Uh, Is It Always Normal To Poop After Drinking Coffee? Here's What The Science Says
If you find that your morning cup of Joe gets things moving in the GI department, you’re not alone. Most people are aware that coffee can have a stimulating effect on the body, including the digestive system, but why does your brain immediately call a code brown after drinking coffee?
In this article, you’ll learn why both caffeinated and decaf coffee makes you poop, how certain coffee additives may be messing with your GI system, and how to tell if your coffee poops are normal or not.
Why coffee can make you poop
Though most people think that it’s only the caffeine in coffee that promotes the urge to poop, other compounds found in coffee also contribute to its powerful laxative effects. This is because the substances found in coffee, including caffeine and polyphenols, affect the smooth muscles lining your gut.
Coffee gets things moving by stimulating muscle contractions in your colon, the area in your digestive system that stores and expels poop. Both regular and decaf coffee have this effect on your colon, but caffeinated coffee has a more powerful impact on your GI system.
The ingredients in coffee also stimulate hormones involved in something called the gastrocolic reflex, which is a natural process3 that occurs after eating that triggers the urge to poop. This reflex controls the movement of food through the GI tract, pushing food down toward your rectum in order to make room for more food.
Even though coffee contains minimal calories, it triggers the release of the hormones gastrin and cholecystokinin (CCK), which regulate this reflex. This means that coffee literally “gets things moving” in your large intestine.
Does every type of coffee do it?
It’s clear that caffeinated coffee has a strong impact on your bowels, but what about decaf? And can coffee additives and the temperature of coffee impact your gut as well?
Compared to decaf, caffeinated coffee has a 23% greater impact1 on colon contractions. But decaf coffee also contains poop-stimulating compounds. All coffee provides substances like chlorogenic acids and melanoidins, which scientists think have something to do with the bowel-stimulating effects of decaf coffee.
These results suggest that other compounds found in coffee have a strong impact on the motility of the large intestine, not just caffeine.
Does what you add to your coffee make a difference?
Oh, and if you’re on a Bulletproof-style coffee kick, you better believe that adding sources of fat like coconut oil, MCT oil, and butter to your coffee can kick your bowels into high gear. Like coffee, fats stimulate colonic activity8, so consuming large amounts might trigger the urgent need to poop in some people.
Hot coffee can send you to the bathroom faster than cold
If you’re into hot coffee, you may experience a stronger urge to visit the bathroom after enjoying your drink compared to people who prefer cold coffee drinks.
According to Singh, having a hot cup of coffee in the morning may amplify the effect of the hot beverage on your GI system. "There are two major things that stimulate the GI tract: eating and waking up," he says. So when you wake up and have a hot beverage early in the morning, it might be part of the reason why you feel the need to poop shortly after.
Is it ever unhealthy to poop after drinking coffee?
While some people welcome the stimulating effects coffee has on their bowels, coffee doesn’t sit well with everyone. Here are some signs that the brew isn't doing you any favors in the digestion department:
Drinking coffee causes gut discomfort
People with certain medical conditions or intolerances may experience symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, pain, cramps, and gas after drinking coffee, which isn’t normal. If you have a condition like IBS and feel that drinking coffee triggers diarrhea or other symptoms like pain and bloating, consider cutting it out for a while to see if your symptoms improve.
Drinking coffee gives you diarrhea
Coffee can help make going to the bathroom easier and more comfortable, but it shouldn't cause symptoms like diarrhea. If you find that you have diarrhea every time you drink coffee, you might want to switch to another beverage, like green tea, to see if it’s easier on your body.
You rely on coffee to poop
Finally, even though coffee can help you have regular and consistent bowel movements, you shouldn’t be dependent on coffee’s poop-stimulating effects.
If you find that you can’t have a bowel movement without coffee, that can be a sign that something’s off with your GI system. "A lot of people will use coffee to help them go to the bathroom, which is a red flag," Alexis Cowan, Ph.D., a metabolic health expert, previously explained on the mindbodygreen podcast. "[Make sure] you're not using it as a way to promote a natural bodily function."
If you can’t poop without coffee, consider making an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Coffee alternatives to try
Frequently Asked Questions
Is coffee a natural laxative?
Yes! Both caffeinated and decaf coffee have laxative effects. It stimulates the muscles in your large intestine, which promotes the urge to poop.
Does coffee or espresso make you poop more?
Any type of coffee product can stimulate the urge to poop, but beverages that are concentrated in caffeine, like espresso, may have a more potent effect.
How do I stop coffee from making me poop?
If you’re not a fan of the bowel-stimulating effects of coffee, you could try avoiding coffee in the morning, when your body is most sensitive to its effects, and sipping your coffee later in the day (but not so late that it disturbs your sleep). "While it's not a sure thing, perhaps the timing and the amount of coffee you drink will alter bowel movements," says Singh.
For many of us, coffee can trigger the urge to run to the bathroom. Compounds found in caffeinated and decaf coffee stimulate muscles in the large intestine, which gets things moving in the poop department, and fast!
As long as you’re not dependent on coffee in order to have a bowel movement and you’re not experiencing symptoms like diarrhea, gas, and bloating after drinking coffee, it’s perfectly healthy to keep coffee as a part of your daily routine.
However, some people, such as those with digestive conditions like IBS, may want to switch to a drink that’s gentler on the GI tract. Fortunately, there are plenty of coffee alternatives to choose from, many of which also offer impressive health benefits.
Jillian Kubala, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. She holds a master's degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science.
In addition to her private practice where she uses a unique and personalized approach to help her clients achieve optimal wellness, she works as a freelance writer and editor and has written hundreds of articles on nutrition and wellness for top digital health publishers.
Jillian and her husband have a backyard farm where they grow their own food and keep chickens. She runs a small cut flower business specializing in organically grown dahlias.