Is drinking coffee on an empty stomach bad for you?

Doctors and nutritionists share the truth.

That first cup of coffee in the morning can make getting out of bed worthwhile. After all, a few sips of the magic caffeinated potion can keep you from feeling like an extra of night of the living dead into a real, living human.

But is drinking coffee on an empty stomach a good idea for your gut health? We asked the experts what exactly happens when you enjoy a pre-breakfast pick-me-up.

Is drinking coffee on an empty stomach bad for you?

The good news is, according to Dr. Jill Carnahan, MD, expert in functional medicine and author of Unexpected, The short answer is no. She says there is little scientific evidence that drinking coffee on an empty stomach is harmful for most people.

In fact, Dr. Steven Gundry, MD, heart surgeon and founder of GundryMD, says that for most people, drinking coffee on an empty stomach is okay. And in fact, he highly recommends coffee in general, in part because of its high polyphenol content. «These essential plant proteins in coffee promote everything from longevity, protection against Alzheimer’s disease, normal weight, a healthy microbiome, and remarkable relief from depression and anxiety,» he says.

However, due to the high acidity of coffee, it can irritate the stomachs of patients with gastritis or GERD. «If you suffer from frequent heartburn or have been diagnosed with gastritis or gastric ulcer, it’s best to avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach,» she says.

How does coffee affect the gut?

Dr. Carnahan explains that, like cocoa, coffee comes from beans and contains high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants. «In fact, for many people, coffee is one of the primary ways we get these polyphenols from our diets,» she explains.

Coffee and dark chocolate both contain nutrients for the microbiome that can be transformed into a very beneficial nutrient called SCFAs (short chain fatty acids). “SCFAs have been shown to help repair the cells that line the gut and create a nutrient-rich environment in the gut linked to improved metabolic health, obesity, diabetes risk and heart disease,» she continued. «Increasing SCFAs by drinking coffee is very beneficial for your gut microbiome.»

But coffee is acidic, which can be irritating to anyone with a sensitive gut or someone who already has digestive issues, says Abigail Hueber, RD, LDN at Above Health Nutrition. «In particular, coffee can irritate heartburn because caffeine is a sphincter relaxant that controls acid remaining in the stomach instead of improperly backing up into the esophagus.»

Serena Poon, CN, CHC, CHN, celebrity chef and nutritionist, points out that some research has shown that people who have a negative reaction to coffee will have it whether or not they drink the beverage with food.

Hueber adds that coffee also stimulates the release of cortisol from the adrenals, which creates a stress response in the body and can exacerbate bowel symptoms such as loose stools or even constipation, which is why many people tend to to relieve themselves soon after having had a cup or two. .

However, explains Poon, «This hormone naturally circulates at higher levels in the morning, so there’s a tendency to think that drinking coffee in the morning further increases cortisol, but it really depends on the person.» She adds that prolonged high cortisol begins to cause inflammation and can wreak major havoc on the body, but there is no direct route to chronic inflammation from regular coffee consumption. “In fact, research points to the anti-inflammatory benefits of coffee. Additionally, some studies have shown that some people (namely regular coffee drinkers) did not experience a spike in cortisol in response to coffee,” says Poon.

Tips for minimizing damage

“If you have negative reactions to coffee, such as heartburn, digestive discomfort or nausea, or increased feelings of stress and anxiety, I would recommend experimenting with a habit change,” says Poon.

Here are some expert-recommended tips, because hey, who wants to give up their coffee?

Think twice before adding dairy products

According to Dr. Gundry, many people believe that black coffee irritates the stomach, so they put dairy in the coffee to «soothe» the stomach. However, he points out that many of the benefits of coffee are negated by adding any dairy product like skim, 2%, whole, half and half, cream and even butter.

Add vegetable milk

That being said, for some people, a small amount of non-dairy milk can sometimes help alleviate issues related to coffee drinking. «If you drink black coffee, you might consider adding a small amount of non-dairy milk. I would go with an unsweetened, non-dairy milk, preferably homemade,» says Poon.

Try adjusting your dosage

You can also consider reducing your intake. «One cup of coffee a day and four cups of coffee a day will have a very different impact on your system,» Poon notes.

Consider switching to tea

If coffee is wreaking havoc in your gut, consider switching to green tea or matcha, «which still contains caffeine, but may not be as harsh on your system,» says Poon. «Plus, it’s packed with powerful antioxidants that promote health.»

Consider what you add to your coffee

Drinking a cup of black coffee is not the same as a sweet latte. «Keep in mind that common additions to coffee, such as dairy and sugar, can also cause digestive discomfort, so it may be a good idea to review those habits as well,» suggests Poon.

Use alkaline water

Consider using tap water to make your coffee, advises Dr. Carnahan. “One simple trick I recommend for patients with sensitive stomachs is to use alkaline water to brew your coffee to reduce the acidity of the final brew,” she says.

Long story short: coffee on an empty stomach can be irritating to people who already have stomach issues, but there’s no evidence that drinking coffee on an empty stomach is harmful to others. And even though black coffee tends to irritate your gut, a few simple tweaks (bring in that touch of almond milk!) can do wonders for you.


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