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Why does coffee make us shit? Scientists gave rats coffee to find out

Illustration: Jim Cooke, Photo: Shutterstock

A good portion of ordinary coffee drinkers know that coffee is not only good for waking them up in the morning, but also for them wake up and poop. Although the laxative effect of coffee is known, it is not clear why exactly this happens. To get to the bottom of this puzzle, some scientists have decided to do exactly what scientists expect: to give lab rats coffee.

Their preliminary results, presented at a research conference aptly named Digestive Disease Week, seem to confirm the suspicion that the ability to make coffee has nothing to do with caffeine. Coffee can also kill bacteria that are in our intestines.

University of Texas Medical Department researchers in Galveston fed their rats with a tiny cup of Joe for three consecutive days, with various groups receiving both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. The researchers then examined the pipes of the rats on the ground floor with a physical examination and a probe. They focused on the muscles that contract and help guide food (and possibly waste) through the gut. Finally, they also looked at how muscle tissue from the gut responded directly to coffee in the lab. Their results were clear: the muscles in the small and large intestines could contract more tightly after coffee, which meant things could move faster along the gut.

"Coffee has a stimulating effect on gut motility, and that has nothing to do with caffeine at all. We could even see this with decaffeinated coffee, so it's caffeine-independent, "senior author Xuan-Zheng Shi, associate professor of internal medicine at the university, told Gizmodo over the phone.

This study is not the first to suggest that the muscles of the intestine are directly affected by coffee. Back in 1990, the researchers found that healthy people who pretended to be coffee pots had more exercise in their colon muscles after drinking black coffee than those who said they never felt the urge.

As with the current study, the effects were also observed with decaffeinated coffee. And given the short time needed to see these contractions within four minutes, the researchers of the 1990 study speculated that coffee might act on the colon indirectly via the small intestine or the stomach. The same study has shown that not everyone has the need to shit for coffee. it's really only about 30 percent.

However, Shi and his team have not stopped studying the bowels directly. They also looked at rat dung. They found that, compared to feces without coffee, there were fewer bacteria in the feces of the coffee drinkers. And when they dug shit into a Petri dish and exposed them to a solution of 1.5 percent coffee, the bacteria stopped growing so much; The same but stronger effect was observed when exposed to 3 percent coffee. Decaffeinated coffee continued to deliver similar results.

"This is really interesting, because it means that coffee can be an antibacterial agent and we can see it again with decaffeinated coffee," said Shi. "But we need to look more closely at why coffee can exert this suppressive effect on the microbiome."

At this time, it is too early to say exactly how coffee can affect the microbial ecosystem in our gut, called the gut, microbiome. We know that the gut microbiota is a sensitive environment, and if coffee slows down the growth of bacteria that are mostly healthy, that would be bad. On the other hand, other studies suggest that coffee can positively affect gut health overall and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer (as with any nutritional research, it is difficult to be sure about anything).

Other studies have shown an association between the intestinal microbiome and a healthy, moving gut. However, it is not entirely clear how the former affects the latter, and Shi and his team do not argue that the effects of coffee on the gut definitely have an effect on the microbiome – only that they have found an interesting link that they continue to investigate should.

Although gut bacteria play a role in the ability of coffee to puke, this is probably not the only mechanism involved. So more research needs to be done to unravel all these different influences. Regardless of the way, the authors said it pays to investigate whether coffee can be used as a relatively simple method of treating constipation or temporarily frozen bowel. These are two complications that can occur after certain operations. Shi and his team plan to publish their latest study in a peer-reviewed journal over the next few months.

For those of you who wonder, there is little good evidence that coffee goes the other way through your body. Also known as coffee enema, it offers health benefits or "detoxifies" you in a meaningful way.

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