The Effects of Caffeine on Bowel Movements

If you aren't able to have a bowel movement at least three times a week, you meet the clinical definition of being constipated. The solution, however, might be sitting in your kitchen cupboard or at the nearest coffee shop. Although caffeine consumption can lead to some negative side effects, one benefit of including it in your diet is its ability to help you have a bowel movement.

A close-up of a latte.
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Caffeine's Role in Bowel Movements

You can find caffeine in a number of substances beyond coffee. This stimulant is prevalent in several flavors of soft drinks, chocolate, tea and energy drinks. Although it's unclear how caffeine in various products can affect your bowels, caffeinated coffee is closely tied to bowel function. Dr. Steven Chang, a San Francisco-based physician, reports that although major studies on caffeine and bowel movements aren't prevalent, research indicates the caffeine in your drink stimulates your colon.

Caffeine and Peristalsis

The amount of time it takes you to have a bowel movement after drinking coffee depends on your body. When the caffeine enters your system, however, it gets your colonic and intestinal muscles moving, This serves to advance the contents of your intestines toward your colon in a process called peristalsis. As peristalsis continues, you'll eventually feel the urge to have a bowel movement. This process can also lead to loose stools as the peristalsis shortens the time during which your colon can absorb liquid from your stool.

Other Coffee Products Can Contribute

If you experience diarrhea after drinking a cup of coffee, the caffeine might not be the only culprit. Common additions to your cup of coffee, including milk or cream, sugar or artificial sweeteners, can also result in diarrhea. If you have undiagnosed lactose intolerance, for example, a common symptom of consuming dairy products is to have diarrhea. The consumption of sugar can also lead to diarrhea.

Don't Necessarily Rely on Caffeine

Despite caffeine's ability to affect your bowels, don't feel that you need to rely on this stimulant as your only solution to alleviate constipation. Caffeine intake can have side effects, such as anxiety. If you're constipated because of stress, the caffeine might make the situation worse. A healthier approach is to increase your consumption of high-fiber foods, such as fruit and legumes, and include more physical activity in your day.

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