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Caffeine and Your Gut Health

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

I know I'm not the only one who drinks a cup (or two or three) of coffee every morning to help me wake up! You might also consume tea, soda, or pre-workout beverages which typically also contain caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that gives us that jolt of energy to make it through the morning or a tough workout. While coffee and some other caffeine-containing products can have beneficial properties, some people may notice side effects that are less than pleasant while others are unbothered.

What are some common symptoms from consuming caffeine?

The most common side effects from caffeine include increased transit time in the intestines which could cause diarrhea, dehydration due to its diuretic effects, and possible heartburn. Other people may feel jittery or anxious. However, not everyone has these symptoms and it's very individualized! If you have conditions such as IBS or IBD, caffeine intake could worsen symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea. If you are prone to reflux or have been diagnosed with GERD, the release of stomach acid could cause worsened heart burn symptoms. Coffee can also make you feel full, even if you haven't had a meal - which may lead to an increased likelihood of reflux. It's important to know your own body and how it reacts to caffeine!

Does Caffeine have any health benefits?

There are numerous studies determining the health pros and cons of coffee and other caffeinated beverages. Coffee specifically has polyphenols which are anti-oxidants that may help reduce inflammation in the body [1]. Some state that coffee drinkers may have lower mortality risk, others state that coffee may be protective against gallstones and pancreatitis, and a few mention increased amounts of good bacteria based on coffee intake - however experts are still divided on whether the health benefits are actually significant and most results are inconclusive. Another note is that some studies are funded by coffee companies, which may bias their results to encourage coffee sales [1].

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What about the other ingredients in my favorite drinks?

Some beverages may have a lot of added sugars or sugar alcohols. While these ingredients are neither inherently bad or good, a large intake of added sugars could lead to a sugar crash after consumption (which is the opposite effect you're wanting from a caffeinated beverage) and sugar alcohols in large amounts are known to cause diarrhea. When considering these ingredients, its not a black or white situation. It's important to know how they affect your body and how much you can tolerate! If you enjoy these drinks and they don't cause you to have negative side effects, there is no reason to cut them out.

How can I improve my experience with caffeine?

First, identify your triggers. If you know you can drink 1 cup of coffee a day or 1 energy drink a day without any issues, but 2 or 3 start to upset your stomach and leave you running to the bathroom, try to stick to 1 a day or slowly wean yourself down to that amount. Get curious with your body and make note of which beverages affect you and which do not.

Next, make sure you aren't using caffeinated beverages as meal replacements! I know I've been guilty of grabbing my coffee and running out the door without breakfast from time to time. This can make you feel sluggish and mask your hunger cues. Drinking your coffee with food or after eating food can help keep you nourished and help keep away from unwanted reflux symptoms.

Lastly, stay hydrated! Some research states that those who are regular coffee drinkers do not get dehydrated from coffee. However, water intake is still important! Fill up your water bottle while waiting for your coffee to brew as a reminder to drink throughout the day.

In summary…

Do what is best for you! Every person has a different experience with caffeine and other added ingredients and it's up to you to get curious about your body and make changes based on what you find. Caffeine may have some health benefits, but research isn't very conclusive at this point. Caffeine can also have some negative side effects, especially if you have IBS or GERD. As always, it's important to reach out to your health care provider if you have any concerns about specific conditions or symptoms.

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References: Does Coffee Help Your Digestive System? Experts Aren’t Convinced. Healthline. Published June 4, 2020. Accessed November 8, 2022.
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