Here’s how coffee helps move “things” along in your GI track

For some people, coffee does more than jump-start their day. It also helps “wake up” their GI track and move their bowels along.

Despite its popularity, there actually isn't a lot of research on why coffee sends many people running to the bathroom. According to Dr. Kyle Staller, director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Laboratory in Massachusetts, it’s because it doesn’t take multiple studies to know that coffee induces bowel movements. It’s common knowledge.

However, for those of us interested in learning exactly what causes the reaction, we need to look at the compounds found in the cocoa beans. It appears that coffee stimulates the release of gastrin, a hormone that specifically encourages the production of gastric acid.

Gastric acid not only helps digest food, but also might trigger activity in the colon. In the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, a study showed that drinking 100 ml (or nearly ½ cup) of regular or decaffeinated coffee quickly elevated the hormone.

In another study, scientists encouraged 12 healthy people to have a sensor probe inserted into their colons. Then, over a 10-hour period the next day, the participants consumed warm coffee, decaf coffee, water, or a meal. Both coffee and a meal caused more colon contractions and pressure, compared with just water. Interestingly, caffeinated coffee was 60% more effective than water at stimulating colonic activity and 23% more impactful than decaf. Both research articles were published before the year 2000 — again, because there aren’t enough studies on the subject.

There’s another compound in coffee that also may help prevent constipation. Melanoidins form when coffee in being roasted. It’s what makes coffee brown. The amount of coffee melanoidins increases the longer the coffee beans sit roasting. And according to a 2021 article in Frontiers in Nutrition, these compounds possess several health-promoting properties, such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, dietary fiber effect, and has some prebiotic capacity. Now you know.

Of course, there are negatives to drinking too much coffee. Too much caffeine can cause shakiness, insomnia, headaches, dehydration, anxiety, fast heart rate, and yes, dependency. Bottom line? Everything in moderation.