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.

How to Relieve a Tension Headache in 10 Seconds, According to a Physical Therapist

iStock.com/SIphotography
iStock.com/SIphotography

The source of a pounding headache isn't always straightforward. Sometimes over-the-counter painkillers have no effect, and in other cases all you need is a glass of water to ease the pain. When it comes to a specific type of a headache, Prevention recommends a treatment that takes about 10 seconds—no fancy medications or equipment required.

If you're experiencing pain throughout your head and neck, you may have a tension headache. This type of headache can happen when you tense the muscles in your jaw—something many people do when stressed. This tightening triggers a chain reaction where the surrounding muscles in the head and neck become tense, which results in a painful, stiff feeling.

Fortunately, there's a way to treat tension headaches that's even easier than popping an Advil. David Reavy, a physical therapist known for his work with NFL and NBA athletes, recently suggested a solution to Prevention writer Christine Mattheis called the masseter release. To practice it yourself, look for the masseter muscle—the thick tissue that connects your jawbone to your cheekbone on either side of your face—with your fingers. Once you've found them, press the spots gently, open your mouth as wide as you can, close it, and repeat until you feel the muscle relax. Doing this a few times a day helps combat whatever tension is caused by clenching your jaw.

If that doesn't work, it's possible that the masseter muscle isn't the source of your headache after all. In that case, read up on the differences among popular pain killers to determine which one is the best match for your pain.

[h/t Prevention]

How to Clean Your Dog's Ears (and How Often You Should Be Doing It)

iStock/Group4 Studio
iStock/Group4 Studio

When it comes to keeping our dogs looking their best, we usually do all the normal pampering—giving them baths, cutting their nails, brushing their teeth, and grooming their fur. But one task that often gets overlooked is cleaning their ears.

Ear infections are a common ailment in dogs—particularly in breeds that have long, droopy ears (like cocker spaniels or basset hounds) or those that grow hair in their ear canals (as poodles do). A foul or yeasty odor in the ears is one quick way to tell if your pup might have an ear infection; redness and discharge, or frequent head-shaking or scratching, are some other signs that there might be an issue. If your dog seems to be in pain or cries when you touch around their ears, you'll want to schedule an appointment with your vet for as soon as possible.

Even if your dog doesn't seem prone to ear infections, it's important to keep their ears clean in order to keep it that way. According to Dogster, you should be cleaning your dog's ears anywhere from once a week to once a month, depending on the breed. Your vet can give you a recommendation for how often you should be cleaning your pup's ears, and even a quick lesson on how to do it yourself at home.

If you're uncomfortable undertaking the task on your own, your vet can do it for you—as can a dog groomer. But if you want to give it a try on your own, it's actually pretty simple. All you really need are some cotton balls and a vet-approved ear cleaner (your vet may sell one, or be able to tell you the nearest pet supply store or website that does).

According to Dogster, you should apply the dog cleaner to your dog's ear with a cotton ball or gauze. Squeeze a bit down the ear so that it makes its way into the ear canal, then gently massage the dog's ears near the base in order to break down any debris and/or ear wax. If your dog needs to shake their head, let them. Then, use the cotton ball or gauze to wipe the inside of the ear clean. (It may take a few swipes to clean the ear out fully.)

Though you may be tempted to use a cotton swab, just as with your own ears, this is a bad idea. "I generally don’t like to put Q-tips down the ears because I don’t like to push stuff down," Dr. Jeff Grognet, co-owner of Mid-Isle Veterinary Hospital in Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada, told Dogster. "This dilutes the ointment, but also, in some cases, the ointment doesn’t even get through to the skin inside the ear."

Cleaning your dog's ears is definitely easy, and important enough that there's no excuse not to make it a part of your regular grooming routine.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER