Coffee is a huge part of American culture. You can’t watch TV or scroll through your social media feeds without seeing a coffee-related ad or someone posting about coffee. Most people drink it, especially first thing in the morning.
Everyone talks about the boost that coffee provides with its caffeine content. Also well known – but seldom spoken of – is coffee’s other noticeable effect: “going number two” or medically speaking, having a bowel movement.
The Laxative Effect
Surprisingly, there has not been a great deal of research on this subject. Perhaps it’s because coffee doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Most people see no difference in their bathroom routine after consuming their favorite cup of coffee.
But for others, caffeine seems to have a laxative effect in general, especially when that caffeine source is coffee, which appears to have a stronger effect than other caffeinated beverages like soda or tea. This could be due to differences in caffeine content.
Caffeine or Not
However, decaffeinated coffee also makes some people more active. A study showed that 29 percent of study participants had increased intestinal activity from regular coffee and decaf. Coffee causes the colon’s muscles to move by tightening and relaxing. This is what’s called a bowel movement. The same study reported that drinking hot water had no effect, suggesting that coffee may contain something particularly stimulating.
Another study measured the exact amount of activity in the colon. It found that regular coffee had a 23 percent stronger effect on the colon than decaf, and that a 1,000-calorie meal had the same effect on the colon as a cup of regular coffee. Drinking water caused 60 percent less movement than regular coffee. Since coffee is not food and has zero calories, these results show that there is definitely something in coffee that makes you go.
What Goes In Might Come Out
What you put into your coffee could actually be the reason you feel the need to go. Even if you aren’t digestively sensitive to coffee itself, you could be one of the many who are lactose intolerant to some degree, so milk in your coffee might cause a laxative effect. Some artificial sweeteners like sucralose and xylitol are also known to have a laxative effect.
Timing Is Everything
A morning bowel movement just may be part of your routine, along with the coffee you drink. If you always have your first cup of coffee soon after waking, the combination of activity and habit alone may encourage things to move along.
But if you decide to hold off on drinking coffee until you are sitting in rush-hour traffic, you may find that you need to get to a toilet ASAP. Even if coffee is just one contributing factor in digestive motility, it’s good to be aware of your own body so you are prepared.
If your digestive system ever behaves outside of what’s typical for you – with or without coffee – you might benefit from visiting a doctor for a checkup.
Digestive Expertise in Austin
For any sort of gastrointestinal or digestive concern, a gastroenterologist is the specialist best suited to help. With the oldest and largest gastroenterology practice in Central Texas, Austin Gastroenterology provides expert care for all GI disorders.
We have 19 offices throughout the Greater Austin area. To schedule an appointment, call the office nearest you, or use our online appointment request form. For North offices, call (512) 244-2273; for Central offices, call (512) 454-4588, or for our South offices, call (512) 448-4588. We look forward to helping you with any aspect of your gastrointestinal health.