Does Decaf Coffee Make You Poop? Here's What We Know

Coffee and morning bowel movements are somewhat of a classic pairing. We've seen it portrayed in movies, and we've experienced it in real life. You wake up in the morning, make yourself a nice hot cup of java, and relish your first few sips. Almost instantly, your digestive system seems to come alive, and you're sitting on your toilet seat, grateful for one of the most tried-and-tested genius ways to get yourself to poop instantly. The entire thing can happen in as little as four minutes. 

The caffeine in coffee has a bowel-stimulating effect. In addition to waking up your brain, caffeine also stimulates gastrointestinal motility and contractions, leading to the reasoning behind common sayings on the side of many coffee mugs, like "Coffee, then poop," or "Downloading."

If you've always thought that caffeine is the real reason why coffee makes you poop, you could have wondered about decaffeinated or decaf coffee. Does it have the same effect? Kind of. Although the effect may not be as quick or as powerful as regular coffee, decaf still has ingredients that induce a gastrocolic reflex in your system, where the beverage wakes up your digestive system and causes contractions to occur from your stomach right down to your colon.

How does decaf coffee make you poop?

Caffeine isn't the only thing in coffee that makes your morning "routine" regular. In fact, caffeine has to work in conjunction with some other natural acids to bring about its poop-stimulating effect. Have you ever wondered why other caffeinated beverages like sodas and energy drinks don't send you running to the bathroom? Well, now you know. 

As explained by Dr. Kenneth Brown, a board-certified gastroenterologist and GI doctor in Plano, Texas, coffee contains other acids and chemicals that also have an effect on how soon you poop, namely chlorogenic acid and N-alkanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamine (via Well+Good). While the antioxidant chlorogenic acid causes an increase in stomach acids which leads to a boost in contractions (gastrocolic reflex), "N-alkanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamine — a chemical closely related to the neurotransmitter serotonin — are naturally occurring compounds that act as laxatives. These compounds increase the water content in the colon and the contractions of the colonic muscles," explained the physician. 

In regular coffee, you're getting the best of all three worlds: caffeine, chlorogenic acid, and N-alkanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamine. With decaf, you're getting trace elements of caffeine and all of the chlorogenic acid and N-alkanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamine. Yes, decaf does not mean no caffeine whatsoever. While the decaffeination process removes about 97% of the caffeine in coffee beans, there's still a little left. Perhaps this could change what you think about decaf coffee.

Decaf vs. regular coffee: Which is better for digestive health?

Coffee can affect different people in different ways. For example, it is possible that you grow more tolerant of coffee's digestive effects the more you consume it. You could be genetically predisposed to experience coffee's effects more acutely than others. Also, the bowel-stimulating effects of coffee can either worsen or bring relief for people with gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depending on their symptoms. If you're experiencing constipation, coffee could help keep things moving, explained functional gastroenterologist Dr. Sameer Islam (via YouTube). If diarrhea is your concern, coffee may make things worse. 

Plus, the stomach-acid generating effect of coffee can exacerbate symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux for people predisposed to these conditions. Picking between decaf and caffeinated coffee has to do with personal preference and how you respond to each. How effective it is at making you poop will depend on how it affects you personally.

For someone who's not unusually sensitive to coffee's effects, 400 milligrams of caffeine a day (four cups of brewed coffee) is considered a safe amount. With decaf, 1-3 cups is the recommended daily amount. Be mindful that strong black coffee can become diluted with things like creamers and milk, and may also lead to digestive discomfort. "Most folks develop some degree of lactose intolerance — and you very well might feel it if you add cream or milk to your coffee. Lactose, sugars, and fats can all affect your intestinal tract and your colon transit time," explained gastroenterologist Dr. Christine Lee (per Cleveland Clinic).