The Connection Between Coffee and Digestion

Coffee, the aromatic elixir that kickstarts our mornings and fuels our days, holds a cherished place in the hearts of millions of people around the world. From trendy coffee shops to cozy kitchen corners, this beloved beverage has become an integral part of our daily routines. While we relish the invigorating buzz it brings, have you ever wondered about the impact that a steaming cup of coffee may be having on your digestive system? 

If so, then it’s time to grab a cup of your favorite brew and join us as we explore how coffee can influence this ever-important system. 

What Makes Coffee, Coffee?

Coffee is one of the most consumed and researched beverages available to us today. There are a variety of ways to make coffee, but they all require the same key ingredient—coffee beans. These beloved beans come from specific plants within the genus Coffea, which has about 6,000 different species of plants within it. With that being said, not every single one of those plants produces the coffee beans we have come to know and love. In fact, it’s estimated that the number of these species that are actually coffee-producing plants is somewhere between 25 and 100.

As for the beans themselves, they have an interesting and fairly complex chemical composition. For starters, raw coffee beans are known to contain quite a few different types of carbohydrates, with carbs making up about 60% of their total weight. In addition to that, coffee beans also contain compounds like proteins, fats, minerals, tannins, and other trace ingredients like calcium and magnesium. When roasted, many of these various components react chemically to the process, which is what gives different types of coffee different flavors, colors, and aromas.   

Of course, we can’t talk about coffee without talking about its most popular component—caffeine. This naturally occurring substance is known to be a mild central nervous system stimulator which means that it can provide a quick boost to our energy levels and alertness. For many people, the caffeine in their morning cup of coffee is what helps them feel awake and ready to take on the day. 

While all coffee beans contain caffeine, it’s interesting to note that the roasting process determines how much caffeine is in your morning cup of joe. In fact, the more you roast coffee beans, the less caffeine they contain. 

How Coffee Impacts the Digestive System

While coffee is the go-to morning drink for more than half of adults in the United States, not many people stop to consider how their morning pick-me-up may be affecting their body, specifically their digestive system. Let’s take a look at both the good and the not-so-good in regard to how coffee and your digestive system get along. 

The Good

While studies that focus on the benefits coffee may offer for your digestive system are limited compared to those that have focused on other areas of the body (the nervous system and cardiovascular system for example), the research that has been done thus far has shown that coffee may impact your GI tracts in a few positive ways, including… 

1. Supporting the stomach. Consuming coffee is known to stimulate the production of a few different hormones and compounds that are known to influence stomach function. One of these hormones is gastrin, which is a component of gastric acid. Also known as stomach acid, gastric acid is responsible for helping your body activate the digestive enzymes needed to break down proteins. Additionally, coffee has also been found to increase the production of hydrochloric acid, which is also present in gastric acid. By helping stimulate the production of these key hormones and compounds, coffee helps your body ensure it has what it needs to efficiently and effectively digest the foods you consume. Plus, by keeping your body’s supply of gastric acid in check, you are also helping to prevent uncomfortable sensations like heartburn, which is often caused by too little of this important stomach acid.  

2. Supporting your gallbladder. Your gallbladder is also an important part of the digestive system that is responsible for the production of bile which helps your small intestines to ingest fats. Cholecystokinin (CCT) is a hormone that has been found to be stimulated by the ingestion of coffee, and it is a key component in the production of bile. Additionally, this important hormone also is known to activate the pancreas, encouraging it to release enzymes that assist with the digestion of lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates. 

3. Support of regular bowel movements. The consumption of coffee has also been associated with gut motility, which is the process that allows food to move through your digestive tract before being excreted as waste. Some studies have found that coffee can enhance gut motility more than decaffeinated coffee or water alone, which can be helpful when it comes to combatting and preventing constipation.

4. Support of the gut microbiome. Keeping a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut microbiome is of the utmost importance when it comes to keeping your gut healthy, and preliminary studies are finding that coffee may be helpful in this arena. Some researchers have found that coffee consumption may cause changes in gut composition, specifically by elevating the count of the bacteria species known as Bifidobacteria, which is one of the most helpful and ubiquitous inhabitants of the digestive tract. 

The Not-So-Good

While coffee has been found to provide the digestive system with some benefits, it’s important not to overlook the not-so-good impact that this beloved drink can have, including…

1. It’s highly acidic. Coffee is known to contain high acid levels, which can be harmful to your stomach lining and intestines. This in turn can trigger digestive discomforts like acid reflux or possibly more serious digestive-related health conditions. 

2. It may limit the absorption of minerals. One of the jobs of your digestive system is to absorb key nutrients from the food you eat so they can be distributed throughout the rest of your body. Coffee may inhibit the absorption of some of these key nutrients, namely minerals like calcium and iron, which can affect your health in a variety of ways.

3. It impacts other areas of the body. Caffeine, whether it’s from coffee or another source, can impact your body in a number of ways, such as increasing your heartbeat, causing feelings of anxiety or stress, and even interrupting your sleep patterns. While these things on their own can be detrimental to your health, they can also negatively impact your gut thanks to connections like the gut-brain axis

Live the #NewEarthLife

At the end of the day, it’s your choice whether you continue to enjoy a cup or two of coffee as part of your daily routine, but now you are better equipped to understand how that morning cup of joe may be impacting your body. So as you move through your day, we encourage you to join us in living a healthy #NewEarthLife by paying attention to what your body is telling you and working on finding a balanced and delightful relationship with coffee—one that both promotes the love of the beverage and gives your body the love and support it deserves. 

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