Understanding Coffee, The Digestive System, and Why it Makes You Poop

If you’re a coffee drinker, chances are you’re fully aware of the (mostly sudden) effects that happen within your body after a hot cup of joe. Whether you’re regular or not, it’s a good bet that coffee will help keep you that way – provided you’re plenty hydrated and have a load to lose. 

But, why does this happen? What about coffee causes you to make a beeline for the bathroom, no matter the time or place? 

In this article we’ll be talking about how coffee affects the digestive system and how this quick release fiber drink affects your overall digestive health. 

What Happens in Your Body When You Drink Coffee?

With over 50% of the US population claiming to drink at least one cup of coffee per day, we’d all be wise to understand how this stimulating and widely curated caffeine drink affects more than just our energy levels. When consumed in moderation, experts say that coffee can actually have positive effects on our bodies. From weight loss to reduced cancer risks, it’s clear that once we ingest coffee, it goes right to work. 

While coffee is busy stimulating your brain, it’s also stimulating your intestines. This stimulation often speeds up the digestive process, causing increased bowel movements and even diarrhea. If your body is not used to this, or even if it is, the sped up digestion can lead to intense stomach pains. The bright side of these increased bowel movements make coffee an arguable antidote for constipation, though it’s hardly recommended as one. 

Stimulation, stimulation, stimulation. The effects of coffee really all boil down to stimulation. From stimulating your intestines to stimulating the hormones that aid in digestion, to causing colon contractions, everything that coffee does within the body pushes *ah-hem* to frequent bathroom visits. 

If you find that you are overly affected and drawn to the bathroom after your morning cup, it may be that your stomach is not quite strong enough for the coffee. People with sensitive stomachs tend to be more bothered by the effects of coffee due to how acidic of a beverage coffee is. This acid can be responsible for heartburn, acid reflux, and frequent bathroom trips. 

People with conditions like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) are likely to be highly affected by adverse coffee symptoms due to the increased stomach acid production and high caffeine content. The higher the caffeine, the more likely people with IBS are to experience stomach pains and flare ups of their condition. Because uncomfortable symptoms of IBS are closely related to the after-effects of coffee, this highly stimulating drink is often recommended to be avoided. It’s been reported that coffee can induce a bowel movement within four minutes of ingesting, with or without caffeine. This is important for sufferers of IBS because even going decaf may not be enough to counteract the toilet brigade.  

Knowing that coffee stimulates every part of the digestive system and often mimics the process of food intake within the colon, the question has to be asked, how does coffee affect the digestive system over time?

Does Coffee Have Long-Term Effects on the Digestive System?

If you already suffer from symptoms worsened by the effects of coffee, over-indulgence or long-term coffee consumption can worsen these symptoms. You’re likely to see increased acid reflux or more intense stomach pains. Symptoms aside though, is all that acid bad for your stomach?

While the presence of various acids in coffee stimulate the production of the stomach acid necessary for digestion, it’s unclear whether this is a good or a bad thing in the long-term. A main acid in coffee, chlorogenic acid, is an antioxidant. The effects of coffee as a source of antioxidants is still being researched, but the thought is promising. 

There is actually data that suggests coffee is good for overall gut health. Due to gallbladder stimulation, it’s been reported that men that drink coffee actually have about 4% less of a chance of developing gallstones than men who do not regularly drink coffee. 

Regularly drinking coffee can also contribute to weight loss, if you would consider this a long-term effect. This weight loss comes from the stimulation of the digestive system, as well as increased nutrients that come from the coffee you drink. Many brews contain niacin, potassium, and magnesium which all contribute to better gut health and a decreased risk of metabolic disorders. If you over-indulge or choose to opt for sweet and creamy coffee, the reverse can happen and you can actually experience weight gain. 

It’s even been shown that coffee could be responsible for maximizing the growth of good bacteria and short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) in your gut that contribute to better communication between your stomach and your brain. This communication can affect immune responses and nutrient absorption. In the same way good bacteria can be encouraged in the gut, there’s also evidence that coffee consumption can lower the presence of bad bacteria in your poop. There’s also little research at this point whether this effect is for better or for worse. 

As of this writing, the benefits of drinking coffee for better gut health – and motivation, let’s be real – are evident. Everything in moderation stands true, however. Drinking dark roasted coffee, unmuddled with sugar and creamer, will be the cleanest and most efficient way to drink coffee with regard to your gut. Too much coffee, especially light and sugary coffee, is sure to have adverse effects like weight gain, diarrhea, and heartburn. 

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