Is Coffee Okay to Drink If I Have Gallstones?

Coffee cup
Cup of coffee (Image: 2e812ac3_768/iStock/Getty Images)

Preliminary research as of 2011 suggests coffee is safe if you have gallstones. The American Medical Association found coffee reduces the risk of gallstones in men, though no such study exists for women. Since you can suffer serious problems if the gallstones become trapped in your bile ducts, gallstones should be treated under a doctor's supervision.

Gallstones

When bile hardens in your gallbladder, gallstones form. Cholesterol stones are the most common type, comprising 80 percent of cases. You'll have one large stone, lots of tiny stones--sometimes as small as sand--or both. You may be prescribed an oral drug to dissolve the gallstones or given an injection. In some cases, gallstones require surgery. Symptoms sometimes mimic those of a heart attack, so it's important to talk to your doctor if discomfort persists while undergoing treatment.

Coffee and Gallstone Benefits

Coffee reduces the risk of gallstones, according to a 1999 study published in the "Journal of the American Medical Association," or JAMA. More than 46,000 men age 40 through 70 participated in the study. The more coffee participants consumed on a regular basis, the stronger the benefit was. Men who drank two to three cups of coffee per day had lower incidents of gallstones than those who drank a cup or less, but even men who drank a cup per day had fewer incidents than those who drank no coffee. Participants who drank at least four cups of coffee per day had the lowest risk. The benefit only applied when the coffee was caffeinated.

Research Limitations

Whether coffee helps people who already have gallstones is unclear due to a lack of research. The study from the "JAMA" was limited to male participants, even though incidence of gallstones is more common in women. In addition, participants had no history of gallstone disease. Though it may seem logical to conclude coffee is safe to drink if you have gallstones because it reduces the risk of developing them, as of 2011 no specific studies exist with a definitive answer.

Coffee Intake Recommendations

Drinking two to four cups of coffee per day is generally safe, according to the Mayo Clinic. The number of cups you can drink without side effects depends on the caffeine content. About 200 to 300 milligrams per day is considered safe. Although the "JAMA" study showed the biggest benefit with four or more cups of coffee per day, high intake of coffee can cause unpleasant side effects. If you consume more than 500 to 600 milligrams of caffeine per day, you may experience irritability, insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, an upset stomach, increased heart rate and muscle tremors. Talk with your doctor for specific advice regarding coffee consumption.

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