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Can Coffee Irritate Your Intestines? What to Know!

woman holding a pink cup of coffee

If your intestines are chronically inflamed, you may be wondering if your coffee habit is to blame. The short answer is maybe, but that doesn’t mean coffee is bad for your digestive system. In fact, recent studies do not correlate coffee use with any negative impacts on the digestive organs and have actually proven its benefits in reducing your risk of developing liver cancer.1 However, the naturally present caffeine and acidic compounds may cause some GI upset if your stomach is already too acidic or if you have IBS. Read on to see what you can do if you notice a pattern of an upset stomach and gut after drinking a cup.

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Caffeine and Acidic Compounds: How Do They Affect Your Intestines?

Caffeine, the power behind coffee’s punch, stimulates your digestive system by increasing the frequency of your bowel contractions. It doesn’t necessarily speed up your digestive process but gives it a little efficiency boost. This has shown to be helpful in patients who’ve had colon surgery because it stimulates the colon to continue working as it should.

However, for people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), caffeine may prove to be too strong of a stimulant and may cause diarrhea. For this reason, caffeine generally isn’t recommended for people with IBS. Interestingly, coffee has many anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce the risk of developing other inflammatory or auto-immune diseases.

For people struggling with an overly acidic stomach, coffee may cause heartburn because it contains many acidic compounds. However, no one has found a direct link between coffee and the development of reflux. Researchers now speculate that reflux is more likely caused by poor diet choices than regular coffee consumption.

cup of coffee
Image Credit: Nicolas J Leclercq, Unsplash

How to Reduce Your Stomach Pain (and Enjoy Coffee Again)

Even if you’ve narrowed the culprit down to your favorite morning mug, don’t give it up just yet. There might be ways to mediate your symptoms and possibly still enjoy your coffee. Here are some things to consider about coffee and inflamed intestines:

1. What’s in your cup?

Unless you’re drinking it black, the coffee itself may not be what’s causing your stomach upset. If you regularly drink a latte with cow’s milk, do you think you could be lactose intolerant? If a super sweet caramel drink is your go-to indulgence, do you think your body could be reacting to the sugar?


2. What blend are you brewing?

Dark roast coffee is less acidic than light roast coffee because the longer roasting process eliminates some of the acidic compounds. Try a darker roast and see if that helps.


3. Are you drinking it hot, iced, or cold brewed?

Cold brew coffee takes the longest to make, but this slower process cuts back on the acidity and may be a better choice. The beans are typically freshly ground and then placed in a filter surrounded by cold water for 24 hours before it’s ready to drink. Cold brew is easy to make at home if you have a cold brew coffee maker, or you can make your own with a five-gallon bucket, a reusable fabric filter for the beans, and a zip-tie to close it.


4. How much are you drinking?

The FDA recommends that adults consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day, which is about 4 cups of coffee brewed at home depending on the bean and brewing method. While the health benefits of coffee have been proven, drinking an excessive amount can lead to deleterious side effects—including GI upset.

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Conclusion

While coffee contains caffeine and many acidic compounds, there are ways to mediate these possible dietary stressors and enjoy coffee again. A light roast, cold brew coffee is a good choice if you’re looking for a low acidity drink. Consider a decaf blend if you suspect the caffeine is to blame.

Always know what’s in your drink and try to narrow down if it’s really the coffee, or additives such as milk or sugar that may be causing the issue. Overall, coffee is a healthy drink that has many proven benefits, but it might not be an option for individuals who struggle with severe IBS. And no one should be drinking more than 4-6 cups per day.


Featured Image Credit: Svitlana Hulko, Shutterstock

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Brooke

If there's a pencil and paper on her desk, Brooke Bundy has a cup of coffee (or tea) in her hand. Brooke worked in a coffee shop for three years while she finished her Bachelor's degree in Media Studies, and studied to be a writer. She met her future husband in the coffee shop where he lingered too long over deep conversations and dark roast coffee. Now they're happily married in New Orleans, LA, where they spend their free time exploring parks and cafes with their dog Tuggles.

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