Why Drinking Coffee Makes You Poop

It's not just you, it’s the coffee.

If you’ve noticed that your morning cup of coffee is almost always followed by a trip to the bathroom, you’re not alone. There are a few reasons why this happens, from coffee's impact on your gut hormones and colon activity to the time of day you drink it. Coffee makes many people poop, and that initiation of a bowel movement happens even with decaf coffee.

A person stirring a cup of coffee

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The Urge to Poop

Although coffee doesn't have the same bowel-stimulating effect on everyone, research shows that coffee promotes the urge to poop in at least one-third of the population and tends to impact women more than men.

This effect can happen quickly. In fact, studies show that drinking coffee can increase muscle contractions in your colon within four minutes, which can trigger the urge to poop.

Caffeinated coffee seems to have a much stronger effect on colon muscle activity compared to decaffeinated coffee. One older study found that drinking caffeinated coffee had a 23% stronger effect on colon contractions compared to decaf coffee. This means that drinking caffeinated coffee will likely trigger a stronger urge to poop than decaf.

In addition to its ability to stimulate muscle activity in the colon, there are a few other ways in which coffee triggers the urge to poop in some people. 

Coffee Affects Gut Hormones 

Coffee stimulates the increase in production of several hormones such as gastrin and cholecystokinin (CCK) which are involved in a response called the gastrocolic reflex, which stimulates contractions in your gut and moves poop toward your rectum for removal. This means that coffee may stimulate movement in your gut, which increases the urge to poop. 

Even though it’s clear that coffee influences certain gut hormones, more research is needed to fully understand how compounds in coffee impact the digestive process.  

Morning Coffee

Older research suggests that coffee’s stimulating effect on the bowels seems to be strongest in the morning. This may be because when you sleep, your body's process of emptying the stomach is slower compared to when you're awake. Colon contractions are also decreased when you’re sleeping.

After you wake up and get moving, your colon does, too. Drinking coffee in the morning further stimulates the digestive system, which can make the urge to poop stronger.

Caffeine Promotes Pooping

While caffeine isn't thought to be the only reason why you poop after having coffee, it may be a factor.

An eight-ounce cup of coffee typically contains between 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine. The caffeine in coffee stimulates colon muscle activity and increases pressure in the anus, which increases the urge to poop. 

However, research shows that caffeine isn’t the only compound in coffee that stimulates the colon and makes you want to poop. Drinking decaf coffee increases colon muscle activity, too, which means that other components contribute to coffee’s gut-stimulating effects.

You Add Dairy

Adding cow's milk or cream to your coffee can impact your bowel movements. Dairy alone can cause bloating, diarrhea, gas, nausea, and pain in the abdomen in people who are intolerant to lactose, a type of sugar found in milk.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance tend to get worse with age, and many people do not develop symptoms until they're older.

Other coffee additives could stimulate bowel movements as well. Popular sugar substitutes like Splenda may cause digestive symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, and gas, especially if consumed in large quantities.

Even Decaf Causes Pooping

While caffeine has a stimulating effect on the colon which can make you poop, decaffeinated coffee has been shown to trigger bowel movements, too. Both decaf and caffeinated coffee stimulate the urge to poop in one-third of the population.

Though it has a less potent effect compared to caffeinated coffee, decaf coffee stimulates colon activity and speeds up the urge to poop. Scientists think that other compounds found in coffee like chlorogenic acids and melanoidins play a role in coffee's gut-activating effects. 

Stop After Coffee Bowel Movements

If you’re sensitive to coffee's bowel-stimulating effects, it’s not really possible to stop this effect. Since eating food also stimulates your colon, it's unlikely that drinking coffee with a meal will make a huge difference if any.

However, eliminating certain coffee additives may help reduce the urge to poop in some people. 

For example, if you’re sensitive to dairy, you can try to cut out dairy-based coffee additives like milk and creamers and switch to a plant-based alternative to see if it makes a difference. Also, if you use non-nutritive sweeteners like Splenda, which could cause stomach symptoms like diarrhea, you may want to try out another sweetener like monk fruit or stevia. These sugar alternatives aren’t linked to gut-related side effects. 

Additionally, you could experiment with how much coffee you drink, scaling back to find an amount that doesn't make you beeline to the bathroom. And, if your coffee poops tend to happen at a time that's inconvenient for you like during your work morning meeting, you can try drinking your coffee earlier or later than usual to see if you can get the timing right.

Some people may benefit from the bowel-stimulating effects of their morning cup of coffee. But if you find that needing to poop after you have coffee is interfering with your life, you can try experimenting with how and when you take your coffee to see if it makes a difference.

A Quick Review

There are several reasons coffee can make you poop. Compounds found in coffee like caffeine,  coffee’s effect on certain hormones, and coffee additives like cream and sugar substitutes can all play a role. 

If your coffee poops are problematic for you, experiment with what you put in your coffee, how much you drink, and when you drink coffee to see if it makes a difference in your urge to go.

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