July 24, 2020 — 4:00 p.m. EST

For many of us, coffee is an integral (some might say vital) part of our daily routine. Most people cannot function before their morning cup of joe and others need it in the morning to keep things, um, regular. But does coffee make you poop? Or is it just an old wives’ tale? We took a look at the science to find out what actually happens to your body when you drink a cup of coffee. Plus, more ways coffee could help (or harm) your health.

Can Coffee Make You Poop?

As many avid coffee drinkers are aware, sometimes it’s important to plan our morning bathroom run around our cup of coffee, or vice versa. It turns out, coffee can make you have to poop because it stimulates the muscles in the colon, which helps it move its contents along, eventually making you poop.

There are many theories to why this happens. But surprisingly, it’s not because of caffeine. A 1990 study from the journal Gut showed that both regular and decaf coffee had the same effect on participants’ bowel movements. Some have speculated it could be the acidity of coffee that triggers secretion of gastric acid from our stomach to move things along. However, beverages like orange juice are also acidic but don’t have the same effect. It doesn’t seem to be the temperature either; those who drink iced coffee may still find a relatively immediate urge to go to the bathroom and those who drink other hot beverages don’t have the urge. No one really knows why coffee can send you running to the restroom, just that it triggers your bowel muscles and has an added benefit to keep you regular.

While coffee’s abilities to make you poop are well known, did you know it can also send us running to the bathroom for another reason? Coffee is known as a bladder irritant, which is certain foods or beverages that can cause our bladder to overstimulate, resulting in frequency, urgency, and even incontinence. Common components of bladder irritants are acidity, artificial sweeteners, carbonation, and caffeine. Depending on how we drink our coffee, it could be checking all these boxes (nitro coffee is similar to carbonated soda in that it is infused with a gas to make it bubble). If you find yourself constantly thinking about your next bathroom break, coffee might be the culprit.

How Coffee Affects the Brain

One of coffee’s main effects is caffeine, which helps us feel more alert and awake, even during an early morning or late night. It does this by mimicking the structure of a chemical in the brain called adenosine. Adenosine actually makes us tired. Our bodies produce more adenosine as the day progresses, which helps us fall asleep at night. When caffeine enters the body, it latches on to the receptors that bind adenosine and blocks them to prevent us from getting tired.

Eventually, as we adapt to a daily dose of coffee, so does our brain, which creates more adenosine receptors which in turn requires more caffeine to keep you awake. This is why you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you try to kick the coffee habit or why you notice yourself switching from two cups a day to three.

Can Coffee Negatively Affect the Body?

While coffee is used by millions to stay alert and awake, some of us aren’t lucky enough to get such a positive effect. Coffee can also leave people feeling jittery and anxious. This is because caffeine initiates the “fight or flight” response, pumping us full of adrenaline. This can increase our heart rate, cause us to sweat, and even fine tune our hearing. And while this is all very useful when trying to outrun a tiger in the jungle, it’s not so useful when trying to write an important document for work. If you are someone who gets bothered by coffee or drinking too much coffee, but still want caffeine benefits, try swapping it out for green or black tea. Certain teas can also help improve digestive health, too.

All opinions are solely those of the author.

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