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Can quitting coffee cause constipation?

Coffee is well known for giving people energy to start the day, and having a morning coffee to help "get things moving" is common for most adults in America.

Yet, can quitting coffee cause constipation?

I know I find my morning Americano helps me out, but would cutting it out entirely stop me going altogether?

I looked into this and found some surprising and interesting facts about how coffee affects the digestive system.

My partner claims not to feel any effect at all (not that she's very open about her bathroom habits...) Will cutting out your morning filter coffee or trip to the cafe stop you right in your tracks? Should you be looking to cut it out entirely, or find some alternatives (as if true alternatives exist for my precious coffee)?

Read on to find out the science behind coffee and find out the answer to can quitting coffee cause constipation.

Does it make a difference?

Does coffee really help you move your bowels? According to science, the answer is... maybe?

Some studies show that coffee has an effect in helping people move their bowels, with the flagship study finding that it affected about 29% of coffee drinkers, and more women than men.

Maybe I need to have a word with my partner about this statistic! But, can quitting coffee cause constipation? Personally I hope I never have to cut out my favorite drink to find out - hopefully I will still be able to make my regular morning trip before work without difficulty!

Hot stuff?

hot black coffee

Why does coffee seem to help move the bowels? Well, there are a number of reasons for this, and one is that it is a hot beverage and this alone makes it easily to get going. Hot liquids like coffee (hold the ice coffee, please!) act as vasodilators for the GI tract. This means it increases blood flow to your intestines and increases activity of breaking down and processing food.

Not having a hot drink means you miss out on these effects, so can cause you some constipation. However, you can easily substitute this with a hot tea or even just hot water to get the same benefit.

This case, quitting coffee doesn't have to lead to constipation. This means that, despite what people might think and you can see in films and tv shows, coffee by itself doesn't necessarily mean a quick trip afterwards to the restroom! Myself, I'll be sticking to my morning coffee - tea just doesn't cut it for me at 6am!

Coffee, Caffeine and Constipation?

Another way coffee helps you move your bowels and prevents constipation is through the magic of caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and speeds the body up, and this is just what it does when it hits your intestines. The caffeine and coffee can stimulate your bowels and make it easier to go, so quitting coffee can cause constipation if you rely on that caffeine to help you go.

However, coffee is hardly the only way we can get caffeine into our system! The caffeine in coffee can easily be replaced with other caffeinated drinks such as tea or even chocolate (the perfect excuse!) As long as you replace the caffeine, quitting coffee shouldn't mean you become constipated.

Caffeine and Constipation, Again?

Here's an interesting one. Apparently people can have different response to caffeine. This shouldn't be a surprise: I'm sure you know people who drink coffee all day without effect and others who are tweaked out after a cup of tea. I am very much the former - I can have a double espresso at 10pm and sleep like a baby. However, people also respond differently to caffeine in their digestive system.

According to some research, caffeine can cause constipation in some people. Imagine that! So it depends on how you respond as an individual, and what else is going on in your life. Who knew coffee could be so complicated? Starbucks might be onto something...

More than hot caffeine?

holding hot coffee

However, some studies have shown that it IS the coffee that causes the bowels to move easily, and a mix of hot water and caffeine does not do the same thing. A 2015 study suggests that it was coffee itself, be that regular caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee. Of course to me coffee is much more than an efficient way to get caffeine into my system - its part of my morning (and afternoon) routine I'd be lost without, and I haven't got the time to research a whole new tea ceremony.

Coffee and hormones?!

I know, it sounds like a weird one. Research suggests that coffee can cause a hormonal response in the body, triggering the release of a hormone called cholecystokinin. A mouthful, I know. Funny name aside, the function of this hormone is to stimulate bowel movements.

Without this hormone being released, because you cut out your morning cup o' Joe, you might experience some constipation. How significant this hormone is in regular bowel movements has not been confirmed, but it's worth knowing about. If nothing else, it's fun to know that coffee affects more than just my energy levels and my tongue.

How do you take your coffee?

A wild one, maybe, but worth thinking about. How do you take your coffee? Black coffee should have the effects on the bowels discussed above, but if you have sugar or cream/dairy in your coffee that might be causing your, ahem, faster flow.

My sister has a terrible allergy to dairy, and when she forgets to add the non-dairy creamer she's out the door to the bathroom pretty quickly, if you know what I mean. If you have been having dairy or other things that might facilitate a faster evacuation of the bowels in your coffee, and suddenly quit drinking coffee, you might have a harder time than you might expect being able to go. It's worth a thought!