Ahhh, the savory aroma of freshly-brewed coffee in the morning, and those consumed cups of morning Joe help millions of people come alive to prepare for their day. We are a nation of coffee drinkers, consuming tons of the roasted coffee beans to make it a profitable 18 billion dollar industry in this country alone. Some scientists believe the smell of coffee helps restore appetite and refreshes your ability to detect odors. Perfume boutiques offer coffee beans to refresh olfactory receptors between perfume sniffing. But what are the health effects of coffee drinking on the digestive system? Many medical studies have looked at the connection between coffee consumption and digestive disorders; although findings can be inconclusive, some observations can be made.
Regular or Decaf Coffee?
As everyone knows, coffee can be purchased either caffeinated or decaffeinated (where the caffeine has been removed). Caffeine in coffee has been considered the source of health problems for many people because of its effect on the central nervous system, so they often switch to decaf to avoid jitteriness and insomnia. Also, caffeine is addictive and withdrawal from it can be difficult, so many people switch to decaf in the hope that it is better for them. But it seems to have little effect on digestive problems whether you drink caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee.
All coffee affects the digestive system in these ways:
- Creates a laxative effect, stimulating the wave-like movements of the gastrointestinal tract to empty of its contents. It can be helpful to constipation sufferers, but it can also contribute to extremely loose stools.
- Increases acidity of gastric juices with more acid, surprisingly, produced by decaffeinated coffee. Also, stomach contents may exit into the small intestine before being adequately digested, causing distress or pain in the abdomen.
- Can damage the lining of the intestines in excessive amounts and in sensitive individuals allowing the formation of ulcers and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach’s lining) or aggravating existing conditions. People who suffer from gastrointestinal problems such as IBS, Crohn’s disease, and colitis are usually advised not to drink coffee.
- Increases heartburn or acid reflux by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter muscle at the juncture of esophagus and stomach. Caffeine is a known relaxant of this muscle, but it can also occur from drinking decaffeinated coffee too.
- Allows the absorption of two chemicals, cafestol and kahweol, which increase LDL levels in cholesterol. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are considered the bad cholesterol which leads to cardiovascular disease. These components can be removed from coffee by using paper coffee filters.
- Interferes with the absorption of iron for people who take iron supplements. Pregnant women can develop iron-deficiency anemia.
Most medical authorities believe coffee is harmless to a healthy individual when used in moderation (usually considered drinking two to three cups a day), but aggravates gastrointestinal problems in others. Moderate coffee drinkers have been shown to enjoy some health benefits, such as less risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, type 2 diabetes, gall bladder disease, certain types of cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. On the other hand, caffeine dependency can create anxiety and sleep disorders, and attempts to withdraw from caffeine can be difficult to handle in heavy coffee drinkers. Furthermore, people who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders are more sensitive to the adverse effects of both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. In the person who experiences digestive disorders, the aroma of freshly-brewed morning Joe should be all that is enjoyed because of the adverse correlation between coffee and the digestive system.
written by Joy Seeman
© 2009 H.I.C. Digestive Health
Coffee and Gastrointestinal Function. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2009, from The Coffee Science Information Center: http://www.cosic.org/
Coffee and Health. (2009, September 16). Retrieved September 16, 2009, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
Higdon, P. D. (2005, August). Oregon State University. Retrieved September 16, 2009, from Linus Pauling Institute: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/.