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Is Coffee Good for Your Stomach? Surprising Facts!

cropped woman brewing a coffee

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world. Not only do coffee drinkers everywhere love the taste of coffee, but the caffeine content of coffee can also make you feel more alert and ready to tackle your day.

Getting that morning cup of coffee is a morning ritual for millions of people across the globe. Whether you’re the type of person who can’t function and becomes an absolute gremlin without your morning coffee, or you like the taste every once in a while, coffee is undoubtedly part of your life. As a coffee lover, you’re likely not interested in leaving the morning coffee behind, even if it makes your stomach run a marathon ending with summersaults.

While drinking coffee might not necessarily be either good or bad for your stomach, the effects of coffee, caffeinated and decaffeinated, can lead to an upset stomach.

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Coffee Upsets Your Stomach for 3 Main Reasons

While we may enjoy coffee, and some of us may consider it a necessity, it is undeniable that drinking coffee affects your stomach and can make some things feel topsy turvy.

cropped woman in dress holding a cup of coffee on a saucer
Image Credit: Ioana Motoc, Pexels

Your body Doesn’t like the Caffeine Content

As you undoubtedly know, coffee has caffeine in it.

Caffeine triggers your digestive system because it is a natural laxative, and drinking caffeine forces your body’s digestive system to work incredibly hard. The stomach irritation that comes with consuming caffeine stimulates gastrointestinal distress due to the excess amount of movement in the digestive tract.

In addition to causing discomfort in your digestive tract, caffeine also triggers more acid production in your body. After ingesting a lot of caffeine, as in more than one cup of coffee a day, your stomach can become overloaded with stomach acid, which can lead to a severe stomachache and a possible acid reflux episode.

You are Sensitive to the Acid Content

Coffee is an acidic drink. It may not be as acidic as citrus-based juices like orange juice, which contains citric acid, but it has a higher acid content than most normal beverages. One of the primary culprits of an upset stomach after drinking your morning coffee, or just coffee in general, is being sensitive to the acid content.

For example, let’s look at the acid level in coffee compared to basic drinks and something we consider to be above average in its acidity. As a general rule of thumb, the lower a substance is on the pH scale, the more acidic it is. So, if it has a pH of 8 or 9, it’s not acidic at all.

Coffee generally hovers around a pH level of 5—marking it acidic. By comparison, water has a standard pH of 7, and a lemon has a pH of about 2.5. Coffee’s pH level is dependent upon how the coffee beans themselves were roasted and how the coffee has been brewed. Coffee contains chlorogenic acid, quintic acid, and citric acid, and the levels of these acids depend on the beans and the brewing process.

When the acid in coffee meets the acid in your stomach, your stomach might increase its own acid production. This toxic mix can lead to heartburn, indigestion issues, and acid reflux.

a person holding a cup of coffee
Image Credit: Daria Obymaha, Pexels

Coffee on an Empty Stomach is a No-Go

It’s not uncommon to have coffee on an empty stomach when you first wake up. Plenty of us grab a cup of coffee and sprint out the door to work or other responsibilities. But, if you drink coffee on an empty stomach, tummy upsets won’t be far behind you.

Coffee is a strong drink, and leaving it to rumble alone in your stomach is a recipe for disaster. Even if the caffeine in coffee never seems to affect you or you don’t notice any issues with the acid content, coffee on an empty stomach can cause abdominal pain and discomfort due to cramping. When you don’t eat before having your coffee, there is nothing else in your stomach to act as a buffer between the acidity and your stomach lining.

How to Lessen the Effects of Coffee on Your Stomach

If you find yourself to be reacting to coffee due to one of the above reasons, you don’t have to cut coffee out altogether! Just because coffee may be irritating your stomach does not mean you can’t fix your coffee to be a bit more stomach-friendly.

  • Low Acid Coffee: Companies often offer specific lines of coffee that are lower in acidity than a regular cup of joe. Some varieties have less acid naturally as well, making these better options if you have stomach sensitivities. Simply picking a different brand of coffee or type of coffee can significantly improve how your stomach reacts to your morning sips. For example, coffee grown at higher altitudes usually has fewer acids, and lighter roasts are typically more acidic than darker roasts. However, espresso is more acidic than standard cups of coffee.
  • Cold Brew: Cold brew coffee is typically less acidic than regularly brewed coffee because the cold water results in fewer stomach irritating chemicals and compounds. Switching to a cup of cold brew can ease the general discomfort caused by a standard cup of coffee because the cold water reacts differently with coffee’s natural acids.
  • Decaf: If you find that your stomach is reacting to the caffeine more so than the acidity of the coffee, switching to decaf is the perfect alternative.

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Final Thoughts

Just because you get an upset stomach after drinking a cup of coffee does not mean coffee is bad for you, nor do you need to cut coffee completely out of your life. Making a few small changes, like drinking decaf or cold brew, can help you moderate your body’s reaction to coffee’s natural caffeine and acid content. In many cases, switching how you drink your coffee can help combat coffee-related upsets. Pay attention to the way your chosen cup of joe affects your body, and if you need to, don’t be afraid to try something different. The bottom line is that coffee is not inherently bad for you but can affect your preexisting sensitivities.


Featured Image Credit: Maksim Goncharenok, Pexels

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Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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