Having a cup of hot coffee to get your morning caffeine fix is the first thing many people do right after they wake up, before eating any type of food. But is drinking coffee on an empty stomach harmful to health?
Drink coffee on an empty stomach
There has been a lot of talk that drinking coffee without food may harm the intestines or contribute to other problems such as bloating, acne, hair loss, anxiety, thyroid problems, or painful periods. But is this true?
Since the 1970s, scientists have been investigating and analyzing the effects of coffee drinking – particularly in relation to how it impacts our digestion system – as reported by Kim Barrett, professor at University of California Davis School of Medicine.
Fortunately, our stomachs are equipped to manage all forms of irritants, coffee included. According to Dr. Kim, the stomach has a few methods of self-protection – such as secreting a stabilizing mucous membrane layer that creates an impenetrable barrier between what we ingest and its natural acidic environment which helps it break down food effectively. With this shield in place, the lining remains safeguarded from any adverse reactions or disturbances caused by consuming coffee or other substances alike.
And the doctor added that you would have to take a very harsh substance, “so that it can penetrate the defences of your stomach.”
How does coffee affect the digestive system?
Irritants like alcohol, cigarette smoke, and NSAIDs — such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) — are known to alter the stomach’s natural defence mechanisms and injure its lining, said Dr. Byron Cryer, chief of internal medicine at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
His research lab specializes in understanding how various drugs and other chemicals can harm the stomach and small intestine. Some irritants may make the stomach more vulnerable to acid and ulcer formation, but several large studies have revealed that this does not apply to coffee. For example, a study of more than 8,000 people living in Japan in 2013 found no significant association between drinking coffee and ulcer formation in the stomach or intestines, even for people who drank three or more cups each day.
“Even with a concentrated form of coffee, it is unlikely to cause significant stomach issues,” Dr. Cryer shared. “The chance of this taking place because of the beverage is much lower than with regular amounts for other beverages.”
However, coffee affects the stomach in some way. it can speed up the movement of the colon and stimulate the intestines to move, and coffee increases the production of acid in the intestines.
Aside from the digestive system, the caffeine in coffee is known to increase heart rate and blood pressure. And if you drink coffee shortly before you go to sleep, it can disrupt your sleep rhythm. But these changes are temporary, says Dr. Cryer.
Does increased stomach acid cause any problems?
Drinking coffee on an empty stomach is unlikely to cause any harm to your stomach, but it can lead to heartburn.
We already know that coffee stimulates the secretion of stomach acid. But if there’s food in your stomach, or if you drink your coffee with milk or creamer, it will help create a barrier that helps neutralize that stomach acid. And drinking coffee — especially black coffee — without eating food lowers stomach acid more than drinking it with milk or with a meal, according to Dr. Kim.
A small drop in pH isn’t a problem for the lining of your stomach, but it can be a problem for the lining of your esophagus, because your esophagus is more likely to be damaged by acid. Furthermore, some studies have shown that coffee relaxes and opens the sphincter muscle that connects the esophagus to the stomach, which could theoretically allow stomach acid to rush up into the esophagus and cause the unpleasant symptoms of heartburn.
But the data is mixed even in this regard. A 2014 review of 15 studies from Europe, Asia, and the United States found no relationship between coffee consumption and heartburn symptoms. While a 2020 study drew on data from more than 48,000 female nurses, it noted an increased risk of heartburn symptoms among coffee drinkers.
In order to understand how coffee might affect the esophagus, scientists studied a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. This condition appears when the esophagus is damaged as a result of prolonged exposure to stomach acid, as happens in people with chronic gastroesophageal reflux problems.
In this case, the cells lining the esophagus turn into tougher cells similar to those in the stomach, in order to protect themselves from the acid. These changes increase your risk of esophageal cancer, especially if you have a family history of the disease or if you smoke.
But there is some reassurance in a 2016 study of US veterans. This study did not find a similar relationship among coffee drinkers. The study authors concluded that avoiding coffee might not be beneficial for people with Barrett’s esophagus, according to the New York Times .
So what should we do?
The secret is always in moderation when drinking coffee, and avoiding large quantities of it. Coffee lovers should also monitor their health. To ensure that coffee does not cause any health problems for them.
For example, if you always feel a burning pain in your chest or a sour taste in your mouth after drinking coffee, you may want to see your doctor, who will likely advise you to cut back on the amount of coffee you drink each day, or may prescribe medications such as antacids.
It may help to add a little milk or cream, or eat a little food, with your morning cup of coffee. But if you don’t notice any symptoms, you’re probably someone who doesn’t experience significant reflux after drinking coffee, and you can continue drinking it with peace of mind.
The many benefits of coffee come from polyphenols
Drinking a hot or cold cup of coffee gives you a dose of the plant’s polyphenols, which are antioxidants.
According to a research study, the polyphenols in coffee have a few health-promoting properties that can help protect against: (inflammation, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure).
In addition to giving you a lot of energy, coffee also has other benefits, such as improving brain health, thanks to chlorogenic acids (polyphenols), according to Greatist .
Coffee also contributes to helping burn fat, helping to improve physical performance, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and protect against Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
It also helps fight depression, helps protect the liver, and gives you good amounts of antioxidants, according to what was mentioned on the same site.