While most people count on coffee for quick energy, many also rely on a morning cup of joe to get things going in the bathroom.
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"Coffee is a GI stimulant," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen: 100+ Delicious Recipes for Optimal Wellness. "It increases gut motility, which means that it accelerates contractions that help move contents of the gastrointestinal tract forward and out of the body," she says.
Still, for others, coffee can stunt your stool schedule. Yep, a daily brew can also block your bowel movements. If you get plenty of fiber, exercise and water, and you still experience unexplained constipation, your coffee might be the culprit.
Read on to learn how coffee can contribute to constipation and what you can do to manage it (and still enjoy your java, too).
Talk to your doctor if you experience constipation that lasts more than a few days.
How Can Coffee Cause Constipation for Some People?
As we know, coffee can stimulate the gut and have a laxative effect. But for certain people who may be particularly sensitive to caffeine, this can lead to loose bowel movements, diarrhea and dehydration, Largeman-Roth says.
But here's the thing: When you're dehydrated, your large intestine will absorb as much water from food waste as it can, which slows the passage of your stool through your GI tract, creating hard and sometimes painful poops, she explains.
What's more, caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes you pee more by helping your body expel extra salt and water, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM). But getting too much caffeine can result in dehydration, which, as we know, can back up your bowels.
To make matters worse, the things you add to your coffee mug — like milk and sugar — can also clog you up.
"While a couple of tablespoons of milk are very unlikely to cause an issue, if you're drinking from a very large tumbler, and half of it is filled with milk, this could be a problem," Largeman-Roth says. "The same is true if you're adding several sugars to your coffee," she says.
If you want to continue drinking your brew without binding up your backside, follow these helpful tips from Largeman-Roth.
1. Cap Your Caffeine Intake
Stick to two cups of coffee per day (this is beneficial for sleep too), Largeman-Roth says. For most people, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine is OK. But keep in mind the amount of caffeine in coffee products varies: An 8-ounce cup of coffee may contain between 95 to 200 milligrams, per the NLM.
"You could also try starting your day with a cup of regular coffee and then switching to decaf after that," Largeman-Roth adds.
2. Ditch the Dairy (or Limit It)
Non-dairy milks can be a superb substitute for constipation-causing cow products. For example, oat and coconut milks tout a thick, creamy texture. Just make sure you choose a brand with minimal added sugar.
But if you're married to old-fashioned milk, try this: "Instead of loading your coffee cup with skim milk, switch to whole milk or two percent, but only add a tablespoon or two," Largeman-Roth says.
3. Sack the Sugar
Largeman-Roth says cutting back or eliminating sugar is also a smart idea to help you avoid constipation (and other digestive issues, like abdominal pain from coffee). To flavor your coffee without sugar, add a sprinkle of cinnamon, a splash of unsweetened vanilla almond milk or a dash of unsweetened cocoa powder.
4. Stay Hydrated
Try sipping a tall glass of water while you're drinking your coffee, Largeman-Roth says. This will help counteract caffeine's dehydrating effect.