Coffee’s received a lot of good publicity in recent years for the way it appears to protect the brain from degenerative diseases. We know that coffee is full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, plant-compounds, fats, and carbs. In small amounts, coffee can actually be beneficial for most healthy individuals. The main downside to coffee is that it’s highly acidic, and this acidity can have possible repercussions on the gut.
Coffee’s Effects on the Gut
Before you drink your next cup of java, weekend latte, or morning cup of joe, here’s five facts to know about coffee’s effect on the gut.
1. Higher Stomach Acidity
Drink a lot of coffee first thing in the morning on a regular basis, and gut concerns may be right around the corner. It’s not just the caffeine that does this, so drinking decaf won’t avoid the danger. Caffeine and other plant-based compounds stimulate the stomach cells to release more hydrochloric acid, which can, at times, aid digestion.[1, 2] But regular coffee drinking, especially in the morning on an empty stomach, reduces the amount of stomach acid available for digestion later on. H. pylori bacteria, the main bacteria responsible for ulcers, prefers highly acidic environments. Combine this with the way coffee weakens the protective barrier of the stomach – the mucosal layer – and the risk of damage and ulcers increases.
2. Encourages Acid Reflux
Drink enough coffee and you may experience acid reflux or heartburn. Coffee relaxes the esophageal sphincter — the gatekeeping muscle valve that allows food into the stomach and makes sure it stays there. Stomach acid that escapes irritates the tissue of the esophagus. If it happens frequently enough, complications like sores, ulcers, or permanent changes to cells in the esophagus can occur.
3. Aggravates IBS and Other Bowel Disorders
Coffee intensifies symptoms of bowel conditions like gastritis, irritable bowel disorder, colitis, and Crohn’s Disease. Certain enzymes in coffee trigger an immune response that results in inflammation, bloating, cramping, gas, and diarrhea.
4. Raises the Chance of Food Rotting in the Gut
Coffee’s known to encourage the stomach to release its contents into the small intestine before complete digestion has occurred. Food that doesn’t get fully digested often ends up sitting and rotting in the gut. This creates a toxic environment ideal for ‘bad’ bacteria to spread in the intestines, damages the intestinal wall, and leads to inflammation and an immune response to enzymes in the coffee.
5. Over Stimulates Intestinal Wave Action
Nerve and brain cells rely on a neurochemical called GABA. It’s responsible for calming the nerves after they fire. The caffeine in coffee prevents GABA from doing its job and this may lead to overactive bowels. The most common symptom is cramping or an urge to go to the bathroom.
One Final Thought
While it doesn’t directly harm the bowels, coffee does reduce the retention and absorption of minerals like magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron. Here’s a basic rundown on these nutrients:
- Magnesium keeps the muscles relaxed and firing correctly.
- Calcium is needed for strong bones and getting cells the nutrients they need.
- Zinc fuels the immune system.
- Iron’s essential for creating new red blood cells.
And you should not drink coffee if you have gallstones. Coffee doesn’t cause gallstones, but it does cause the gallbladder to contract, creating a very painful situation. When it comes to coffee, the best way to know if harm’s being done is to notice how you feel. If it has a severe laxative effect or causes cramping or acid reflux, you may want to take some time off. Studies have shown the damage and irritation quickly heals once coffee consumption stops.
Are you a coffee lover? Or do you avoid the stuff like plague? Share your experience with us below.
- Börger HW, Schafmayer A, Arnold R, Becker HD, Creutzfeldt W. The influence of coffee and caffeine on gastrin and acid secretion in man (author's transl). Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 1976 Mar 19;101(12):455-7.
- Kuz'menko LI, Bohdanova OV, Ostapchenko LI. Regulation of secretory processes in parietal cells in the different stomach pathologies. Ukr Biokhim Zh. 2006 Jul-Aug;78(4):80-8.
- Cibicková E, Cibicek N, Zd'ánský P, Kohout P. The impairment of gastroduodenal mucosal barrier by coffee. Acta Medica (Hradec Kralove). 2004;47(4):273-5.
- Sauer T, Raithel M, Kressel J, Muscat S, Münch G, Pischetsrieder M. Nuclear translocation of NF-?B in intact human gut tissue upon stimulation with coffee and roasting products. Food Funct. 2011 Sep;2(9):529-40. doi: 10.1039/c1fo10055f.
- Akimoto K, Inamori M, Iida H, et al. Does postprandial coffee intake enhance gastric emptying?: a crossover study using continuous real time 13C breath test (BreathID system). Hepatogastroenterology. 2009 May-Jun;56(91-92):918-20.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.