Caffeine influences everything from your cardiovascular system to the frequency of urination. Caffeine also affects several aspects of the digestive tract including the functioning of the stomach and intestines. Caffeine is a drug and acts as such on the body. It is found in many foods and beverages including coffee, tea, chocolate and even certain medications. Limiting the amount of caffeine you consume can reduce the effect it has on your body.
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Caffeine Side Effects
Caffeine causes many side effects inside the body, including to the digestive tract. Side effects of excessive caffeine include an elevated heart rate, blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, feelings of anxiousness and nervousness, depression, tremors and trouble sleeping. However, you do not need to drink caffeine in excess to experience the side effects associated with your digestive system.
Caffeine and the Stomach
The first portion of the digestive tract to become influenced by caffeine is the stomach. When you swallow, food and beverage travels down the esophagus and into the stomach where the beginnings of digestion occur. Caffeine works in the stomach by increasing the amount of stomach acid that is released. Caffeine also works as a muscle relaxer, inhibiting the performance of the esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to creep up. This can aggravate an ulcer or lead to uncomfortable heart burn.
Caffeine can upset the intestinal tract in various ways. First, it stimulates the contraction of the small and large intestines increasing the flow of its contents. This can lead to diarrhea. It can also cause the stomach to empty its contents into the small intestine before it has been digested enough for transition into the small intestine. This means your intestine must work harder which can cause cramping and stomach pain. Finally, too much caffeine irritates the inner lining of your intestines. Over time this can lead to diseases such as Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome.
To keep your digestive tract healthy, minimize the amount of caffeine you take in per day. MayoClinic.com recommends limiting caffeine to 200 to 300 mg per day to keep harmful side effects at bay. This is equal to about two to four cups of coffee each day.