The People's Perspective on Medicine

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?

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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Citations
  • 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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I haven’t tried the hot water trick, but I do swear by using Milk of Magnesia for the lower bowel and Miralax for the upper bowel on a regular basis to keep things moving regularly since I am on pain management therapy and am subject to constipation as a result.

I’ve had several upper bowel obstructions and can swear by Coca Cola for saving me from more than one trip to the ER. I actually discovered it when I went to the ER with an obstruction, clearly recognizing it for what it was, but was told by the ER doc I was not obstructed. Went back home and knew I had to clear it soon on my own. I went online for sure-fire remedies, found a discussion board where several nurses had posted that Coca Cola was used in the “old days.” I drank a diet, caffiene-free bottle of 12 oz., and relief came within a reasonable time (I forget how long, but not more than a few hours). I actually felt a slight stinging as something pulled away from the bowel lining; then I started to pass gas, and soon I was able to “go.”

After decades of working in an NICU and teaching in a university school of nursing, I retired. Both of these jobs made me ignore those calls of nature that didn’t repeat at convenient times and set up a pattern of chronic constipation. Now that I can set my own schedule there is no problem. I avoid breakfast meetings and social get-togethers. Any appointments are made for no earlier than 11:00 A.M. My breakfast consists of whole grain toast, an egg, a high-fiber fresh fruit such as apple or pear, and a 12-ounce mug of hot tea. Nature’s call comes within a few minutes of finishing breakfast on an almost-daily basis. I doubt that there is a one fits-all solution to this problem. It’s a matter of seeing what works for you and fitting it into your lifestyle. I would like to see people avoid chemical stool softeners and laxatives, though.

I have for years used a glass of hot water to move my bowels. I may not take it each morning, but will after a day or two with out any movement. It will soften the bowels so as to be easy to pass. I lost my gall-bladder, by operation in Dec 2001. Since that time I have used this system. I am now 82.

When I worked in a sewing mill, I started drinking hot water all the time. I am milk-intolerant, and tea tended to annoy me. So even when I went out for breakfast I would ask for a cup of hot water. It will certainly clear your sinuses.

In addition to my very low carbohydrate diet for my recently diagnosed diabetes, I’m drinking 2.4 L. (6 cups) of water every day. The water is at room temperature. I’m trying to drink the water at the rate of .0.4 L (1 cup) every two hours between 6 am and 6 pm. The cut-off time is to reduce the effect this water regimen has on my incontinence during the night. My experience has been that my bowels move often and that my stools are soft. When there is a significant gap in my water consumption, I become constipated and my stools are hard.

I’ve been a registered nurse for decades. I think we all pretty much learned things over the years to influence bowel function. Anything that provides stomach fullness (food or fluids) naturally stimulates peristalsis – which is the intestinal smooth muscle action that moves things along and ultimately results in the need to have a bowel movement. Many people think transit time is quite short, that what they eat is almost immediately expelled. But on average it takes about 24 hours or more for most persons.

Liquids are safest for post-op abdominal surgeries. For anyone, though, the warmer the liquid, the better. Warmth promotes relaxation of the voluntary muscles which can inhibit peristalsis.

It’s worth noting that environmental and emotional factors are a strong influence. If a person is feeling pressured to “perform”, for example, or living life on overdrive – examples could be endless – it’s just not conducive for good digestive health from any aspect.

Coffee or hot water may have a placebo effect, as I tried for many days, but did not have lasting effect. I had to continue with a brand-name laxative to get results.

My coffee-shop name-brand coffee tastes better than your hot water.

Rubbing the area in front of my hip bones in a clockwise motion 50 times each day does the trick for a regular bowel movement.

Hot tea (half black and half decaf green) do the trick for me, but I have found that other warm foods in the morning also help- a little. But, the tea is the best, and I can feel when I’ve missed it!

When I had a sore throat, I drank LOTS of honey/fresh lemon water (hot) “tea”. The next morning, it seemed to move my intestinal track more than it helped my throat!

I went through chemo for eight months and drank 16 oz of warm water every morning. It did help me to keep regular. Learned from my cousin who went through chemo before me, and doctor had her do this. I continue to do this every morning, and it has helped me, a person who has always had trouble staying regular!

Intereresting. I have to drink a full glass of water first thing in the morning with my thyroid medication as per instructions. Thirty minutes later I have breakfast, and my blood pressure medication is happiest when taken with food, so I always do that.

I have an ostomy pouch (colon cancer), and one thing I’ve found is that I need to eat dinner earlier than we used to because it takes a good six hours or so before it is eliminated. We try to eat dinner at 5:30 pm now so I can go before bedtime. In the morning I clean my pouch again to get rid of any snack I ate in the evening. It’s just a whole different way of looking at things, and you know what? No one at the hospital ever tells you about this, and they should because it’s a whole life change. I always make sure my pouch is freshly cleaned before I go anywhere just to make sure I am never caught “fit to bust.” I drink water on and off all during the day to keep things soft because you never want to be struggling with too-dry elimination or constipation, in old-speak. I never thought a shy woman like me would be so open to discussing something so personal, but hope I have helped someone with this.

A cup of hot water at the end of my breakfast is a help. I flavor mine with peppermint extract, @ 3/4 tsp. Very good!

I found that hot tea did not work, even though I expected it would. Had to switch back to my decaf coffee routine.

My great aunt drank hot water (not a coffee drinker) all her life. She lived to be 96. She only used home remedies for almost everything.

I agree that any hot beverage works for me, including hot water.
I am old enough to remember giving patients in the hospital cascara for constipation. Now Starbucks has it as a featured ingredient in some of their drinks. Scared me, LOL!

We agree. How many people know that drinking those might make them have to run to the restroom?

You mention coffee but not hot water, plain hot water. Is there any benefit to that?????? Please answer.Thanks.

Possibly. The reaction seems to vary from one person to another.

I have tried altering hot water and cold water, just enough to get the bowels moving. This has worked well for me and family and friends who have tried this when constipated. I may have read about the suggestion on your site years ago! Thanks for all you do!

I drink 2 glasses of tepid water every morning first thing after I get up. Works magic with moving my bowels.

You didn’t address constipation and how to get rid of it.
Please do.

My dad used to drink warm prune juice in the morning as an aid…sure helped him!

Drinking warm to hot water, with or without lemon juice, first thing in the morning, is an Ayurvedic health standard. Works as well as coffee.

I have developed very uncomfortable chronic constipation and have a partial bowel blockage.
Also, if you are female and have a rectocele, this does not help the situation.
I have had 3 colitis events from trying to eat too much fiber.
Knowing I have to do something, a few weeks ago I started this regimen and it is working so well, without any abdominal discomfort.
AM– 1/2 cap of Miralax, 1 tsp of psyllium powder. Mix in about 8 oz. warm water. Drink immediately.
Once a day seems enough for me and I am amazed at the relieving results. Normal size and consistency BM about daily.
Miralax or psyllium alone never gave good results. Neither did just warm water. And a little psyllium goes a long way.
Also I found an unflavored psyllium. The citric acid in the orange always gave me heartburn.
The unflavored does not.
This is such a relief for me that I emailed my PCP so he can pass it on to other patients who may want to try it.

A friend once told me she drinks a cup (about 7-8 swallows) of warm water every morning. I started doing it a few years ago and it does the trick!

I keep a 10 oz bottle of water beside my bed and drink it when I awake. It keeps me regular. It also helps to relieve leg cramps.

I recently had colorectal surgery and I am having a terrible time trying to get somewhat regular. Hot coffee, prunes, prune juice all work sometimes. Really getting disgusted, but I am 80 and I guess everything works slower.

Constipation can be troublesome. I have found a fool-proof treatment that has worked every time without side effects. If one drinks a quarter of a cup of olive oil, the blockage clears literally in minutes.

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