Is drinking coffee on an empty stomach bad for you?
Doctors and nutritionists share the truth.
That first cup coffee in morning can make getting out of bed worth it. After all, a few sips of the magical caffeinated beverage can transform you from feeling like an extra Night of the living dead into a real, living man.
But is drinking coffee on an empty stomach a good idea when it comes to yours? 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, functional medicine expert and author Unexpectedly, the short answer is no. He says there is little scientific evidence that drinking coffee on an empty stomach is harmful for most people.
Actually, dr. Steven Gundry, MD cardiologist and founder of GundryMD, says that for most people, drinking coffee on an empty stomach is fine. 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 extraordinary relief depression and anxiety,” he says.
However, due to the high acidity of coffee, it can irritate the stomach of patients suffering from gastritis or GERD. “If you suffer from frequent heartburn or you’ve been diagnosed with gastritis or a stomach ulcer, it’s best to avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach,” she says.
How does coffee affect the intestines?
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 polyphenols in our diet,” she explains.
Both coffee and dark chocolate contain nutrients for the microbiome that can be processed into highly beneficial nutrients called SCFAs (short chain fatty acids). “SCFAs have been shown to help restore the cells lining the gut and create a nutrient-rich environment in the gut linked to improvements in metabolic health, obesity, risk of diabetes and heart disease,” she continues. “Increasing SCFAs by drinking coffee is very beneficial for your gut microbiome.”
But coffee is acidic, which can irritate anyone with a sensitive gut or someone who already has digestive issues, he says Abigail Hueber, RD, LDN on Above a healthy diet. “Most notably, coffee can irritate heartburn because caffeine is a sphincter relaxant that controls acid that stays in the stomach instead of backing up inappropriately into the esophagus.”
Serena Poon, CN, CHC, CHN, famous chef and nutritionist, points out that some Research found that people who experience a negative reaction to coffee will have a negative reaction regardless of whether they drink the beverage with food or not.
Hueber adds that coffee also stimulates release of cortisol from the adrenal glands, which creates a stress response in the body and can worsen bowel symptoms such as loose stools or even jail—which explains why many people get their work done soon after drinking a cup or two.
However, Poon explains, “This hormone naturally circulates at higher levels in the morning, so there is a way of thinking that drinking coffee in the morning increases cortisol further, but it really depends on the person.” She adds that extended elevated cortisol it starts to lead to inflammation and can wreak havoc on the body, but there is no direct path to chronic inflammation from regular coffee consumption. “Actually, the research points to anti-inflammatory properties of coffee. Moreover, some studies have found that some people (ie, regular coffee drinkers) did not experience a spike in cortisol in response to coffee”, says Poon.
Advice on how to minimize any damage
“If you have negative reactions to coffee, such as heartburn, indigestion or nauseaor increasing feelings of stress and anxiety, I would recommend experimenting with changing your habits,” 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 add dairy products to the coffee to “soothe” the stomach. However, he points out that many of the benefits of coffee are negated by the addition of any dairy product such as skim, 2%, whole, half and half, cream and even butter.
Add non-dairy milk
In addition, for some people, a small amount of non-dairy milk can sometimes help alleviate problems caused by coffee consumption. “If you drink black coffee, consider adding a small amount of non-dairy milk. I would go with unsweetened, non-dairy, preferably domestic milk,” says Poon.
Try adjusting the dose
You can also consider cutting back on spending. “One cup of coffee a day and four cups of coffee a day will affect your system much differently,” notes Poon.
Consider switching to tea
If coffee is destroying your gut, consider switching to it green tea or matcha, “which still contains caffeine but may not be as heavy on your system,” says Poon. “Plus, it’s full of powerful health-supporting antioxidants.”
Think about 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 coffee additives, such as dairy and sugar, can also cause indigestion, so it may be a good idea to consider those habits as well,” suggests Poon.
Use alkaline water
Rethink using tap water to make coffee, says Dr. Carnahan. “One simple trick I recommend for patients with sensitive stomachs is to use alkaline water to brew coffee to reduce the acidity of the final brew,” she says.
In short: coffee on an empty stomach may irritate people who already have stomach problems, but there is no evidence that drinking coffee on an empty stomach is harmful to others. Even if black coffee irritates your gut, a few simple changes (bring in some almond milk!) can do wonders for you.