What to Know About Drinking Coffee if You Have Digestive Issues

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Trust us, it's just not worth the side effects

For many people, getting an early morning coffee fix is a necessity. It’s an alarm clock, energy boost, and delicious treat rolled into one warm mug. Even better, drinking coffee can deliver health benefits—it may even help protect your brain from dementia. Check out the good—and bad—stuff that happens to your body when you drink coffee daily.

Although there’s nothing wrong with prioritizing your daily java fix, people with acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) should be wary of that cup of Joe. “We normally suggest decreasing coffee intake for those with acid reflux or GERD,” says Leslie Langevin, RD, author of The Anti-Inflammatory Kitchen Cookbook and co-owner of Whole Health Nutrition, in Richmond, Vermont. “That’s because caffeine reduces the pressure around the lower esophageal sphincter between the esophagus and stomach and reflux symptoms can increase as a result. However, multiple studies have shown that coffee itself is not always associated with increased GERD symptoms. So I tell patients to skip coffee for a few weeks, then add it back in and watch for symptoms.”

If the acidity is still too much for your digestive system, Langevin recommends switching to decaf or diluting regular coffee with almond milk, coconut milk, or low-fat milk, since “increasing calcium in your coffee drink helps to reduce the acidity of the beverage,” she says. “Cold brew coffee is also a benefit if you do find that coffee bothers you since it is lower in acid than hot brewed coffee and try some decaf to reduce that caffeine effect.” (Learn more about the different types of coffee to find which is best for you.)

Another thing: Sipping coffee first thing in the morning sabotages your circadian rhythm, warn the experts at the National Sleep Foundation: Your internal clock releases the hormone cortisol when you wake up, making you feel alert and energized. Yet contrary to what you might expect, research has shown that consuming coffee actually decreases your cortisol levels. Translation? More often than not, that early morning pick-me-up will backfire, causing you to feel sleepier. Try brewing a cup of joe at the best time of day to drink coffee, instead.

Up next: Does coffee dehydrate you? Find out.

Medically reviewed by Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, on April 27, 2020