I love coffee, mostly for the taste of it. It’s not like I can’t live without coffee, but it’s just very very hard to resist a good cup of coffee when there’s some fresh-out-of-oven baked goods that I feel the absolute need to pair with coffee, even though I know coffee often upsets my stomach right away, and at times gives me jitters for the rest of the day. But at the same time, there’re tons of articles about how coffee is a “superfood” that has incredible antioxidant properties. There’s also research that links coffee consumption to a healthy gut microbiome. So, I thought it’s time for me to dig a little deeper to this question that’s been in the back of my mind for a while.
Benefits of drinking coffee
- Lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
- Has antioxidant power
- Change gut microbiome
- Increase gut motility (and therefore can help relieve constipation)
- May reduce inflammation
Research has shown that coffee may have a wide range of health benefits including reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and various types of cancer. Many studies attributes the benefits associated with coffee drinking to its polyphenols and antioxidants which help fight diseases and possibly extend longevity. The main health-promoting ingredients in coffee are the polyphenols chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid.
In a rat study last year, researchers found that coffee changes gut microbiome and improves the ability of intestines to contract (thus increasing bowel movement), regardless of caffeine content. However, more studies are needed to determine which type of bacteria are suppressed by coffee – is it the firmicutes which are generally considered the “good” bacteria, or enterobacteria which are often referred to as the “bad” ones (although how these bacteria are categorized seems to be a debate).
While it can suppress some bacteria, it is shown that coffee may also be promoting the growth of the bacteria Bifidobacterium spp which are considered one of the probiotics that’s critical for gut health.
Drinking coffee may have a beneficial effect on the immune system by lowering levels of circulating inflammatory markers. An elevated level of inflammatory markers may indicate underlying conditions, such as autoimmune conditions, infections, and certain forms of cancer.
But…the downsides of drinking coffee
- May lead to poorer sleep quality – and losing sleep wrecks your gut!
- Can cause heartburn and diarrhea in some people
Coffee’s effect on sleep is well known, although some people may be able to tolerate or metabolize caffeine faster than others (many studies show that this is dependent on the genes you have!). The rule for myself is to not take coffee after 3pm as I know for sure that it will be very hard to fall asleep that night if I drink coffee after that! The link between coffee, sleep and gut health is that our gut bacteria have a circadian rhythm, just like the rest of your body. They get stressed out when you don’t sleep, and they pump out toxins called lipopolysaccharides. These toxins cause brain fog, fatigue, autoimmunity, leaky gut, and even cancer
Some people experience stomach pain, acid reflux, and heartburn after drinking coffee. This is due to the natural acid content of coffee beans, which increases when the beans are roasted or brewed. Coffee may also loosen the lower esophageal sphincter muscles and thus lead to acid reflux or heartburn.
Caffeine-containing drinks can have a laxative affect. This may be a good thing for constipation sufferers, but not so much for people at the other end of the spectrum, who are prone to diarrhea.
What about decaf?
Decaffeinated drinks may still contain chemicals that can loosen the stools, depending on the decaffeination process. However, most people can tolerate smaller amounts well. Here’s an article from Consumer Reports that explains the risks of some decaffeinated coffee.
The problem maker may not be the coffee but the sugar and creamer!
Do you take your coffee black? Or do you always get a “double-double”, a French Vanilla, or a milk and sugar filled “specialty drink” (and topped with more whipped cream) from your favorite coffeehouse?
Many people cannot tolerate dairy products well. Even if you switch to non-dairy creamers or milks for your coffee, it may still not be the healthiest option as they often contain additives like carrageenan, xanthan gum, and guar gum to keep them creamy like regular cow’s milk. Although, the health risks of these food additives are still a controversy.
And the damage that sugar can to do our gut health is needless to say! So pick your poison wisely…
So what do I do?
The best thing to do is to take coffee black, and of course listen to your body – if coffee always gives you jitters and irritates your gut, chances are that your body doesn’t really think taking coffee is a good idea! I have to admit that I’m a sucker for coffee at times even though I know exactly how I’m gonna feel ten minutes later. For me, I don’t drink coffee for its benefits, nor do I give up coffee entirely for its potential risks! So I try to limit my coffee intake and only “treat” myself once in awhile! Most of the time I prefer tea over coffee anyways. I feel fine drinking teas, but I just like to switch it up a bit and drink coffee once in a while!
- Could More Coffee Bring a Healthier Microbiome? – WebMD
- Researchers document impact of coffee on bowels – Science Daily
- Is Coffee Good for the Gut? – News Medical
- Is Coffee Good Or Bad For Gut Health? – Woodpath
- Loosing Sleep Wrecks Your Gut. Here’s What You Can Do About It – Bulletproof