Why Does Coffee Hurt My Stomach?

For many of us, coffee is a daily ritual to be savored, or, at the very least, a welcome pick-me-up at the start of a hectic day. But we might be concerned about our habit – either we feel we should cut down on our caffeine intake or experience heartburn from coffee’s inherent acidity. However, recent studies show that coffee is not the villain it was once thought to be.

Coffee is in fact brimming with antioxidants

Coffee contains certain substances which protect the body’s cells from damage. Coffee’s caffeine, itself an antioxidant, enhances mood, alertness, and cognitive function, and is of course a major reason we drink it. The caffeine in coffee may also increase stamina during exercise and ease post-workout soreness. Recent studies show that moderate coffee consumption, defined as two to four 8 ounce cups daily, may reduce the risk of depression, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and Type 2 diabetes. Decaf coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and Type 2 diabetes and benefit from coffee’s mild laxative effect, as well. New research also refutes the idea that moderate coffee intake has a dehydrating effect on the body.

There are, however, valid reasons for either reducing your coffee consumption or cutting it out altogether. Coffee’s natural acidity tends to increase the acidity of gastric juices or may cause your stomach to produce more acid. This in turn can cause your stomach to empty its contents into the colon before complete digestion has occurred, which may lead to abdominal pain.

In addition, coffee’s acidity may prevent healing of a damaged gastrointestinal tract. In excessive amounts or in those who are sensitive, coffee may increase inflammation and damage the intestinal lining, leading to ulcers or gastritis. Switching to decaf may not be the answer, as studies show conflicting results as to whether caffeinated coffee is more acidic than decaffeinated. For these reasons, coffee is usually not recommended for people with digestive disorders such as IBS and Crohn’s Disease.

Pregnant women are generally advised to reduce or eliminate their coffee intake, due to its potential effects on fetal development and iron absorption. Over-consumption of caffeinated coffee can lead to blood sugar swings, which can make you feel fatigued and start a vicious circle of reaching for more caffeine. Coffee may also interfere with the absorption of calcium and certain medications, including some thyroid medications.

I’m not suggesting that you start drinking coffee if you don’t already do so, or stop drinking it cold turkey. I, for one, only like the taste if it is masked with generous amounts of cream and sugar, so for me a decaf cappuccino is a once in a blue moon indulgence. But if you already love coffee, the benefits may outweigh the risks.

Here are some tips to get the best out of your java.

1. If staying alert is your goal, spread your moderate coffee consumption throughout the day, such as having a few ounces every hour or two. You already know that late in the day consumption can keep you up at night.
2. Be mindful of those things you ingest during the day that also contain caffeine, such as chocolate, energy drinks, soda, coffee and chocolate flavored ice cream, tea, and some over-the-counter pain medications.
3. Choose organic coffee when possible to cut down on toxicity from the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used on coffee crops.
4. What coffee you use and how you brew it matters. Darker roasted beans generally contain less acid. Cold brewed or espresso methods decrease acidity levels of your cup.
5. Use filtered water when making your coffee. Impurities in regular tap water can increase water’s acid content, which affects the final product.
6. Add crushed eggshells to your coffee grounds prior to brewing. The calcium in eggshells may help lower acidity levels and result in a smoother taste. Use clean, raw eggshells that have been baked for best results.
7. Drink some water on the side when having your coffee, as the water dilutes the concentration of coffee as it travels through your system. Even better, drink water first thing before you have any coffee. It’s the best hydrator and may give you a natural energy boost.
8. Adding sugar to your cup increases acidity levels. In contrast, milk reduces acid content and provides a calcium boost.
9. If you enjoy specialty coffee drinks, such as those from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, consider them as dessert, as the fat and sugar content tend to be high. Or save calories and money by making your own. Eating Well has a good recipe for a mocha iced coffee drink at http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/mochaccino.html
10. For maximum absorption of your medications and supplements, take them an hour before or after drinking coffee. Contact your doctor, pharmacist, or nutritionist for more specific information on interactions.

Above all, enjoy the sensory pleasures coffee brings to your day! What we put into our bodies is meant to make us feel good, inside and out.

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Hendley, Joyce. Eating Well Frozen Mochaccino. Eatingwell.com March/April 2011



About Renee Adamson – Renee is a mom of two who believes in the healing powers of food.  She is pursuing her certification in integrative nutrition.


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