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Will Hot Water Help You Move Your Bowels?

Coffee can help you move your bowels early in the morning. Will a cup of plain hot water have the same benefit?
Will Hot Water Help You Move Your Bowels?
Young woman at home sipping tea from a cup

In years past, people put a lot of emphasis on regularity. They thought a bathroom visit every day, preferably first thing in the morning, was essential to good health. Some folks had their favorite tricks and remedies to ensure that. Certain individuals favor coffee, but others have found that a cup of plain hot water may help you move your bowels.

Does Hot Water Work Magic?

Q. I just read your column about the effects of coffee on moving one’s bowels. It may not be the caffeine doing the work.

My grandmother did not drink coffee, but every morning first thing she drank a cup of hot water “for her bowels,” she said. I think hot water would have the same effect whether it had caffeine in it or not.

A. The researchers we mentioned who tested the effects of coffee on rats’ digestive function found that decaf worked like regular coffee to enhance the power of intestinal contractions. As a result, we can safely conclude that caffeine is not the primary actor.

Research on Hot Water to Move Your Bowels:

Scientists have used hot water as a control in a study of postoperative recovery of bowel function (European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Jan. 2018). Among women who had undergone Caesarean section deliveries, those who drank coffee were quicker to pass gas. Surgeons pay a lot of attention to flatulence because it demonstrates that the digestive tract is returning to normal.

A meta-analysis involving six clinical trials with 600 patients concluded:

“Postoperative coffee consumption is effective and safe for enhancing the recovery of gastrointestinal function after abdominal surgery” (Scientific Reports, Nov. 2018).

Many other readers share the conviction that hot beverages of any sort can benefit bowel function. On the other hand, one would need to experiment between hot and cold coffee to see if temperature is a key factor.

At least one reader claims,

“I find that quickly drinking a large glass of ice cold water gets things moving.”

What is your experience with water, coffee or other beverages to make it easier to move your bowels? Add your thoughts in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Rabiepoor S et al, "Does coffee affect the bowel function after caesarean section?" European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Jan. 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2017.07.028
  • Eamudomkarn N et al, "Effect of postoperative coffee consumption on gastrointestinal function after abdominal surgery: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." Scientific Reports, Nov. 2018. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-35752-2
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