When you’re honest with yourself, practically everything about summertime is gross. You’re sweating bullets, you low-key reek because your deodorant is weak, and your BMs are all kinds of wild. (Right? Just me on that last one?) I mean, just saying that some friends [ahem] have had some valid concerns about how the heat might impact your gut health. (After all, even things like periods can mess with your pooping schedule.) Does heat make you poop more, or less, or (fun!) more violently?
The short answer: Yes and no. Here’s the thing: When the temperatures rise, we don’t always make the best decisions. Call it heat wave brain fog, or carefree summer fun, but many of us just don’t watch what we consume. So heat waves can definitely lead to problems with bowel movements, but “the problems primarily are centered around not hydrating enough and consuming too many caffeinated and sugary beverages,” says Niket Sonpal, MD, a New York-based internist and gastroenterologist. “For a proper bowel movement, you need water and fiber. In a heat wave, if you don’t consume enough fluids your body will attempt to conserve fluid, and this can lead to constipation.”
So I know you’ve heard it time and time again, but the first call to action is to drink more water. Not only do we lose water when sweating more (which is a classic summer move) and thus need more water to begin with, but downing an iced latte before you grab a cup of aqua also runs the risk of upsetting your stomach, says Dr. Sonpal.
“Increased iced coffee [consumption] is something many of my patients all have in common, which is something I like to call ‘summertime constipation,’” says Dr. Sonpal. While caffeine and other compounds naturally found in coffee can help you poop, “too much caffeine can constipate,” says Dr. Sonpal. That’s because caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes you pee. Too much caffeine (or drinking caffeine when you’re already dehydrated) can cause constipation or make it worse, since water is crucial for keeping things moving through your digestive system. And as mentioned earlier, it’s easier to get dehydrated when the weather is warm.
On the flip side, over-consuming another kind of beverage—alcohol—when you’re dehydrated can have the opposite effect on your bowels, says Dr. Sonpal. “For perspective on the opposite end, we have to remember that that alcohol can also lead to untoward affects on our bowel movement,” says Dr. Sonpal. “Summer is all about getting together and enjoying ourselves, and an alcoholic beverage is one way to do that. But remember a lot of alcohol can give people diarrhea. One of my patients calls it the ‘DADS’ or ‘day after drinking sh*ts.’ Note that is not from a medical textbook.”
No one’s trying to take away your iced latte or your socially-distant wine in the park with friends. But Dr. Sonpal says that if you’re noticing some wonky BMs, he stresses the importance of drinking water. “The best way to avoid this is to be above very mindful of how many fluids you are consuming, and shoot for the recommended daily intake,” he says. “In addition, try to get fiber from fruits and veggies that are summertime friendly, like watermelon, berries, guava, and papaya.” FYI, watermelon can be especially hydrating (like 92 percent water hydrating) and good for your gut health, so consider it a multitasking fruit.
Either way, seems high time for me to belatedly invest in a S’well bottle or something.
Looking for more hydrating foods? Check out these great, RD-approved options: