Drinking coffee on an empty stomach, such as first thing in the morning, stimulates hydrochloric acid production. This can be a problem because HCl should only be produced to digest meals. If your body has to make HCl more often in response to regular cups of coffee, it may have difficulty producing enough to deal with a large meal.
Protein digestion in particular is affected by a lack of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and protein based foods can pass into the small intestine before being properly broken down. Undigested protein is associated in a variety of health problems, from bloating and gas to IBS, diverticulitis and even colon cancer.
In fact, the knock on effect of not digesting your food properly due to low hydrochloric acid in the stomach could be implicated in dozens of other health issues. Some experts go so far as to say almost all disease begins in the gut. Given this, you can see why it’s important to limit anything that interferes with its proper functioning.
Many of the compounds in coffee like caffeine and the various acids found in coffee beans can irritate your stomach and the lining of your small intestine. It’s known to be a problem for those suffering from ulcers, gastritis, IBS and Crohn’s disease and doctors generally advise patients with these conditions to avoid coffee completely.
The question is, could excessive coffee consumption contribute to these health issues in the first place?
Ulcers are believed to be caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacteria. However, the acidic effect coffee has on the stomach may contribute to providing the weakened stomach lining necessary for H. pylori to take hold initially.
Drinking coffee can also irritate the lining of the small intestine, potentially leading to abdominal spasms, cramps and elimination problems, often alternating between constipation and diarrhea. This condition is known as irritable bowel syndrome and more and more people are being diagnosed with it in recent years.
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Acid reflux and heartburn can be caused by coffee due to the way it relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter. This small muscle should remain tightly closed once you’ve eaten to prevent the contents of your stomach from coming back into the esophagus and burning its delicate lining with hydrochloric acid.
Caffeine is known to relax the esophageal sphincter so Coke and high caffeine ‘energy drinks’ can also contribute to heartburn, but coffee is particularly problematic for this.
Even decaf regularly causes heartburn problems for some people and researchers think other compounds in coffee can also contribute to acid reflux problems.
Drinking coffee can stimulate peristalsis, the process in the digestive tract that makes us head for the bathroom. Some people use it deliberately as a laxative, but there’s a problem with this.
By stimulating peristalsis, coffee also appears to promote increased gastric emptying, whereby the stomach’s contents are quickly passed into the small intestines, often before the digesting food has been properly broken down.
In this partially digested state, it makes it much more difficult for nutrients to be absorbed from your food. It also increases the chances of irritation and inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract.
Once again, decaffeinated coffee has also been shown to have laxative and gastric emptying properties so it seems caffeine alone is not to blame.
Heavy coffee drinkers may have difficulty getting enough minerals in their diet, even if they eat mineral rich foods or take supplements. This is due to the way coffee affects iron absorption in your stomach and particularly your kidneys ability to retain calcium, zinc, magnesium and other important minerals.
While all of these minerals are vital for good health, from a digestive standpoint, any interference with magnesium absorption is particularly worrying as it is necessary to maintain bowel regularity and so many of us are already deficient in it.
If you are concerned that you might not be getting enough magnesium (and apparently around 70% of other people in the USA are in a similar position, whether they know it or not) then transdermal magnesium oil can be more effective than oral supplements, which usually have poor absorption rates.
Acrylamide is a potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substance that forms when coffee beans are roasted at high temperatures. The darker the roast, the higher the levels of acrylamide are likely to be. In fact, coffee has been shown to be one of the major sources of this dangerous chemical in American diets.
Drinking lots of coffee will promote the release of the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These chemicals increase your body’s heart rate, blood pressure and tension levels – the old ‘fight or flight’ response.
We often say we need to drink coffee to give us energy. But for many of us, has it gone further than just energy and turned into a kind of jittery tension that is always on and makes it difficult to relax? Maybe it pushes you to get through the paperwork, but longer-term the health implications of this kind of ongoing stress are significant.
Turning on the stress hormones with a cup of coffee when you’re eating also interferes with the digestive process. When you’re in ‘fight or flight’ mode, your body will divert its resources to being ready for a potential threat and digestion suffers as a result.
Finally, the caffeine in coffee is known to interfere with GABA metabolism. Gamma-aminobutyric acid is a neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood and stress levels. It should also have a calming effect on the gastrointestinal tract.
Your mood and your digestive system are surprisingly interrelated. Unfortunately, when you drink a lot of coffee the high levels of caffeine in it can negatively affect both of them.
AND ……THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT COFFEE:
Good news is that coffee has such high concentrations of beneficial antioxidants, phenolic nutrients, chlorogenic acids, and other healthy compounds, that it more than counteracts any bad compounds.
In fact, coffee provides the biggest source of antioxidants for most Americans… although that mostly has to do with the fact that many Americans don’t get enough antioxidants from fruits and veggies, so coffee ends up being their biggest source. You should try to diversify your sources of antioxidants from fruits, veggies, spices, herbs, berries, beans, unsweetened organic cocoa, teas, and yes, even coffee if you like it.
So what’s the best way to make a healthy cup of coffee?
Well, here’s my 3 most important tricks to maximize the benefits of coffee and minimize the negatives:
1. First of all, you need to AVOID adding any refined sugar or harmful artificial sweeteners.
What I do instead is use either a very small touch of organic maple syrup or a half packet of natural stevia to just lightly sweeten my coffee. I’ve also become a big fan of coconut sugar recently, and this is healthier than plain sugar because it does contain some minerals and other nutrients, and has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar. On the other hand, if you like your coffee black with no sweetener at all, that’s the healthiest way.
If you’re getting your coffee at a coffee shop, make sure to avoid all of those fancy specialty coffees (sweetened flavored lattes, frappuccinos, etc) as they are almost ALWAYS loaded with extra sugars or artificial sweeteners. Some of those fancy coffee drinks at Starbucks or other coffee shops can have 300-400 calories in just one coffee! Definitely not good for your body or your blood sugar or insulin levels.
A latte or cappucino can be okay as long as you make sure to ask for it unsweetened, and then use your own stevia if you need a light sweet taste. Since almost every coffee shop only has either sugar or artificial sweeteners as options, I always carry packets of stevia on me when I know I might be getting coffee at a coffee shop on a particular day.
2. You also should try to AVOID at all costs any of those terrible artificial creamers (liquid or powder), which are usually made with corn syrup solids and hydrogenated oils (harmful trans fats). Instead, use a little bit of REAL full-fat cream (organic grass-fed if you can find it, as the CLA and vitamin K2 in grass-fed cream can be very healthy). The brand that I’ve found at many grocery stores is Organic Valley and they have an option for a pasture-raised cream that is really good!
Or, if I can’t get grass-fed cream, what I’ve also been using for a while now is coconut cream as one of the healthiest creamer alternatives. I get this by buying cans of organic coconut milk, and then after opening the can (shake the can well before opening), I store the coconut milk in the fridge in a container. Note that the cans of coconut milk are much creamier and better as a coffee creamer than those cartons of “coconut milk drink” which are just watered down coconut milk.
The thick creamy coconut milk is the healthiest option for coffee creamer because it’s loaded with super healthysaturated fats called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are known to boost your immune system and your metabolism! Plus, coconut milk in coffee is just plain delicious! It’s the best healthy creamer option by far aside from just using real grass-fed dairy cream.
When people visit my house and we make a pot of coffee, many times I’ll have them try the coconut cream in their coffee and almost everyone always comments how much they love it!
3. If you want to load your coffee up with more healthy antioxidants and good taste, consider trying some added cinnamon to your coffee (cinnamon can help control blood sugar and has many other health benefits). It’s also really tasty in coffee!
I also occasionally like to add a teaspoon of organic cocoa powder (non-sweetened) to my coffee to make my own sort of mocha coffee (but without the loads of sugar in a typical mocha you’d get at the coffee shop, so just use a little stevia to sweeten). The added cocoa powder also gives you great taste and a good dose of extra healthy antioxidants (and cocoa is also known for helping to lower blood pressure!)
I see people that drink 3-4 cups per day that get a massive headache if they don’t have their daily coffee due to caffeine withdrawal. I choose to avoid this addiction by only drinking 1 cup per day max. I drink various teas like green, oolong, black, and white teas at other times, which are much lower in caffeine. Or I like to use rooibos or other herbal teas many times which have no caffeine at all.
Many people are very protective of their coffee and probably won’t like to hear all of these health problems associated with it. But if you’ve made it reading this far, perhaps you have a feeling that there could be some value in cutting down a bit or even replacing it altogether.
If you are experiencing any of the digestive problems above, or just feel coffee has you too on edge but don’t know how to quit it, coming up next is a plan to replace the negative side effects of coffee with a new kind of drink that tastes similar but is actually healthy, as well as a simple way to reduce caffeine withdrawal problems when you make the switch.
Lastly, it’s extremely important to choose organic coffee beans, as conventional coffee is one of the most heavily treated crops with pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Remember that one of the many health risks with these chemicals is that some pesticides can act as “xenoestrogens” in your body, disrupting hormone balance for both men and women. Chronic xenoestrogen exposure can also be one cause of “stubborn abdominal fat” in both sexes as well as “man boobs” in men… so choose organic as often as you can with most foods, but especially with coffee!
Enjoy your coffee and these additions that we talked about in this article, knowing that it can actually do your body good in moderation!
Here is a little infographic describing the effects of coffee: