If you're one of the 10 to 15 percent of Americans who have gallstones, you're probably wondering if you have to give up your sanity-saving cup (or cups) of joe. To save the suspense, the answer is no; there's no negative association between coffee and gallstones.
Of course, the same might not be true for other additives, like sugar or cream. While it's OK to drink black coffee when you have gallstones, you might have to be more discerning about what you put in it. A little sugar or cream is likely OK, but make sure to talk to your doctor to find out for sure.
Video of the Day
It's OK to drink coffee if you have gallstones. In fact, coffee may even act as a preventive, making it less likely that gallstones will form in your gallbladder in the first place.
What Are Gallstones?
Gallstones are hard, stone-like deposits that develop in the gallbladder, an organ that lies under your liver on the right side of your body. The gallbladder stores and releases bile, a digestive fluid that helps you break down fats. Bile is a combination of several different compounds, like cholesterol, bilirubin, bile salts and lecithin.
In a perfect world, there's the right balance of all these things to make easily flowing bile. But sometimes, there's too much cholesterol or bilirubin or the gallbladder doesn't empty properly and gallstones develop. If these gallstones leave the gallbladder and get stuck in the bile ducts, tunnels that help carry bile from the gallbladder into the intestines, it can cause symptoms like intense pain, nausea and vomiting. When this happens, coffee would probably be the farthest thing from your mind.
But according to the Cleveland Clinic, most gallstones don't cause any symptoms, and they just stay in your gallbladder. If you know you have these silent gallstones, you may be wondering if it's safe to drink coffee or if it's likely to trigger a gallstone attack. The good news is that there's no negative connection between coffee and gallstones. In fact, research shows that coffee may even help prevent them.
Coffee and Gallstones
There's evidence, published in a July 2015 review in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, that drinking coffee triggers the release of cholecystokinin, a substance that promotes gallbladder contraction and stimulates the release of bile. This has led people to wonder whether or not it's OK to drink coffee when you have gallstones. The good news is that drinking coffee appears to be perfectly safe. It actually may even have a protective effect.
In that same review, after analyzing data from seven different studies, researchers concluded that coffee consumption is linked to a significantly reduced risk of gallstones. Researchers from another observational study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine in September 2019 observed that those who drank at least 6 cups of coffee per day had as much as a 23 percent lower risk of symptomatic gallstone disease.
Gallbladder Diet Strategies
Even though coffee is OK to drink if you have gallstones, the same general advice applies: Don't overdo it. If you're not a big coffee drinker, you don't need to up your intake to 6 cups. It's best to stick to no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine, which is about the amount in 3 to 5 cups of coffee, per day. Also keep in mind that studies on coffee and gallbladder disease were done with black coffee. Adding cream or sugar can change things.
Read more: Foods to Avoid When You Have Gallstones
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases points out that there are certain dietary rules you should follow if you're prone to gallstones, and one of those rules is to avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar as much as possible. Other helpful dietary strategies include:
- Eating plenty of high-fiber foods, like fruits, vegetables, beans and brown rice.
- Avoiding unhealthy fats, like fried foods and baked goods.
- Getting enough healthy fats, like olive oil and fish oil.
In addition to following a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent gallstones. However, if you're overweight, avoid losing weight too fast, which can actually increase your risk of gallstones. It's best to stick to a goal of 1 to 2 pounds per week.
- Cleveland Clinic: "Gallstones"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet & Nutrition for Gallstones"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Dieting & Gallstones"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "What to Do About Gallstones"
- Journal of Internal Medicine: "Coffee Intake Protects Against Symptomatic Gallstone Disease in the General Population: A Mendelian Randomization Study"
- Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics: "Systematic Review With Meta‐Analysis: Coffee Consumption and the Risk of Gallstone Disease"
- Nutrients: "Caffeine in the Diet: Country-Level Consumption and Guidelines"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Definition & Facts for Gallstones"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.