Coffee and Digestion: Debunking the Diarrhea Myth

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You brew your fresh cup of coffee early in the morning to give you a jumpstart in the day.

Whether you grab it from your local coffee shop or make it at home, you find yourself having to go more frequently after the coffee. Well, you might not be alone in this. Many people experience bowel movements after sipping their coffee. The truth is, your morning cuppa may responsible for giving you diarrhea.

Coffee can trigger usually trigger your bowel movements if you take it in the morning. In rare cases, coffee can cause diarrhea because of the acidity of the coffee beans used or because of all the dairy and sugar contained in your cup.

So, let’s dig in deep and find out more about this.

Why Does Coffee Give You The Runs?

The reason why coffee makes you poop more often than usual is that the stimulant caffeine in your coffee activates your colon and causes contractions in your intestinal muscles.

Coffee is a very common caffeine source for the majority of people around the globe.

Whether you enjoy a straight-up espresso shot or a flat white, it can be made in numerous ways catering to everybody’s preference. Therefore, coffee is the day-to-day caffeine fix. But it can give you the runs. How?

Caffeine in the coffee is responsible for making you alert and giving you a boost of energy. It also makes your stomach churn by activating contractions in your intestinal muscles and colon as this study suggests. And it is also linked to arousing the hormones in your body that activate the colon.

Those people who add dairy to their coffees like cow milk and creams can have diarrhea due to lactose intolerance. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that about 30 to 50 million American adults are unable to digest lactose.

Lactose intolerance is an ordinary thing and diarrhea is one of the symptoms.

In addition to all this, coffee can charge up the sympathetic nervous system. This system is the ‘fight or flight response of our body and affects the digestive tract causing diarrhea.

But keep in mind if you have acute diarrhea, coffee may not be the cause. Visit a doctor for immediate help.

woman having stomach pain holding her hand on her belly.

How Do You Stop Coffee From Giving You Diarrhea?

You can stop the coffee from giving you diarrhea by choosing dark roast coffee or decaf coffee, avoiding dairy, omitting sugars, and maintaining a track record of your caffeine for the whole.

The beeline in front of the restroom in your office early in the morning can be a little problematic for you. But taking out a solution for this is necessary, right?

Sometimes you are in a hurry to go to a meeting and cannot deal with the coffee tantrums. So, what should you do? Quit coffee altogether?

Well, you don’t have to quit coffee just to stop your coffee from causing diarrhea. You can switch things up and opt for alternatives with your coffee. Here is a list of things that you can do to avoid coffee causing diarrhea:

Choose Coffee Beans Wisely

You see, there are a variety of coffee beans available with different roasting levels. Most people tend to prefer medium roast coffee beans because of their rounded and well-balanced taste and a good level of caffeine.

But since caffeine is giving you some trouble opt for dark roast coffees. These are roasted for a longer time, therefore, have less caffeine.

Also, if you drink your coffee from any local diner, be careful. These diner coffees tend to have a lot more caffeine than expected – 100 mg per cup which is a lot more than an espresso shot.

Espresso is richer compared to other types of coffee. And since it has less caffeine at 40 mg, there are also fewer chances of it causing diarrhea or triggering your bowel movement. In comparison, a regular cup of coffee has 95 mg of caffeine.

I have made a chart for your ease with all the roasts, their tastes, and the amount of caffeine in each kind of roast.

Roast Name Roast TypeRoast TasteAmount of Caffeine in 8 oz cup
Cinnamon RoastLight Acidic120 mg
New England RoastLightComplex acidity100 mg
American RoastMediumLittle sweeter95 mg
City RoastMediumBalanced with acidity90 mg
Full City RoastMed-DarkRoasty flavored notes88 mg
Vienna RoastDarkBittersweet and caramel85 mg
French RoastDarkBitter & caramel with no acidity80 mg
Italian RoastDarkBurnt notes80 mg

Decaffeinated Coffee

If you think you cannot change your coffee beans you can go for decaffeinated coffee. These are also readily available whether you want to make it at home or get it from a coffee shop.

Generally, decaf coffee beans have less than 3% of caffeine. So, it can give you little caffeine without overpowering your digestive system.

Skip Dairy Completely

Since many people knowingly or unknowingly are lactose intolerant at some level, try and avoid dairy in your coffee. Instead, of using cow milk opt for nut-based milk or skim milk.

They also provide extra nutrients and make your coffee extra special. Plus, you can swap the heavy cream with no dairy and unsweetened creamers. You will get the richness of dairy without having to go to the bathroom.  

Omit Sugar

Lastly, avoid putting any kinds of sugar in your coffee. I know it can be hard but give it a try. Maybe you will start enjoying it.

But if you still have the urge to get some sweetness in your coffee, go for natural sweeteners rather than artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are hard to digest which can cause pain and diarrhea. Natural sugars are mostly plant-based and do not cause any trouble.

You can read my article on the best sweeteners for coffee where I suggest what sweeteners I think will go best with coffee.

Can Coffee Cause Diarrhea On An Empty Stomach?

Coffee can cause harm to your stomach lining when consumed on an empty stomach. This can lead to heartburn, acidity, and intestinal contractions leading to diarrhea.

Having coffee to start your day is good. But drinking coffee on an empty stomach is a pretty bad idea. It’s a recipe for disaster.

The reason why it is recommended not to consume coffee on an empty stomach is because of its acidic nature. Coffee is acidic and can cause serious damages to the digestive tract. When you drink coffee on an empty stomach the hot temperature with the caffeine will cause your stomach to release hydrochloric acid.

The HCL is an acid that helps break down food. But if both acids (HCL + Coffee) are present in your stomach at the same time, you can experience heartburn, severe acidity, and diarrhea.

Contrary to this some people might feel completely normal while they consume coffee on empty stomach. If you are one of those people, you can continue. But if it starts to offer you discomfort, it’s best you start taking coffee with a meal. Instead, pair your coffee with a delicious and healthy breakfast.

Here are my top 5 healthy breakfasts with coffee.

  • Avocado Toast
  • Eggs with Ham
  • Bagel with cream cheese
  • Plain Croissants
  • Blueberry Muffin
wholewheat bread avocado toast with soft boil egg on a white platter and fork on the side.

Should I Stop Drinking Coffee If It Gives Me Diarrhea?

You don’t have to stop drinking coffee if it gives you diarrhea. Making wise changes and tweaking your coffee drinking habits here and there would allow you to enjoy your coffee every day. Remember moderation is the key.

Quitting coffee is not the answer to your coffee causing diarrhea. Instead, you can take small steps and can still enjoy your morning chocker.

You see, excessive caffeine, acid from coffee, dairy, and sugar all are the culprits in one cup of coffee. You can tackle these by making sure your caffeine intake for the whole day is not more than 400 mg. Whether your source is tea or any energy drink, just keep track that the caffeine should be in moderation.

Plus, when you will start choosing plant-based and non-dairy options for milk and cream for your coffee, you will see an improvement in your bowel movements.

Also, don’t forget to pair your coffee with a breakfast item to give you an extra boost of energy and not cause acid reflux in your gut.

But if you still face acute diarrhea or want immediate results, you can immediately stop consuming coffee altogether. This will halt all the bowel movements and intestinal contractions which lead to diarrhea.

You may face caffeine withdrawals. Though these symptoms are not long-term and can only last for 2-9 days. They can be annoying and can cause discomfort.

These caffeine withdrawals symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Low energy

Here is a video I found giving more information on caffeine withdrawal.

Short video with caffeine withdrawal symptoms

Final Thoughts

Coffee is a widespread caffeine source common among millions of people. Though it is a substantial part of our lives it can give you the runs. Interestingly enough, this is very common.

But it can be reduced by making important changes. If you wish, you can leave coffee completely but cut back on it can give you caffeine withdrawals.  

Though it is not more than 2 to 9 days, it can be very irritating.

Also, try and always consume coffee in moderation and never on an empty stomach. Pair it with a nice breakfast and do not go overboard with dairy. Choose dairy-free milk options and cut back on sugar.

By following all these you might be able to enjoy of cup of coffee without having to go to the bathroom every so often.