Coffee And The Ritual Bowel Movement

I recently switched from caffeinated to decaf coffee. It’s done wonders for my sleeping and calmed my anxiety too. There is, however, one particular benefit from high-octane coffee that I deeply miss. Hint: It used to occur in my bathroom each morning.

morning coffee

Frankly, I would have been happy to keep this intimate joy of coffee-drinking to myself, but then I saw this post on Twitter and had to share. Here, Steven Chang, M.D responds to the question: “Why Does Coffee Make Me Poop?

If you notice that your daily coffee ritual is often accompanied by a timely bowel movement, you’re not alone. For some people this can be an inconvenience, but for others, coffee can be one way of keeping regular. Some coffee drinkers some will readily feel this gastrointestinal effect, some less so.

How Does It Work?

Researchers believe that the bowel-stimulating quality of coffee comes from caffeine and/or other substances contained within the coffee brew. Although there have been no large-scale studies on this subject, what we do know is that drinking coffee can stimulate movement of the colonic muscles, thus promoting peristalsis (the coordinated contraction and relaxation of intestinal muscles that causes bowel movements). One study noted that the magnitude of this peristaltic effect of caffeinated coffee is similar to one induced by eating a meal. It’s also 60 percent stronger than the effect induced by drinking water, and 23 percent stronger than the effect due to drinking decaffeinated coffee.

Aside from promoting bowel movements, coffee can also cause looser stools because increased peristalsis leaves less time for the colon to perform one of its key functions–reabsorbing water from fecal matter to produce well-formed stools. Be aware, however, that other common accompaniments to coffee can be culprits in this matter. Dairy products, excess sugar, even “sugarless” sweeteners like sorbitol (a well-known substance used as a laxative) can cause diarrhea.

After reading this, I’m considering a slight alteration to my morning ritual: maybe a half-caf would do the trick.

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  • Alvin Payne

    If anyone has any diarrhea remedies slc, ut that they could think of, they would be more then helpful! Thanks.

  • Michel Rios

    Yessssss..let’s talk about it..its as natural and healthy as breathing..a good cup of java..makes my day..uncrappy!

    • Chris Negretti

      That was some funny $hit right there.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LLH7SFRBBDZ54YLFVP6POB6XAI ANNA

    Brings back memories of my mom’s ritual: One puff of a cigarette every morning while on the ‘throne’. Worked every time! She didn’t smoke at all the rest of the day.

  • Tabby

    I switched to decaf over the summer, and noticed this too. I miss my morning poop. :(

  • FiberEater

    I find that a smoothie with lots of fruit, soy milk, and a tablespoon of flax does the trick. No added sugar, no dairy, and no caffeine needed. My high fiber diet probably helps, too.

  • capemh

    You wrote that there haven’t been any “large-scale studies” but studies have been done that are exact enough (60%, 23%) without being “large-scale?”

    • CitizenofUS

      1/3 = 0.333333333333, you can put as many sig figs as you like! :)

  • Jim

    Me too!! I can set my clock with this. I have my coffee at work at 8:15, then trot off to the bathroom at 8:30. My workmates think I’m crazy.

  • Bob Vila

    I love to poop. Strike that. I LIVE to poop.

    Good read.

  • GastroPhys

    Sonds like you’re looking for the “gastrocolonic reflex”.
    You can get this reflex sans coffee by eating a lot nonstarchy vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, spinach, etc) at dinner and again at breakfast.

    By the next morning, dinner will load your colon and breakfast will stretch your stomach, which signal your colon to release its contents in order to make way for the recently consumed meal.

    Good luck.

    • GatroPhys

      Some corrections:
      1. The correct term is “Gastrocolic Reflex”.
      2. To stimulate it there must be contents in the colon and stretch of the stomach. Some literature suggest that the digestion of fats also stimulates the response.
      3. Basically, you can play with the volume and contents of your meals in order to stimaulate this reflex (assuming that sleep, stress and other factors are relatively constant).

  • jsmill

    Thanks for sharing.

    • steenkinbadges

      Only in Cambridge would they think the public would like to see an article such as this….

      • Josh Elliott

        Hardly… Everyone poops… Despite some people not being mature enough to talk about bodily functions.

      • Chris Negretti

        Or, times are a changing and people aren’t embarrassed or ashamed for no good reason of natural bodily functions, health and science.

        I also find it interesting that you are speaking for the general public of the area. You must really spend a lot of time studying the reading preferences and demographics of the area to make such a claim.