Is coffee a diuretic? We’ve pretty much all been there at one time or another: on a long journey, distracting ourselves as best we can, and trying not to think too hard about how far it is to the location of the next bathroom stop.
It seemed like such a great idea at the time, to gulp down that last cup of coffee before we hit the road. Only now, it’s a bit of a distraction, as our body lets us know it needs to shed some fluid.
Many of us are convinced that coffee does have diuretic properties, but is that actually true?
Diuretic definition – what is a diuretic?
In its simplest terms, the dictionary definition of diuresis is the excretion of urine. The term is often used to describe large volumes of urine or increased amounts of urine.
A diuretic, then, is a substance that increases the production of urine. In recent years the term has often been used to describe a pill manufactured in a laboratory, often called a water pill, and prescribed by a healthcare professional. There are also many natural diuretics, including water and, under some circumstances, coffee.
The usual way diuretics work is by stimulating your kidneys to release sodium, or salt, into your urine. Your body is constantly striving to keep everything in a state of balance, or homeostasis, and this includes water levels.
Once the sodium is released your body works to release water from your blood. This ensures your sodium levels are at the correct level for you. More urine is produced, reducing the amount of fluid in your blood vessels, and helping to relieve any water retention.
There are many reasons why someone might want to use a diuretic deliberately – if you suffer from high blood pressure, for instance, or kidney disease, heart failure, or swollen tissues.
Explain this water thing again?
Our kidneys do an amazing job of filtering and getting rid of all the toxins that build up in our bodies throughout the day, but all that fluid has to leave somehow. This is where urination comes in.
Throughout the day our kidneys pass urine to our bladder in spurts; it then collects until the pressure leads to micturition, as the urine leaves the body via the bladder. Micturition is often used as a synonym for urination. (And you thought you were just going to learn about coffee!)
Why does coffee make you poop?
Coffee doesn’t only affect the production of urine. What you might not have realized is that there is also thought to be a link between poop and coffee. Poop might not be talked about much in polite company – although get a group of nurses or homeopaths together and just see how fascinating they find the subject.
Everyone poops, though (there’s even a book about it). The process is just as important as urination when it comes to getting rid of the toxins that build up in our system.
Coffee can have a stimulating effect on the colon, meaning it can help with the whole process of defecation. The actual reasons why coffee stimulates the digestive system are still being debated, but some scientists believe that the laxative effect of coffee might be down to its acidity.
There are also some folk out there who swear by the efficacy of coffee enemas, although personally, we’d rather get maximum enjoyment out of the stuff by drinking it and allowing it to progress through the digestive and urinary systems in a natural manner…
Since you are what you eat, as the saying goes, it makes sense that, should you wish to get your digestive and urinary systems going, you would contemplate adding diuretic foods to your diet. (By foods we mean both food and drink.)
Believe it or not, sometimes you don’t actually have to eat or drink the food in question, you can simply apply it as a type of poultice. Wrapping a few cabbage leaves around swollen feet and legs, for instance, and securing them in place with a towel or cloth, will help reduce puffiness and water retention.
Other natural diuretic foods that you’ll typically find at the local grocery store include asparagus, beets, celery, cranberries, cucumber, garlic, and watermelon. All of these have a very high water content, and while it’s important that we get enough water, it’s also important that we don’t get too much. (Remember that homeostasis thing?)
When it comes to drinks, some herbal infusions, in particular, have been shown to have a very strong diuretic effect, including dandelion, hibiscus, nettle and parsley. And if you’re wondering, is coffee a diuretic, it seems that it can, in some circumstances, have a short-term diuretic effect. Interestingly, decaffeinated coffee does not have as strong a diuretic effect as coffee with caffeine in it.
Does coffee dehydrate you?
So, if coffee increases the production of urine and speeds up the process of defecation, does it dehydrate you?
For decades it was thought that caffeine did indeed have a dehydrating effect, but in 2014 researchers at the University of Birmingham, England ran a study that suggested that coffee, in fact, has the same effects on hydration levels as plain water. The subjects of the study were all male and all drank a moderate amount of coffee – between three and six cups of coffee a day.
Of course, as with all things, if you drink a lot of (caffeinated) coffee, the effects of the caffeine will increase. This includes the diuretic aspects of the substance.
Caffeine – effects and side effects
One of the main effects of caffeine is as a stimulant. From the moment we take our first sip of that fragrant cup of coffee, within around 45 minutes it starts to affect our body. Within an hour, the caffeine in our system has reached its peak level; and it continues to affect us for up to six hours.
Too much caffeine can cause restlessness, fast heartbeat, the jitters, and muscle tremors, but these symptoms vary dramatically from person to person. For most of us, the risks increase as our caffeine consumption levels rise. This is why general advice is to limit our intake to no more than 4 cups of caffeinated coffee each day.
So is coffee a diuretic?
Well, like so many things in life, the answer actually isn’t as clear cut as it seems. Scientists have been discussing this since at least 1928 and overall it seems that the answer is yes, it is a diuretic, in the same way that water is a diuretic.
So if you drink a lot of coffee, you will find yourself having to visit the bathroom more often; but the same applies if you drink a lot of water. It’s also thought that if you regularly drink coffee, you may become more resistant to its diuretic effects. If you have a break from drinking coffee and then resume, coffee has a short-term increased diuretic effect.
Overall, the diuretic effect of coffee seems to be mainly due to the fact that for most of us, when we drink coffee, it’s dissolved in water, or it would be far too bitter. It’s the fluid that causes the mild diuretic effect.
As with so much in life, the keyword seems to be moderation, if you’re thinking of using coffee as a diuretic. And if you have certain health conditions, it’s always advisable to consult your health professional before changing your diet in any way.
Hi my name is Larry, a coffee aficionado from the US. I have already visited Colombia, Sumatra, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Jamaica in my pursuit of finding the best-tasting coffee beans. I currently write from Bali and enjoy the relaxed life that you can find only in Indonesia. Welcome to my coffee world!