Coffee and Upset Stomach: Why It Happens and What to Do About It

Whether it is boosting energy levels, improving brain function, or supporting cardiovascular health, drinking coffee has a long list of benefits. Unsurprisingly, this is the favorite drink of many people, and that probably includes you!

However, some may enjoy their cup of joe because of one thing – it upsets their stomach. A negative reaction from your digestion system can be painful, uncomfortable, and annoying!

So, why does coffee hurt your stomach? Does it mean that you should stop drinking coffee? What can you do to prevent such problems? Read on and learn from the insights we’ll share in this quick guide.

Why Does Coffee Make My Stomach Hurt?

Have you ever had coffee, thinking that you will have a good day, only to end up with pain and discomfort in your stomach? You probably have even sworn not to have another cup ever again! However, if you experience stomach issues, you should first understand the science behind the reaction.

Here is a quick rundown of some of the most common reasons why your stomach is acting up after enjoying coffee.

Acidity

If there is one thing you can blame, it is the acidity of coffee. On average, coffee has a pH of 4.85 to 5.10. It falls in the range of 0 to 7, so it is considered acidic. Although, several factors will impact coffee’s acidity, including roasting and brewing methods, as well as ground size.

Technically speaking, coffee has nine major acids, which contribute to its distinct taste and aroma. Listed from most to least acidic, here are the acids you will find in coffee – chlorogenic, quinic, citric, acetic, lactic, malic, phosphoric, linoleic, and palmitic acids.

Acids are important for the normal functioning of the digestive system. It acts as the fuel responsible for breaking down the foods that we consume. However, when the acid is too much, it can be a bad thing. You can suffer from stomach problems.

Upon reaching the stomach, acids in coffee ramp up the production of acids in the stomach. More gastric acid is released. It leads to various symptoms, including upset stomach, as well as indigestion and acid reflux. Belching and bloating are common, which can be uncomfortable.

More so, coffee acids break down the mucosal barrier in the digestive system. The latter acts as a protectant. When it interacts with acid, it can lead to issues like ulcers and other digestive tract disorders.

Caffeine

You probably know that coffee has caffeine, even if it is decaf. It is the compound responsible for many of the benefits of coffee, such as boosting your energy or keeping you alert. However, this caffeine can also be the culprit when your stomach hurts after drinking coffee.

Several studies have investigated the effects of caffeine, a natural stimulant. In one of these studies, the researchers found that caffeine can stimulate the colon up to 60% more than water. It impacts the lower gut, which is one of the reasons why your stomach hurts.

More so, caffeine makes you feel anxious and jittery. Too much caffeine will make you nervous, to the point that you will experience trembling. This over-stimulation might also make you feel like your stomach is upset.

Not everyone will exhibit the same reaction to caffeine. The side effects are most common among people who have a caffeine sensitivity. If you have one, then you should be more mindful before reaching your caffeine fix as it can be too acidic for your stomach.

In most cases, up to 400 mg of caffeine daily is acceptable. That is equal to roughly four cups of brewed coffee. Going beyond such increases the likelihood of hurting your stomach, especially if you have a caffeine sensitivity.

Empty Stomach

For most people, the best time to enjoy a cup of coffee is early in the morning. It is a great way to start the day, providing the energy you need to keep going. However, this can also be the culprit for your stomach issues, especially when you drink coffee on an empty stomach.

If you have no food in your stomach, there is no buffer. Nothing inside will counteract the effects of caffeine and acids in coffee, which can worsen the side effects. It will irritate the intestinal tract and stomach lining.

For those who are in intermittent fasting, the effects of coffee are more apparent, specifically in the stomach. You cannot eat solid foods, but you can drink coffee when you are under intermittent fasting, which can irritate your stomach.

The richness and complexity of coffee are attributed to its intensity. Being too intense, however, can be a bad thing. It can increase gastric motility. The latter makes you feel like you need to poop. It is likelier to happen when you have your caffeine fix without food in your stomach.

Bad Beans and Ingredients

You don’t have to be a connoisseur to know that bad beans and ingredients make your coffee bad! It can be tempting to pick cheap coffee thinking that it saves you money. In the end, however, it can be a bad buy not only because its flavor and aroma are inferior, but it can also be bad for the stomach.

It is common for low-quality coffee to contain fungi. It exists in the form of mold, which you will find in many commercial coffees. Some of them can survive even after the roasting process, which can potentially upset your stomach and make you sick.

It is also paramount to consider not just the ingredients in the beans but also in the drink itself. For instance, a lot of people love adding milk or creamer to their coffee to enhance the flavor. While such a concoction might be a treat to the taste buds, it can be a curse for the stomach. This is especially the case if you are lactose intolerant.

Fructose is another commonly added ingredient in coffee that can be a problem. From honey to agave, it is found in many sweeteners. When your body fails to process this type of sugar, an upset stomach is one of the most common side effects.

How to Get Rid of Coffee Stomach

Luckily, an upset stomach should not always be a necessary consequence. If you know what to do, then you can prevent the problem. As such, below are some solutions that might work.

Reduce Acid

Preparing your coffee the right way is one of the best ways to make the drink gentler on the stomach. Among others, you can do this by shortening the brew time. Coffee becomes more acidic the longer you brew it. The longer the beans stay in the water, the more acid it extracts, which will get in your coffee.

Brewing with hard water is also a promising solution. It contains calcium, which makes it effective in neutralizing acids better than what you can expect from soft water. In contrast, the latter contains sodium, which can worsen acidity.

Using a paper filter instead of metal mesh will also work. Paper is a good material for sieving acids from coffee. On the other hand, the metal mesh has larger holes, so acids can still escape and congregate in your coffee.

Cold-Brew Coffee

Cold-Brew Coffee, How to Get Rid of Coffee Stomach

In a nutshell, cold-brew coffee is made by steeping the coffee in water for several hours at cold or ambient temperature. It can take 12 to 18 hours. It is not simply iced coffee.

It is not just for hipsters! The cold brew became more popular in recent years not only because it tastes great but also because it can prevent an upset stomach.

A significant benefit of this coffee preparation method is that the oils in the beans are not released in cold water. As a result, it reduces acid by as much as 70% compared to hot coffee prepared through the conventional drip method.

Consider Decaf Coffee

By drinking decaf coffee, you are not only getting rid of most of the caffeine content, but you are also sparing your stomach from discomfort. Decaffeination removes up to 97% of the caffeine in coffee. The residual caffeine is too small, and hence, will not harm your stomach.

However, take note that this is only applicable to people who are having stomach problems because of caffeine in coffee. For instance, if you are lactose intolerant and you add milk to your coffee, then you are still likely to suffer from stomach issues even if you switch to decaf coffee.

More so, decaf coffee also has chlorogenic acid and other types of acids that can cause gut contractions and increase the production of stomach acids. So, to support our earlier assertion, decaf only works if the culprit is caffeine. Drinking decaf is not a guarantee of not experiencing stomach problems since you can also blame the acids in your coffee.

Come to the Dark Side

One of the best ways to make your coffee less acidic and prevent it from upsetting your stomach is to choose the right roast. Dark roast is a better option than their light and medium counterparts. This is because of the chemical reaction that coffee must go through to achieve a dark roast.

To be more technical, dark roast coffee increases N-methylpyridinium (NMP) content while decreasing chlorogenic acid. NMP causes the secretion of less stomach acid, so you will exhibit fewer symptoms.

Limit Your Caffeine Intake

Moderation is key to lessening the effects of caffeine. It was earlier mentioned that caffeine induces stomach acids, so if you limit your coffee intake, your stomach will be thankful!

Limiting caffeine is beneficial beyond lessening the chances of developing stomach issues. It also makes you feel less jittery and anxious. Not to mention, it can help you sleep better as it prevents overstimulation.

According to multiple studies, it is safe to enjoy up to four cups of coffee daily. In terms of caffeine, you need not worry if you are consuming less than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily. Nonetheless, it is a different story for those who have a sensitive stomach. You can further reduce it to 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine to be on the safe side.

Choose Larger Coffee Grounds

One thing that many people tend to ignore when it comes to coffee preparation is the size of the coffee grounds. Unless you are a true connoisseur, you probably have not paid much attention to the latter. Nonetheless, it is highly influential in the acidity coffee, so it can increase or decrease the possibility of upsetting your stomach.

In one study, the conclusion was that the smaller the grind size is, the more acidic it can be. It extracts more acid during coffee preparation. As an alternative, you might want to go with larger grind size.

How to Recover from Coffee Stomach Aches

If your stomach aches after drinking coffee, don’t worry! It does not necessarily mean that you must give up the habit! Instead, it calls for a more proactive approach to avoid side effects. Here are some of the best things to do.

Drink Herbal Tea

As mentioned earlier, caffeine is one of the reasons why coffee hurts your stomach. Hence, you should look for alternative beverages to enjoy. Tea is on the top of the list but take note that a lot of teas also contain caffeine, so they can have the same effect on the stomach. If you want to go caffeine-free, then go for herbal tea.

Most teas are made from Camelia sinensis. Herbal teas, on the other hand, are different because they are from herbaceous plants without caffeine. Aside from leaves, they can also be made using roots, spices, fruits, seeds, and flowers.

Some of the most popular choices for caffeine-free herbal teas that are gentle on the stomach are chamomile, lavender, rosehip, valerian, licorice, cinnamon, and hibiscus. Meanwhile, you should avoid those with peppermint and spearmint as they are not good for the stomach.

Drink More Water

Coffee is linked to dehydration. With this, you should drink plenty of water. It is not only hydrating, but it can also counter the effects of acid and caffeine, which are two of the most common culprits for an upset stomach.

Water is also great because it helps in flushing out compounds that can irritate the digestive system. In turn, it will reduce stomach discomfort. At the minimum, drink eight glasses of water a day. Drink more if you are a heavy coffee drinker.

After a meal, a lot of people may drink coffee. However, you might want to reconsider your habit and go for water instead. It weakens or breaks down digestive juices. It also helps the body in breaking down acid.

Eat a Healthy Snack

It was earlier noted that drinking coffee on an empty stomach can be a bad thing. Hence, you should always eat something before having your caffeine fix. However, not all foods are great. You do not need a full meal, but you need something healthy in your tummy.

Like when drinking alcohol, eating is a must. Food slows down caffeine’s effects. It is also essential for breaking down the oils you will find in coffee. This is especially the case if you eat foods with vitamins and minerals that will counteract caffeine and acid.

Among others, some of the healthiest snacks to grab are bananas, melon, toast, apple sauce, green beans, eggs, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and oatmeal.

Drink Aloe Vera Juice

Aloe vera is popular for its benefits on hair and skin health. However, not a lot of people may know, but it can also be calming for the stomach, making it good for coffee drinkers. Aside from being packed with vitamins and minerals, it also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Drinking aloe vera juice is known for providing effective relief from acid reflux. The latter happens when acid leaves your stomach and heads to the esophagus, a common condition among people who have a caffeine sensitivity. It can also treat constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.

In Closing

Coffee has a long list of benefits, but it also has side effects. Among others, one of the most common complaints among people who drink coffee is that it hurts their stomach. We can attribute this to several factors, such as acidity and caffeine, which are traditional elements in coffee. Drinking coffee on an empty stomach and bad quality or wrong ingredients are also the culprits.

If you often suffer from stomach issues but you still want to enjoy coffee, there are some things you can do. For instance, you can find ways to reduce acid. Drinking cold brew or decaf coffee can also help. Plus, consider limiting your caffeine intake, which will be beneficial not just for your stomach but your overall health as well.

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