Everyone knows that ambrosia of post-secondary life. Its very aroma gives inspiration for last-minute assignments and provides the strength to conquer early morning lectures. Yes, it’s coffee! It serves as a stimulant for the brain, a social-situation starter and as perhaps a lesser known fact, a stimulant for the other end... because coffee is a laxative.
How does this happen?
According to Dr. Brian Cairns, a professor in the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences, there are several mechanisms that cause this. The first and main reason is the chemical that causes us to drink coffee in the first place: caffeine.
“Caffeine is an adenosine receptor antagonist. It’s the same effect that keeps you awake. Adenosine (the natural agonistic ligand) slows the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract, so when you block this receptor [with caffeine], it speeds up the GI tract and increases peristaltic waves. This is a well-known pharmacologic effect,” said Cairns.
Another contributing factor? “Coffee’s a bean, and beans have soluble fibers that will pull water into the GI tract, increasing bulk … so some people may find that even decaffeinated coffee may give the same get-up-and-go show.”
Also, taking in water helps to soften the stool.
For some people, this laxative effect can be experienced sooner than expected or desired. In response to this, Cairns said that in as little as 15 minutes, people can start feeling the side effects.
“If you drink it on an empty stomach, you’re going to clear it from your stomach into the intestinal tract even faster, where it’s absorbed.”
When asked if there were any health concerns associated with drinking too much coffee, Cairns listed the telltale signs of over consumption that some of us may be all too familiar with — anxiety and increased heart rate and blood pressure which ought to be avoided in those with cardiovascular disease. If you push your limits a little too far, sounds could seem louder and on the opposite spectrum, going cold turkey on caffeine can cause headaches that can last around a day.
Next time you feel that urge to poop after your refreshing cup of joe, remember that it’s the price (or the added advantage) of sweet, sweet caffeine.