We have good news and bad news for the 30 to 40 percent of you who promote the efficacious movement of the bowels every morning with a big cup or two of coffee. The good news is, coffee and tea help some people move their bowels. The bad news also is that joe can help you go.
How can that be bad? Because you rely on a chemical to make you regular. Some people report constipation if they don’t get their usual dose of coffee. There don’t seem to be any scientific studies on this effect that are indexed on Google, but there are several anecdotal Web pages where people state stopping coffee cold turkey causes constipation at least temporarily.
Studies have shown that something, possibly the acid, in coffee, including decaf, gives a large minority of people the urge to defecate.
The Washington Post published an article titled “Here’s Why Coffee Makes You Poop” that says in part:
Scientists have observed—by way of some very invasive studies—that coffee of any sort can stimulate the distal colon, which helps push waste out of the body more quickly. So the physical mechanism is well understood, but not what triggers it.
It’s possible that the acidity of coffee is the key: Coffee has a compound called chlorogenic acid that triggers higher stomach acid levels and also higher production of gastric acid. It could be that the overall acidity bump makes the stomach dump its contents out more quickly than usual. Something in coffee may also trigger the release of hormones that aid digestion, which would speed up bowel movements. But it’s not clear which of the hundreds of chemicals found in a cup of coffee are responsible for that boost.
That article says the general public thinks it may be the caffeine that stimulates the bowels, but people don’t get the same laxative effect from caffeinated soda that they get from coffee. And they do get a laxative effect from tea, though not as strong as with coffee.
Livestrong has an article that says, however, recent research says it is the caffeine that makes a person go to the bathroom:
Dr. Steven Chang, a San Francisco-based physician, reports that although major studies on caffeine and bowel movements aren’t prevalent, research indicates the caffeine in your drink stimulates your colon.
The amount of time it takes you to have a bowel movement after drinking coffee depends on your body. When the caffeine enters your system, however, it gets your colonic and intestinal muscles moving, This serves to advance the contents of your intestines toward your colon in a process called peristalsis. As peristalsis continues, you’ll eventually feel the urge to have a bowel movement. This process can also lead to loose stools as the peristalsis shortens the time during which your colon can absorb liquid from your stool
Other studies have found that plain hot water has no effect on loosening the bowels. So it is definitely a component of coffee, tea or the chemistry of caffeine that does the trick.
Many articles say people who are constipated should not rely on coffee for stimulating bowel movements because caffeine is a diuretic. When the bowels are dehydrated from excess urination, there is less water in the stool, making it harder to pass them.
But a study in the journal of Human Nutrition and Diuretics in 2003 said to get that diuretic effect you would have to get about 500 mg of caffeine per day. Two to three cups of coffee per day does not cause excessive urination.
As Viter Life has pointed out before, experts say 300 to 400 mg of caffeine per day is considered OK for a healthy adult.
WebMD says in a recent article:
It’s true that the caffeine in coffee can stimulate the muscles in your digestive system to contract, causing a bowel movement. So why isn’t it recommended as a fix for constipation? Coffee can actually make stools harder to pass because it is also a diuretic, so it draws liquid out of stools. If you are constipated, avoid coffee and other diuretics such as alcohol and caffeinated tea and cola.
This 2005 study, titled “Coffee, Tea, and Caffeine Consumption and Incidence of Colon and Rectal Cancer” in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute states:
Coffee consumption has also been speculated to decrease the risk for colorectal cancer because it increases large bowel motility in the rectosigmoid region, which might decrease contact between bowel contents and colon epithelia and thus decrease mucosal damage
The bowel contents are feces, and colon epithelia are the membranous tissues of the colon. In other words, the theory goes, people who drink coffee and tea and have a theorized decrease of colon and rectal cancer may get the benefit because the stool (poo) is in contact with the colon for less time.
But don’t get excited and start thinking coffee has anti-cancer properties. The study concluded: “… we found that regular consumption of caffeinated coffee or tea or total caffeine intake was not associated with a reduced incidence of colon or rectal cancers. Although consumption of decaffeinated coffee was inversely associated with the incidence of rectal cancer, this association needs to be confirmed in other studies.
If you do have trouble going to the bathroom and don’t want to rely on coffee, experts advise getting exercise, plenty of fluids and enough fiber in your diet through fruits, grains and vegetables.
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