fact, coffee is so notorious for prompting bathroom trips that some people try coffee cleanses and coffee enemas as a way to clean their colons.
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A small study of 34 participants published in the July 14 issue of Clinical Nutrition Research even concludes that coffee enemas may be a way to effectively prepare for a colonoscopy.
Coffee does not directly cause diarrhea in most people. Instead, it may stimulate the digestive system, although others may react to added dairy products or artificial sweeteners.
What Causes Coffee Diarrhea?
Coffee contains caffeine, a stimulant that can help you stay awake and alert. However, according to a small study of 53 participants published in 2016 in the European Journal of Sports Science, caffeine can also stimulate active contractions in your colon and intestinal muscles.
In addition, coffee is also linked to stimulating hormones that the body uses to activate the colon. A small study of 40 healthy men and women published in March 2016 in the journal Nutrition showed that coffee can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "fight or flight" response and can directly affect the intestines — and that can cause diarrhea and other GI issues.
Finally, people often add dairy products, which contains lactose, to their daily coffee. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, about 65 percent of the world population has difficulty digesting lactose. Diarrhea is a common symptom associated with lactose intolerance.
Read more: Can Coffee Cause Bloating?
Causes of Morning Diarrhea
At times, diarrhea in the morning can coincide with having a cup of coffee. However, in most cases, the cause of diarrhea is not likely the cup of coffee. A 2017 study in Planta Medica says there is no correlation between coffee and stomach and digestive issues. Coffee may actually protect people from developing some forms of inflammatory bowel disease that can cause diarrhea.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, some of the most common causes of acute diarrhea include viral, bacterial or parasitic infections, and medication side effects. In addition, the Institute identified common causes for chronic diarrhea. Digestive health issues including abdominal surgery and long-term medication use can all cause chronic diarrhea.
Quick Diarrhea Treatment
No matter the cause of the diarrhea, it's fairly easy to alleviate symptoms at home. Simple home remedies and over-the-counter medications can ease discomfort related to diarrhea.
If you are experiencing diarrhea, make sure you stay hydrated. You can lose a lot of water and become dehydrated quickly when you have multiple loose bowel movements. To combat this, drink water, juices and sports drinks to help rehydrate. Avoid drinks that contain caffeine, alcohol or carbonation, which can all irritate your bowels.
Additionally, you should eat a bland diet while you are experiencing or recovering from diarrhea. This typically consists of bananas, rice, bread and applesauce. Avoid heavy foods that contain a lot of grease, artificial sweeteners and fat.
Read more: Bananas and Rice for Diarrhea
To help alleviate symptoms, you can try an over-the-counter medication, such as those that contain loperamide. However, if you experience dizziness, abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, signs of dehydration or a high fever, you should not take medication and instead seek immediate medical attention.
- European Journal of Sports Science: "Dietary and Non-Dietary Correlates of Gastrointestinal Distress During the Cycle and Run of a Triathlon"
- Genetics Home Reference: "Lactose Intolerance"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease: "Symptoms & Causes of Diarrhea"
- Nutrition Journal: "Acute Effects of Coffee Consumption on Self-Reported Gastrointestinal Symptoms, Blood Pressure and Stress Indices in Healthy Individuals"
- Planta Medica: "The Impact of Coffee on Health"
- National Coffee Association: "Coffee, Caffeine & Health"
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.