Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages, used by millions as a pick-me-up in the morning, during work breaks and at the end of a meal. But if you are one of the many people who must take levothyroxine, a commonly prescribed thyroid drug, your daily coffee -- specifically the caffeine in coffee -- may be affecting your body’s ability to absorb your medication. You can avoid this problem by paying close attention to the timing of your medication and your morning cup of coffee.
The most commonly prescribed thyroid medication is levothyroxine, also called T4 or thyroid hormone. Doctors use this synthetic hormone, sold under such brand names as Synthroid and Levoxyl, to supplement natural hormone function in those individuals whose thyroids cannot manufacture sufficient amounts of hormone. Levothyroxine is also essential for those patients who have undergone thyroidectomy, or thyroid removal, because of cancer or other disease. This drug is taken daily, and is generally required for life.
Coffee, whether hot or iced, and with or without such additions as sweetener and milk or cream, is readily available at groceries, restaurants and coffee shops. Much of its popularity is due to its mildly habit-forming ingredient, a bitter-tasting compound called caffeine. In moderate doses, caffeine stimulates the nervous system and enhances alertness. Coffee may even have health benefits, helping to prevent such diseases as hypertension, cancer and diabetes, according to the Harvard Medical School. Too much caffeine, however, can cause heart arrhythmia, nervousness, irritability and disrupted sleep.
Levothyroxine and Coffee Interaction
A case report described in the European Thyroid Association journal “Hot Thyroidology” states that coffee negatively affects the intestine’s ability to absorb levothyroxine. Study subjects who drank coffee simultaneously with or shortly after taking their thyroid medication failed to achieve the normalization or suppression of TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone, levels for which they were taking the drug. When the same subjects allowed 60 minutes to pass between taking thyroid medication and drinking coffee, their TSH levels soon normalized, indicating that their bodies were successfully taking up the drug.
Levothyroxine is meant to be taken as a single dose on an empty stomach, so most physicians recommend that you take it first thing upon arising. You should not eat or drink anything other than water for at least 60 minutes after swallowing this medication. Allowing as much time as possible between taking levothyroxine and consuming any binding agents such as the caffeine in coffee minimizes the possibility that the thyroid drug’s absorption is reduced or compromised, according to “Pharmacy Times.”
- Drugs.com: Levothyroxine
- Harvard Medical School; Harvard Health Publications; Coffee Health Benefits - Coffee May Protect Against Disease; Feb. 2006
- Hot Thyroidology; Case Report -- Coffee Impairs Intestinal Absorption of Levothyroxine; Alessandro Sindoni et al.
- Pharmacy Times; Drugs That Inhibit Levothyroxine Absorption; John R. Horn et al.; Nov. 1, 2008