Why Does Coffee Make You Poop?

iStock/Photo illustration by Lauren Spinelli
iStock/Photo illustration by Lauren Spinelli

Coffee can give you more than just a caffeine buzz. For a large number of people—about one-third of the population—it also prompts a run for the bathroom. While this effect is widely documented, scientists aren’t exactly sure what’s behind it.

“It’s widely understood that coffee has a laxative effect on some people,” the American Chemical Society’s Reactions series noted in a 2015 video, but it’s complicated to tease out which part of coffee causes it.

It’s not just the caffeine, because decaf coffee can inspire the same, um, urgency. And people don’t run to the bathroom immediately after swilling a Coke. So what's happening inside your gut that makes you bolt for the commode just after finishing your morning cup o' joe?

Coffee has been found to stimulate your large intestine within just four minutes of ingestion, and drinking it increases the levels of certain digestive hormones in the gut. Coffee's laxative properties might also have something to do with its acidity, which helps your stomach produce more gastric acid to break down proteins. A compound in coffee called chlorogenic acid boosts stomach acid levels. This applies whether your coffee is caffeinated or not. As a 1986 study found, both decaf and regular coffee cause significant stimulation of gastric acid. (Both may also promote acid reflux, unfortunately, though the research is a bit contradictory.)

But that doesn’t mean all coffees are alike when it comes to spurring an increase in stomach acid. Research presented to the American Chemical Society in 2010 found that N-methylpyridinium, a chemical compound created in the roasting process, blocks the stomach’s ability to produce acid, meaning that dark-roasted coffees might actually be a bit easier on irritable stomachs than light-roasted varieties.

Some studies have found that coffee can accelerate gastric emptying—meaning the rate it takes for your stomach contents to empty into the small intestine—but this, too, is controversial, and some studies say coffee doesn’t impact gastric emptying at all. Since coffee only makes a portion of the population poop, though, it might just be that smaller studies (one only looked at 12 individuals) happen to not include any people whose bowels are really affected by coffee.

But the fact of the matter is, of the many chemical compounds contained in coffee, scientists aren't entirely sure which one is the poop perpetrator.

Poop is not just a byproduct of coffee drinking, either. Sometimes, it’s a vital part of the production process. Civet coffee, or kopi luwak, is known as one of the most expensive coffees in the world. It’s made from partially digested beans harvested from the feces of a civet. Because the beans have already passed through one stomach (the animal’s), the resulting coffee is much less acidic, meaning it’s a much smoother tasting—and feeling—experience for the humans who later drink the civet’s castoffs.

If you’re one of the many people whose coffee habits land them in the bathroom, know that all that post-brew pooping might not be a bad thing. Studies find that most people in the U.S. don’t eat enough fiber in their diet, so it may be a blessing that the average American drinks three cups of coffee a day. Otherwise, they’d have to change it to “land of the free and home of the blocked.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Should You Take a Daily Aspirin to Prevent Heart Disease?

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iStock

For decades, physicians have recommended that older patients or those who have had a cardiac event like a heart attack take a low-dose aspirin daily. Acting as a blood thinner, aspirin can help prevent blood clots from forming and causing more cardiovascular issues.

This wisdom was examined in a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which looked at more than 19,000 elderly people and found no measurable benefit to the practice for people aged 65 and over. Worse, aspirin may actually cause harm by increasing the risk of bleeding.

So, who should be taking aspirin as a preventative measure, and when?

The most recent study, which began in 2010 and followed subjects 65 and older with no prior cardiovascular disease taking either 100 milligrams of aspirin daily or a placebo, found that the risk of bleeding in the stomach or brain was increased in those taking aspirin (3.8 percent in the aspirin group versus 2.8 percent in the placebo group). The rate of disease-free survival among subjects was no higher among those taking aspirin compared to those on the placebo.

Aspirin has been shown to help some patient populations, however. For people who have already suffered a heart attack or stroke, aspirin can reduce the risk of a recurrence. According to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, adults aged 50 to 59 who have a 10 percent or greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease, typically as the result of lifestyle, genetic, and dietary factors, will likely benefit from a daily dose. As that patient population ages and risk of bleeding increases, it becomes a risk-to-benefit assessment. The task force found insufficient information for aspirin use to prevent cardiovascular disease in people under age 50.

The American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association both recommend aspirin to decrease cardiovascular events in patients with risk as low as 6 percent over a 10-year period. For adults with only average risk, no medical authority currently recommends the regimen.

As with any medical issue, it’s best to consult with your doctor about taking aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease. Only your specific medical history can help determine whether it’s right for you. And if you're currently taking aspirin and have concerns based on the newest research, don't stop taking it until you've had a chance to discuss it with your provider.

[h/t NPR]

5 Ways to Express Your Gratitude (and Reap Its Benefits)

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iStock

Bad days happen to the best of us: The alarm doesn't go off, your kids are fussy, you get stuck in traffic, and as soon as you get to work, you spill coffee down the front of your favorite shirt. And then, to add insult to injury, you log onto Facebook and are greeted by the smiling face of your old college roommate, who is just so #blessed. Lucky her.

But is her life really better than yours? It turns out that being grateful for what you have—even if some days, what you have appears to be a disaster—is mostly an exercise in self-reflection. Here are some simple things you can incorporate into your daily routine in order to better appreciate the good things you have going in your life—and doing so, studies have found, can improve your physical and emotional health.

1. KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL.

Gratitude journal on a pink background.
iStock

The task is easy: Each week, take the time to write down and reflect on five things that you're grateful for. "These can be small things, but big things are fine, too," Jo-Ann Tsang, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, says.

A 2003 study by researchers from the University of Miami and the University of California, Davis [PDF], found that students who recorded the things they're grateful for felt better about their lives, exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical problems, were more likely to make progress towards personal goals, and were more optimistic about their upcoming week than students who were tasked with writing down hassles or neutral life events.

For the greatest benefits, focus on people, rather than things, in your journaling, and go into detail about why you appreciate each item. Also, don't feel compelled to journal daily: According to the University of California, Berkeley's Greater Good blog, journaling once per week was found to be more beneficial than daily journaling.

2. DO A 30-DAY CHALLENGE.

Glass jar filled with colorful notes.
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Committing to a full month of reflection not only boosts your gratitude awareness, but gives you the satisfaction of completing a goal. Lisa Ryan, gratitude expert and author of Express Gratitude, Experience Good, suggests writing down three to five things that you're grateful for each day for the next 30 days. As with gratitude journaling, this exercise works best if you're specific. Instead of writing that you're grateful for your husband, Ryan says, "you should write, 'I'm so thankful that Scott cooked a great dinner last night.'"

If you choose to write your list in the morning, you'll set a positive expectation for your day. Writing it in the evening will remind you of the good the day brought, even if it was a particularly hard day to get through. It will also help you fall asleep faster and sleep better, Ryan says.

3. HOST A GRATITUDE PARTY.

Friends toasting around a table.
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If you're going through a hard time, write down the names of the people who have helped you in your life. Then, plan a party in their honor. Amy Newmark, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude, says, "You'll find that in planning your guest list, you'll start noticing how many people are there for you extending a helping hand every day. This will make you more grateful, and you'll feel less alone every day."

4. GAIN SOME PERSPECTIVE.

Man hugging his dog.
iStock

Thinking about the alternatives can help you appreciate what you have, Newmark says. For example, are you stuck emptying the dishwasher again? Think about the fact that you have a warm, comfortable home filled with kitchen appliances. Are you running around in a frenzy, with no time for yourself? Think about how full your life is. "Would you rather not have these errands to do, these kids to drive around, this job that creates all this work?" Newmark asks.

5. SPREAD KINDNESS.

Hands holding a cut-out heart in the air.
iStock

The very fact that you have the ability to do something nice for someone else will make you feel more confident of your own situation, more aware of your own capabilities, and more grateful for the blessings in your own life. Keep a list of the good deeds you perform—it can be as simple as holding a door for someone or letting a mother with a crying child go ahead of you in line at the store, Newmark says.

And find the right "dosage" for you. For some people, doing five kind things on one day each week, rather than doing five good things throughout the week, showed more positive benefits. Others, however, get more of a boost from daily positive activity [PDF].

This story first ran in 2016.

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