Starbucks shocked the coffee-drinking world in April when the company announced that it would be selling coffee infused with olive oil. The brand’s Oleato drinks have gotten mixed reviews, with some people on social media noting an unusual side effect: more pooping.
“Half the team tried it yesterday and a few ended up…needing to use the restroom, if ya know what I mean,” one person wrote on Reddit.
“I got so sick after the olive oil latte. Coming out both ends,” another said.
With that, there have been some questions about olive oil’s impact on your GI tract and whether it can, in fact, make you poop—especially if you’re constipated. Turns out, there’s actually some research on this. Here’s the deal.
Can olive oil relieve constipation?
It’s a little complicated. “There are many guidelines on the treatment of constipation in adults and children. Currently, olive oil is not recommended by any of the adult guidelines by any major gastrointestinal society for the routine treatment of constipation,” says Ellen Stein, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
But Dr. Stein points out that many cardiology and gastrointestinal societies suggest a Mediterranean-style diet, which includes olive oil, among other things. “Mediterranean foods from many different cultures feature olive oil, so it is a component of this healthy diet,” she says. And, when you’re eating well, you should be able to go number two regularly—provided you don’t have any underlying health conditions.
But data has suggested that there may be something to using olive oil specifically to help you poop. “Olive oil has a mild laxative effect on the colon,” says Priyanka Singh, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “It lubricates the colon walls and holds water within stools, helping to soften them. This helps stool move more easily through the colon and promotes bowel movements.”
Dr. Singh notes that a few clinical studies have demonstrated this. One study found that olive oil relieved symptoms of constipation just as well as mineral oil—a known laxative—in patients on dialysis when it was taken daily for four weeks. Another study found that olive oil was effective at treating severe, chronic constipation in kids when used as an enema.
There’s also this to consider, per Dr. Stein: Olive oil contains fat, and certain fats can trigger a reflex that encourages your bowels to empty themselves. “Just getting some fat into a meal can be a trigger for a healthy bowel movement,” she says.
How much olive oil do you need for constipation?
This isn’t something that has been heavily studied, but Dr. Singh points out that the patients in the dialysis study had better BMs after taking one teaspoon of olive oil daily. “However, up to one tablespoon of olive oil is safe for adults to consume daily for constipation,” she says, adding, “Extra virgin olive oil is best.” (Extra virgin versions go through the least amount of processing, so they maintain the most vitamins and antioxidants.)
How soon will you get results?
Constipation is complicated, and it can happen due to a variety of factors. So there’s no guarantee that doing something like taking olive oil will help, er, relieve your issue.
Everyone is different, too, and experts say that the factors that led up to your constipation as well as your individual GI tract can have an impact on how well the olive oil hack works to get things moving—or if it does anything at all. “The response time may vary depending on the individual and the severity of their constipation,” Dr. Singh says. However, she adds, “bowel movements can occur within the same day.”
How to try this hack at home
There may need to be some trial and error here. “Olive oil may be consumed alone or paired with other foods or liquids,” Dr. Singh says.
You can also try a teaspoon of olive oil in your coffee—a known laxative—to see where that gets you. “Olive oil can enhance the well-known laxative effect of coffee,” Dr. Singh says. But she has a warning: “This combined effect may be too potent for some people.” (Save it for a time you’re near a bathroom.)
If you have the odd bout of constipation and want to see if olive oil helps, doctors say there’s really no harm in giving this a try, along with more proven methods like eating more high-fiber foods, hydrating well, and moving more. But if constipation is a regular thing for you, Dr. Singh says it’s important to get it checked out. That’s especially true if your constipation is happening alongside other symptoms.
“Any time constipation is getting worse than usual, accompanied by pain, weight loss, or rectal bleeding, it’s time to check in with your primary care physician and then, if needed, be referred to a specialist,” Dr. Stein says. “For most people, hydration, good soluble fiber intake like fruits and vegetables, and good movement like walking or exercise is very safe and effective for helping move along the bowels.”