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February 28, 2006 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Drinking coffee gives me bad gas within ten minutes of drinking. What's happening?

[more inside was never so apt...]

So, whenever I drink ground coffee with cream (but not ground black or instant with cream) I get about ten minutes and then my intestines start filling with painful gas. I'm willing to accept a trip to the can every time I drink good coffee, but what's happening? I guess I have three questions:

1) Why does coffee make my gut produce lots of gas?
2) How does it do it so quickly - in ten minutes the coffee itself won't even have left the stomach, let alone got into my lower gut?
3) What the hell is the point of producing gas to get rid of a toxin?
posted by twine42 to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
Lactose intolerance?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 4:12 PM on February 28, 2006

Maybe, but why not with instant and cream?
posted by twine42 at 4:22 PM on February 28, 2006

Caffeine is stimulating muscle actions within your colon.
posted by frogan at 4:27 PM on February 28, 2006

Sounds exactly like lactose intolerance. You can try lactaid pills to mitigate the effect.
posted by qwip at 4:27 PM on February 28, 2006

Meaning, the gas is likely already there -- the caffeine is stimulating its release through involuntary muscle action.

If said caffeine is being consumed with lots and lots of sugar and/or milk, that could complicate matters. But not usually within 10 minutes.
posted by frogan at 4:28 PM on February 28, 2006

Maybe, but why not with instant and cream?

Cream has less lactose in it than milk, or the high fat content has something to do with it. Regardless, many people who are lactose intolerant can eat things with cream in them.
posted by qwip at 4:29 PM on February 28, 2006

As frogan says, coffee can have a laxative effect. If I recall correctly, this is due to compounds within the coffee and not to the caffeine itself, which is why tea and soda don't do the same thing. Perhaps these compounds aren't present in the instant coffee you drink, due to the processing it goes through--that's just a wild guess on my part, tho.

Of course, that doesn't explain why it occurs with cafe au lait, but not with black coffee. Could it be some perfect storm of lactose intolerance plus sensitivity to the laxative compounds in coffee?
posted by fermion at 4:34 PM on February 28, 2006

Assuming that you're not lactose intolerant (ie., you don't get gas drinking milk and eating cheese and yogurt and stuff)...

I'd lean towards the cafffeine = peripheral (and general) nervous sytem stimulant.

Instant vs. fresh-brewed... caffeine content (instant = less?) or acidity.

One experiment you could run is to find a local coffee place that sells a variety of brewed coffee. One day, choose a variety that has high acidity, add cream. Next day, choose a variety that has a low acidity, add cream.

If acidity makes a difference, it could be that your unique and special blend of intestinal flora reacting to the coffee/cream/lactose. My hypothesis is that increased acidity (instant coffee is notorious for that, whereas a properly roasted high quality bean may be less acidic) may be suppressing the gas-producing reaction.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 4:37 PM on February 28, 2006

Lactose intolerence could be an interesting (but annoying) answer... cheers guys.

But on a biological level, what is the point of stimulating the colon? If the stomach recognises a problem then why irritate the gut? Why not just make me puke?

I do like the answer that the gas is already there as I have a (medicated) stomach complaint that causes too much gas anyway...
posted by twine42 at 4:39 PM on February 28, 2006

I don't have a gas problem, but do always have to make a bathroom trip immediately after coffee, due to the stimulant effects of the caffiene. I'd say the lactose intolerance is a false lead. It's most likely the stimulant exacerbating an existing problem, not anything to do with the stomach recognizing a bad substance and trying to reject it.
posted by team lowkey at 4:54 PM on February 28, 2006

I've got another angle for you -- stomach ulcers. Problems with gas were always kind of an outlier symptom (proceeding pain by a week or so) of my ulcers getting worse and caffinated beverages/alcohol were usually set the ulcers off.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 5:08 PM on February 28, 2006

I don't have an answer, but, as a data point, instant coffee is made mostly from robusta beans, which have twice the caffeine that arabica beans have (and also taste like boiled gym socks).

Most commercial coffee has at least some robusta. This may or may not be a factor (I cannot drink robusta, due to the flavour and it gives me both migraines and upsets my stomach, but I can drink pints of arabica happily).
posted by QIbHom at 5:22 PM on February 28, 2006

But on a biological level, what is the point of stimulating the colon?

Caffeine is stimulating everything, via the nervous system. Heart rate, alertness, etc. The colon is just doing its thang, too.
posted by frogan at 5:39 PM on February 28, 2006

twin24 - it's not necessarily your stomach that's causing gas. You're right, if your stomach is having problems, it'll spasm, loosen the valve on top, and engage in reverse peristalsis.

Gas is produced in your intestines - there's a valve between your stomache and intestine. Once past that valve, it's (mostly) a one-way street.

Several factors can cause gas

- the chemical makeup of the (mostly) digested food releases gaseous molecules
- enzyme dysfunction causing incomplete or abnormal release of gaseous molecules
- intestinal microflora (bacteria) imbalance; certain microbes are more or less "efficient" in breaking down foood

The last point - a healthy balance of intestinal microbes helps release more nutritional energy that you would be able to extract from food without microbial help as well as convert precursors into molecules that your body cannot synthesize. Methane still has lots of energy (hence, you can combust it) and some bacteria have the enzymes that can extract that energy and leave the carbon and hydrogen in lower-energy states (ie., covalently bound in a non-gaseous molecule).

An inbalance, say an increased percentage of bacteria that aren't particularly efficient and produces methane and CO2 instead of, say, (sorry, it's been a while) something else or less molecules of gas can cause increased intestinal gas.

In a perfect storm of bad gas; eating certain foods rich in a certain molecule (say, a protein common in beans) plus an over-represented population of inefficient bacteria that can only break down that protein to an intermediate (instead of a lower-energy state) may have a waste product (methane) that cannot be further processed and it'll sit in your gut, accumulate, and eventually escape as flatulence.

gah, I'm not making any sense am I?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 5:48 PM on February 28, 2006

As someone who is lactose intolerant, and does get sick from drinking coffee, I'll throw my vote in with the caffeine crowd. I have problems, if not as severe, when drinking highly caffeinated soft drinks.

So, to repeat, I believe its the caffeine.
posted by Atreides at 9:17 PM on February 28, 2006

No, porpoise, that does make sense, although I have a vague knowledge of where you are coming from anyway. :)
posted by twine42 at 11:19 PM on February 28, 2006

Not really a direct answer...but if I wake up too full, or had bad gas overnight (I get bad gas from onions, garlic & dark beer...3 of my favorites!) then I *rely* on coffee first thing in the morning to get the old insides moving. Within 15 minutes I can "excercise the demons" and feel better for the day.
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 8:42 AM on March 1, 2006

To be fair, frogan is probably more on the mark (gas is already there but diffuse), although it's still strange that there's a difference between instant and brewed coffee.

Caffeine lowers the threshold required for nerves to fire thus letting your intestine decide to pulsate more easily and sets up the congo line that moves the distributed gas and other matter through your intestine until it hits a bottleneck where it accumulates. The accumulation causes localized pressure which prompts more localized nerve firing/muscle contractions which leads to discomfort and/or the impulse to defecate.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:06 AM on March 1, 2006

You could rule out the lactose intolerance by testing ground coffee + cream + lactaid pills.
posted by winston at 10:46 AM on March 1, 2006

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