There is a popular belief that a coffee and a cigarette in the morning contributes to having a bowel movement at that time.

There is already somewhat of an answer for the question to why coffee seems to have laxative effects, however it's not very detailed and does not say anything about other factors like cigarette smoking.

Cigarettes also seem to contribute strongly to this effect (at least in popular belief). Is this a real, biological effect or just a placebo?

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    I suspect a big part of this effect is just placebo. Many people who do not drink coffee and do not smoke have bowel movements in the morning, basically after some time of being awake and up. If for some this time is around the time they need for coffee and a smoke, then they connect this (not necessarily correctly). And then they can use this to their advantage in case they need a bowel movement. Or maybe also, in case they want to delay it.
    – skymningen
    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:58
  • @skymningen Yeah, I also considered the option that it's failure in my observation. This is why I came here for scientific answer. Aug 18, 2017 at 12:11
  • @Remi.b I'm asking about the scientific biological aspects of the issue. Can you explain why this question fits on Health.SE? I have considered asking it there, but I'm not concerned about health or health issues but about human biology. Aug 19, 2017 at 0:05
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    What's wrong with saying poop? That's not a childish euphemism. It's a real word.
    – 4D Neuron
    Aug 21, 2017 at 13:27
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    @Remi.b This is not a bad question, and does not depend simply on human health. There is a very simple biological answer here and I'm not sure why this has received so much negativity. We shouldn't close things just because they could also be on topic at health.SE, per meta.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 21, 2017 at 14:49

2 Answers 2


When thinking about the nervous system, most people think about the brain and spinal cord: the CNS. However, the enteric nervous system controlling gut function has another ~500 million neurons.

Among other things, these neurons coordinate the peristaltic contractions of the gut which act to move food through the digestive system.

Peristalsis is under the control of several neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. One of these is acetylcholine. One of the two major classes of acetylcholine receptors are known as the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR). These receptors are so-named because nicotine, found in cigarettes, is a strong agonist for them (although their typical endogenous agonist is acetylcholine).

There is good evidence that nAChRs are involved in gut peristalsis. Antagonists of nAChRs reduce peristalsis Kadowaki et al. 1996 and agonists increase peristalsis Blank et al. 1999.

Therefore, you can expect that cigarettes, which contain nicotine, would increase gut motility and therefore make bowel movements more likely or more imminent. Of course, there can also be daily cycles of bowel function, so you cannot easily link smoking in the morning to a specific subsequent bowel movement.


Blank, E. L., Greenwood, B., & Dodds, W. J. (1989). Cholinergic control of smooth muscle peristalsis in the cat esophagus. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 257(4), G517-G523.

Kadowaki, M., Wade, P. R., & Gershon, M. D. (1996). Participation of 5-HT3, 5-HT4, and nicotinic receptors in the peristaltic reflex of guinea pig distal colon. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 271(5), G849-G857.

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    Welcome to Health and thank you for your brilliant answer. Hope to see you around more often :)
    – Narusan
    Aug 22, 2017 at 14:09


A simple way to stimulate the bowel movement in the morning is to eat or drink something - this is known as the gastrocolic reflex.

Medical Libre Texts

The gastrocolic reflex is the physiological reflex that controls the motility, or peristalsis, of the gastrointestinal tract. It involves an increase in motility of the colon in response to stretch in the stomach and the byproducts of digestion in the small intestine. Thus, this reflex is responsible for the urge to defecate following a meal.


Coffee can stimulate the bowel movement but so can water. Nicotine does not - according to this study:

Stimulation of defecation: effects of coffee use and nicotine on rectal tone and visceral sensitivity (Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 2005)

Rectal tone increased by 45% 30 min after coffee intake and by 30% after water intake, but the effects of coffee and water were not significantly different. Rectal tone did not change significantly after administration of nicotine (7%) or placebo (10%).

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