For some folks it’s prune juice, for some it’s the vigorous introduction of a suppository — for others, it’s cigarettes and/or coffee that finally motivates their bowels across the fecal finish line.
“You know what I miss about smoking?” writes one redditor. “Having my morning coffee and cigarette which would lead to a fantastic poop.” In case you were concerned that he’s been constipated ever since, well, no, he’s doing just fine, even if things aren’t quite the same anymore. “I get enough fiber and drink enough water,” he continues. “But there’s something about a morning cup of coffee and smoke that just ‘helps things along’ so to speak.” This being a Reddit thread on the topic of cigarettes and coffee and how they affect your bowels, 46 other redditors agree with the sentiment.
The point here is that it’s really no secret that coffee and/or cigarettes is the ultimate not-so-natural laxative. But why? Aren’t cigarettes bad for your digestive tract? And what is it about caffeine that sets in motion a seemingly untamable brown avalanche?
According to Very Well Health, smoking cigarettes does, in fact, have a negative effect on the digestive tract, especially with regard to Crohn’s disease. “People who smoke, or who have smoked in the past, have been shown to have a higher risk of developing Crohn’s disease than people who do not smoke,” per their report. “People with Crohn’s disease who smoke have an increased number of relapses (flare-ups) and repeat surgeries, as well as a greater need for aggressive treatment and treatment with drugs known as immunosuppressants.”
Now, TobaccoInAustralia.org claims that, for those with reduced nicotine tolerance, cigarettes can make you poop. But per a 2005 study on whether coffee and cigarettes can have a laxative effect, the researchers found that while both coffee and warm water have an effect on defecation by increasing rectal tone, nicotine didn’t affect rectal tone any more than a placebo. So while nearly everyone on the internet is experiencing cigarette nostalgia because of how quickly it helps them poop their brains out, as it turns out, that’s just more wishful Big Tobacco thinking.
The same, however, doesn’t apply to the cup of java, according to the same study. So what is it about coffee that initiates the bowel-industrial complex? Well, this is actually quite complicated. According to BuzzFeed, experts aren’t entirely sure why coffee causes extreme pooping for some people, but there is some science behind it. “Basically coffee stimulates the contractions of the stomach and intestinal tract, and it stimulates bile excretion, which itself is a propellent of food particles because the intestines know that when there is bile there is food,” colon health specialist Dmitri Alden, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Buzzfeed News back in 2015. “Coffee also helps to release gastrin, a hormone that plays a role in the motility of the intestinal tract.”
Additionally, according to a study published in 1990 in Gut, a journal of gastroenterology, researchers found that coffee induces a “gastrocolonic response” in some individuals just minutes after they consume the beverage, per a Live Science report. Again, though, the same study failed to identify the exact cause of this response.
There is one more catch: Similar to the diuretic findings with regard to the effects of cigarettes on bowel movements, according to the same Live Science article, another 2003 study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics found that a strong tolerance for the diuretic properties of coffee can often develop in individuals who — surprise, surprise — regularly consume the beverage. So if you drink a lot of coffee, you may need lot more coffee to motivate that movement.
In short, if you quit smoking cigarettes and you stopped drinking coffee, you might want to invest in some fiber.