Why Does Coffee Make You Poop?

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
May 31, 2022

Many people rely on their early cup of coffee to jump-start their morning.

The jolt provided by coffee’s caffeine content can provide an extra energy boost throughout the day. But there’s another side effect that some people associate with the beloved drink: the urge to have a bowel movement. 

In fact, results from one survey found that drinking coffee increased motility, or the movement of the bowels, in most responders. 

Why does coffee appear to make many people poop?

Can coffee really stimulate a bowel movement?

In this article, we’ll discuss the effects coffee can have on the digestive system and other factors you may want to consider when drinking coffee.

The Science Behind Poop and Coffee

There are several natural compounds present in coffee, including:

  • Caffeine: A mild stimulant found in over 60 plant species, including tea leaves, kola nuts, cocoa, and coffee beans.
  • Antioxidants: Chlorogenic acids and melanoidins present in coffee may help to deactivate oxidants in the body. 
  • Diterpenes: The diterpenes cafestol and kahweol are naturally found in the oil contained in coffee.

Although these compounds can have different effects on the body, caffeine specifically has been shown to have several effects on the human gastrointestinal system.

Caffeine and the colon

Research suggests that caffeine can have a variety of effects on the colon.

To start, one study found that caffeine can stimulate colon motility in some people and is 60% stronger at stimulating colonic activity than water. 

Another study found that caffeine can trigger strong anal sphincter contractions, which are required for successful bowel movements. 

However, the same research found that decaffeinated coffee can also stimulate colonic motor activity, indicating that there may be other components in coffee responsible for activating our bowels.

In addition to the compounds listed above, there are many other chemicals present in coffee, some of which are formed during the storage and processing of coffee beans.

Experts aren’t sure which of these compounds, if any, have a direct impact on our gastrointestinal system, though it’s clear that there is some effect from coffee overall. 

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Factors to Consider

When analyzing coffee’s impact on our colon and larger gastrointestinal system, there are other factors at play that may directly or indirectly affect our bathroom habits. 

Hormonal fluctuations

When consumed, coffee can have hormonal effects on the body.

For example, drinking coffee has been found to increase levels of the hormone gastrin. Gastrin is the main hormone that controls the release of acid in the stomach, but it’s also primarily responsible for enhancing gastric motility.   

Research also shows that drinking coffee can induce cholecystokinin release, a digestive hormone that can increase the speed at which waste moves through the colon. 

Milk or creamer

For people with lactose intolerance or lactose sensitivities, adding milk or creamer to their morning coffee may cause gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal cramps, bloating, or diarrhea

Temperature

Some people believe that drinking hot coffee can help get the bowels moving, particularly when compared to drinking coffee that’s cold or iced.

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that the temperature has a significant impact on whether or not it helps trigger a bowel movement.

Acidity

Similarly, there are some theories that suggest that one of the antioxidants present in coffee, chlorogenic acid, may help the stomach digest food more quickly, thereby increasing the speed of digestion and colonic activity.

But there simply isn’t enough research to back up these claims yet.   

Other health conditions

People with certain health conditions may be more likely to experience the bowel-movement-triggering effects of coffee, including those with:

How Much Coffee Does it Take To Make You Poop?

Not everyone who drinks coffee will experience the same effects.

And for those who do find coffee to be an effective colonic stimulant, the amount of coffee needed to cause a bowel movement will vary from person to person.

Factors that can impact the effect of coffee include a person’s general health, tolerance to caffeine, and the type of coffee they drink.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (the equivalent of about four or five cups of coffee) is a safe and healthy guideline for most adults. 

It is, however, important to note that the overconsumption of caffeine can cause unwanted side effects, including:

Keep in mind that processed caffeinated foods (like candy bars) and beverages (like energy drinks, bottled teas, and coffees) can have varying amounts of caffeine.

To ensure you’re consuming a safe amount of caffeine, check the nutrition facts before consumption.

How to Stop Pooping When Drinking Coffee

Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to stop pooping once you’ve started drinking coffee.

Because eating can also help stimulate gastric and colonic activity, eating a meal with your coffee can increase this effect.

If you want to limit the effect that drinking coffee has on stimulating your bowels, try reducing your coffee intake.

After some trial and error, you might find the right cadence and amount that works for you and your body. 

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Is Coffee a Laxative?

A laxative is medicine or treatment that helps stimulate or facilitate an evacuation of the bowels.

It usually works by either softening the stools or stimulating the lower intestines to push out stool.

Laxatives are generally sold over the counter (OTC), though some are available by prescription only.

Coffee is not considered the same as an OTC or prescription laxative, even though for some people, it can produce a similar outcome.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable healthcare with the K Health app? 

Download K Health to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and, if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does coffee give some people diarrhea?
The caffeine in coffee can stimulate colonic activity, triggering some people to have a bowel movement after drinking coffee. Drinking excess amounts of caffeine or coffee may cause diarrhea in some people. In other cases, drinking coffee with milk or creamer can cause diarrhea in people with lactose intolerance.
What kind of coffee makes you poop?
Research has found that both decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee can stimulate bowel movements in some people.
Does iced coffee make you poop more frequently than hot coffee?
There isn’t sufficient evidence to suggest that the temperature of coffee has an impact on bowel movement or colonic activity.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.

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