Effects of Coffee on Digestion

Mid section view of woman holding cup of coffee
Close-up of small cup of coffee. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Coffee can be beneficial for digestion, as it relieves constipation and minimizes sugar absorption. However, coffee can be equally detrimental to your digestive tract. It tends to worsen stomach aches, increase fluid loss and make food move through the digestive tract too fast. As long as you’re in good health though, a couple cups of coffee every day shouldn’t be too problematic.

Speeding Things Along

If you’re ever feeling a little backed up, coffee can be one of your best friends. Caffeine in coffee makes the muscles along your intestinal tract contract frequently, a function known as peristalsis. With each muscle contraction, food and waste move through. The increase in muscle contractions makes everything move faster, causing a laxative effect -- and that's why you might be left running for the bathroom shortly after drinking your morning cup of Joe.

Inhibiting Glucose Absorption

Typically, inhibiting any type of nutrient absorption is a bad thing. Some foods move through so quickly with increased peristalsis, that nutrients don’t get a chance to absorb thoroughly. However, if you’re struggling to manage your blood sugar, minimizing glucose absorption can be a good thing. Chlorogenic acid in coffee, which acts as an antioxidant, partially blocks glucose absorption. It can help stabilize glucose and possibly insulin levels, which is particularly beneficial if you have diabetes, reports Harvard Medical School.

Increasing Fluid Loss

You know the heart-pumping, energizing effect coffee has on you -- that’s the caffeine kicking in. This stimulant makes your heart rate go up, increasing blood circulation, including blood flow to your kidneys. It’s almost like your kidneys go into overdrive, rapidly filtering fluids. As a result, you’ll have more liquid waste as urine production increases. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to make up for the fluid loss from coffee, or you could become dehydrated.

Causing Indigestion and Heartburn

Indigestion and heartburn are closely related. Coffee doesn’t generally cause either condition, but it can worsen symptoms. Indigestion, often caused by an ulcer, leaves you with a painful burning sensation close to your chest. If indigestion is a frequent occurrence, coffee may be something you want to cut out of your diet. Caffeine-rich drinks make your stomach produce more acid. In some cases, acid can actually move upward into your esophagus if the sphincter at the end of your esophagus weakens and doesn’t close properly, causing heartburn. Drink dark-roast coffee if you have frequent indigestion and heartburn. Research presented at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in 2010 showed that dark coffee contains acid-reducing substances. Dark coffee was shown to lessen stomach acid production, minimizing stomach irritation.

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