Coffee and Digestion: The Good, the Bad, and the Hard-to-Swallow

Coffee is widely considered to be one of the most commonly consumed beverages in the world second only to water and in some countries, tea. The National Coffee Association released a 2018 consumer trend report based on a nationally representative sample study composed of 2,737 people aged 18 or older. The study showed that 64 percent of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee daily which is the highest percentage it’s been since 2012. Hundreds of additional studies have been conducted all analyzing the effects of drinking coffee on a variety of body systems, one of the most affected being, the digestive system.

While many of the effects are beneficial there are important factors that need to be considered, particularly the high levels of acidic compounds which can cause issues in the digestive tract. This article takes a comprehensive look at the mechanisms of the chemicals contained within a typical cup of coffee and why your body reacts the way it does when this popular beverage is ingested.

The Good

As one of the most commonly consumed beverages worldwide, naturally hundreds of studies have followed coffee’s roller coaster history with the general consensus showing overall health benefits without being able to pinpoint exact reasons like in this study here. To try to decipher this complex drink, it’s best to get to the bottom of what exactly is coffee made of and what occurs during the brewing process. As you probably know coffee is roasted from coffee beans, which are simply the seeds from the coffee shrub. These little beans are loaded with carbohydrates, amino acids, fiber, pectin, minerals, antioxidants, and caffeine. During the roasting process, approximately one thousand compounds are formed from natural chemical reactions. The chemical reaction is something called the Maillard Reaction, or “browning”, which is when water is removed and then followed by isomerization and polymerization steps. For a full detailed description of the Maillard Reaction refer to the diagram pictured.


So now that you know the chemical compounds created from coffee bean roasting, it’s time to look at the evidence proving these compounds provide benefits to health.

According to a study known as The Singapore Chinese Health Study , 63,275 subjects participated in one-on-one interviews about their diet, lifestyle, and medical history between the years 1993-1998. They were then monitored and followed for 15 years. Findings indicated that coffee intake was associated with a 66% lower mortality risk than the others and a lower risk of death from cirrhosis, or liver failure. In addition to being a preventative for liver failure, coffee has also shown to be a key player in reducing risk in type 2 diabetes because of the antioxidants, minerals and phytochemicals contained within the steamy beverage. Another key player is chlorogenic acid, which inhibits glucose absorption and potentially stabilizes insulin levels.

Lastly, caffeine, one of the main active compounds n coffee also creates a laxative effect as it triggers GI tract muscle contraction and quickly removes waste soon after ingesting which is a great benefit for those suffering from constipation or irregular bowel movements.


The Bad

That secondary active compound in coffee, chlorogenic acid is a dietary polyphenol and a double edged sword for your digestive health. Chlorogenic acid has been proven to express antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects as well as its potential to combat some chronic diseases such as: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, and hepatitis steatosis (fatty liver disease). These capabilities stem from chlorogenic acid’s effects on intracellular glucose and lipid metabolic homeostasis regulation. However, despite these obvious benefits, chlorogenic acid is also known to wreak havoc on the lining of the intestines because of its high acidity levels. It’s important to always drink coffee in moderation and complement your diet in other areas if you’re unwilling to give up your daily steaming mug of stimulation. The high amount of caffeine and amino acids have also been known to cause stomach discomfort ranging from bloating, gas, nausea, and cramping.

And the Hard-to-Swallow

(Tips For Those Not Ready To Let Go of Their Morning Cup Of Joe)

If you have a sensitive stomach that probably gets irritated by dumping cups of acidic liquids in it, then here are a three excellent tips that still let you enjoy your morning mug without living life with an aggravated intestinal lining.

  • Make sure to drink coffee on a full stomach. The acidic content is more diluted once you have other non-acidic foods already being digested and it’s not such a shock to your GI tract.
  • Take L-glutamine powder supplements, an amino acid crucial in building protein and known for its tissue repairing capabilities, particularly for the same cells as your intestines.
  • Incorporate bone broth into your diet. Bone broth is an excellent source of both glutamine and collagen which are nutrients both known to repair intestinal tissue. You can find our delicious recipe for a Roasted Chicken Bone Broth here.

And of course it’s important to remember to always consume coffee in moderation, and for those with stomach sensitivity and love for all things coffee, giving up acidic foods and beverages (such as alcohol, spicy foods, citrus, etc.) is a good idea to minimize GI tract wear and tear.  The benefits of drinking coffee are numerous, yet so are the potential damaging effects and discomfort coffee could cause. Toeing the fine line of successfully incorporating coffee into your diet while tailoring down on other acidic foods is a crucial step in achieving optimal digestive wellness and overall health.

With that being said, if you do happen to suffer from stomach discomfort after drinking coffee, certainly follow the above tips and discuss your issues with your primary care physician. If you’ve already taken these actions and are still in search of more information and options, we have a free meal plan with information and delicious recipes available for download on our homepage. Simply enter your email and immediately receive the free quick start food guide. For those who are looking for a more fast-tracked diet plan strategically targeted for enhanced gut health, we also have a more in depth diet plan available on sale right now for $14.00 (originally priced at $24.99) available here

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