Toilet talk: How coffee keeps us going

By Nikki Cutler contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Coffee keeps our bowels moving by suppressing gut bacteria and increasing muscle motility, regardless of caffeine content, according to new research from Texas.

According to the preliminary results of a rat study presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2019, coffee suppresses bacteria and increases muscle motility, regardless of caffeine content.

"When rats were treated with coffee for three days, the ability of the muscles in the small intestine to contract appeared to increase,"​ said Xuan-Zheng Shi, Ph.D., lead author of the study and associate professor in internal medicine University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston. "Interestingly, these effects are caffeine-independent, because caffeine-free coffee had similar effects as regular coffee."

Researchers examined changes to bacteria when faecal matter was exposed to coffee in a petri dish, and by studying the composition of faeces after rats ingested differing concentrations of coffee over three days.

The study also documented changes to smooth muscles in the intestine and colon, and the response of those muscles when exposed directly to coffee.

The study found that growth of bacteria and other microbes in faecal matter in a petri dish was suppressed with a solution of 1.5% coffee, and growth of microbes was even lower with a 3% solution of coffee. Decaffeinated coffee had a similar effect on the microbiome.

After the rats were fed coffee for three days, the overall bacteria counts in their faeces were decreased, but researchers said more research is needed to determine whether these changes favour firmicutes, considered "good" bacteria, or enterobacteria, which are regarded as negative.

Muscles in the lower intestines and colons of the rats showed increased ability to contract after a period of coffee ingestion, and coffee stimulated contractions of the small intestine and colon when muscle tissues were exposed to coffee directly in the lab.

Shi and his team are not saying that coffee’s effects on the gut are definitely working through the microbiome but these results support the need for additional clinical research to determine whether coffee drinking might be an effective treatment for post-operative constipation, or ileus, in which the intestines quit working after abdominal surgery.

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