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Is Coffee Bad for Ulcers? What You Need to Know

a cup of hot coffee

If you love coffee and recently found out you have an ulcer, you may be wondering if you have to give up your favorite morning beverage. The simple answer? Maybe. It depends on a number of factors specific to you and your ulcer.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the connection between coffee and ulcers, including what causes them, what aggravates them, and whether or not coffee is likely to make your ulcer worse.

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Coffee Does Not Cause Ulcers

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: Drinking coffee does not cause ulcers.

A 2013 population study of more than 8,000 participants affirms that statement. The researchers found no association between coffee and some of the most common types of ulcers, such as a duodenal ulcer, gastric ulcer, non-erosive reflux disease, and reflux esophagitis.

In fact, there’s strong evidence that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin) and the Helicobacter pylori bacteria actually cause most types of ulcers. They weaken or break down the mucus-lined barrier that protects your stomach from digestive acids, making it more susceptible to damage.

clear glass cup filled with coffee
Image Credit: Dominika Roseclay, Pexels

Coffee May Aggravate Ulcers

That being said, drinking too much coffee is bad for existing ulcers.

Most coffee varieties have an average pH of 4.85 to 5.10. On the pH value scale, anything below 7.0 is considered acidic. So, coffee is slightly more acidic than water, which has a neutral pH of 7.0.

Coffee also contains caffeine, which is a naturally bitter-tasting compound. It tastes delicious in espresso, frappes, and whatever other creative concoctions baristas come up with, but that bitterness can also irritate your stomach lining and make ulcer symptoms worse.

Finally, brewing coffee doesn’t just make it flavorful. The process also releases nine types of acids:

  1. Palmitic
  2. Linoleic
  3. Phosphoric
  4. Malic
  5. Lactic
  6. Acetic
  7. Citric
  8. Quinic
  9. Chlorogenic

Caffeine also stimulates the secretion of gastric acids and gastrin release. These promote reflux and heartburn, both of which are uncomfortable at best and can be downright excruciating for those with severe ulcers.

Can You Drink Decaf Coffee if You Have an Ulcer?

Decaf coffee has around 97% less caffeine than regular coffee, so it makes sense that it would also be less likely to aggravate your ulcer.

However, decaf coffee still contains caffeine. That means it’s still bitter and somewhat acidic. So, it can still potentially make your ulcer symptoms worse.

a man with a cup of coffee
Image Credit: Evgenia Terekhova, Shutterstock

Coffee Usually Has Trigger Ingredients

In addition to the acids, caffeine, and bitterness in the coffee itself, many people also add things to their coffee that can make ulcer symptoms worse. For instance, milk contains lactic acid and has an acidic pH level of 6.7 to 6.9. Chocolate is also bitter and contains caffeine. These can all trigger the symptoms of an ulcer.

Sugar is another common coffee additive that can promote the growth of H. pylori in the stomach. Studies have shown that H. pylori is more likely to colonize the stomachs of people who eat a lot of sugary foods.

So, if you love your coffee with milk and sugar, you should rethink your beverage of choice if you have an ulcer. The same goes for chocolate-flavored coffees and other sweetened coffee drinks.

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Coffee & Ulcers: Final Thoughts

The good news? You do not have to give up coffee entirely if you have an ulcer. You can still enjoy your favorite beverage; you just need to be mindful of how much you’re drinking and what you’re adding to your coffee.

If possible, switch to decaf coffee. If you can’t stomach the thought of drinking decaf, limit yourself to one cup of regular coffee per day. Avoid adding trigger ingredients like milk, sugar, and chocolate as well. You should also take care to drink your coffee between meals rather than with them. That way, it won’t interact with your food and aggravate your ulcer.

Finally, consult with your doctor or gastroenterologist. They can help you manage your ulcer and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you. They’ll also be able to advise you on whether coffee is safe for you to drink, and how much you can safely consume.

Featured Image Credit: Anastasia Eremina, Unsplash


Ollie Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones is a zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia. Originally from the US, he thought he loved coffee before his big move down under, but his discovery of the flat white and the cafe on every corner has taken his coffee passion to a whole new level. He's so excited to share his knowledge and experience with readers worldwide (and keep testing coffee drinks while he's at it).

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