In the United States alone, over 400 million cups of coffee are consumed each day or 146 billion cups each year – now that’s a lot of coffee! In addition to its taste and high contents of caffeine, many individuals drink coffee as a laxative to help move the bowels. But how exactly does it aid in digestion? Many people who experience symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome or general digestive issues find that coffee relieves their constipation and discomfort. What they often don’t know is that this laxative effect is produced by the combination of stimulant compounds in coffee, including oils, acids and caffeine. These same stimulants can, when consumed at even what is considered moderate amounts (e.g. 2-3 cups coffee in a day), irritate the stomach lining, increase acid production in the digestive tract and sometimes decrease absorption of essential nutrients. The result is often stomach upset, acid reflux and nutrient deficiencies (namely calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, B vitamins, manganese and copper).
Containing various oils, acids, and compounds like caffeine, your daily cup of joe harms your stomach and intestines by irritating the linings. As our bodies begin the process of digestion, large amounts of hydrochloric acid is produced, often leading to heartburn. In addition, coffee jump starts the process of digestion, not allowing the intestines to properly or efficiently absorb the nutrients. This often causes harm and inflammation in the intestines. Not to mention, caffeine is a strong diuretic and leads to dehydration and loss of electrolytes by causing increased fluid flushing through the kidneys.
If you’re a heavy coffee drinker and rely on that daily dose of caffeine to function, we recommend switching to organic black tea. Although it may contain less caffeine, it is filled with amazing antioxidants, including high quantities of catechins, antioxidants that fight and potentially prevent cell damage. After a few weeks, give organic green tea a shot. With its high levels of antioxidants and tea polyphenols, green tea cleanses the blood, helps with blood sugar regulation and provides steady energy. The form of caffeine provided in green tea does not have the same jittery, irritating effect as the caffeine from coffee, largely due to its theanine content, an amino acid that helps keep green tea’s caffeine effect steady and gentle.
So how do you get your daily bowels moving naturally? By filling them with fiber and roughage from raw fruits and vegetables! Our favorite way: green smoothies. For a few of our favorite recipes, click here. Other effective ways to help move your bowels include, incorporating 1-2 tbsp ground or soaked flax seed to smoothies or salads or 1-2 tbsp chia seeds to a bottle of water, letting it soak for a couple of hours. Chia and flax seeds are high in anti-inflammatory Omega 3s and fiber, both of which help to keep digestion smooth and easy.
Not only will your body’s intestinal tract thank you for upgrading your morning liquid, but will also improve your overall health.
- – Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN