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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Lactose intolerance
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:
- Increased heart rate
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.
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.
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Frequently Asked Questions
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.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Is coffee a colonic stimulant? (1998.)
Physiology, Gatrin. (2022.)
Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? (2018.)