How Caffeine Affects Digestive Health

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Coffee. Soda. Chocolate. What do they all have in common besides tasting delicious? Caffeine.

Although you may enjoy the buzz from your daily cup—or three—of coffee, caffeine can affect your digestion in ways you may not realize. Here are three:

1. It speeds up transit time. Caffeine-containing beverages can affect your digestive system and cause diarrhea, especially if you have a condition that affects your bowels, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

2. It’s a diuretic. That means caffeine makes your body lose water. This could potentially set the stage for dehydration and put you at risk for constipation. Without enough liquid or fluid in the colon, stool can become hard and have a more difficult time traveling through your digestive system.

3. It can give you heartburn. When you consume caffeine, it causes your stomach to release acid, which can upset your tummy or give you heartburn symptoms. If you already have an issue, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), caffeine may make your symptoms worse, especially if consumed later in the day.

So what’s a safe amount? Most people can consume about 200 to 300 mg of caffeine per day—about the amount in two to three cups of coffee—without experiencing any health issues. Best sure to include teas and energy drinks in your daily tabulation. If you notice any physical changes when you consume caffeine, try cutting back. You could choose decaffeinated versions of coffee or tea, or mix half regular with half decaffeinated. To prevent dehydration, alternate sips of your caffeinated drink with sips of water.

Key takeaways

  • Most people can drink about two to three cups of coffee without experiencing any health issues.

  • However, caffeine-containing beverages can affect your digestive system and cause diarrhea.

  • Consuming caffeine can also give you an upset stomach or heartburn symptoms.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Sep 22
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Constipation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/constipation/

  2. Fecal Incontinence. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/fecalincontinence/

  3. Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gerd/

  4. The Buzz on Caffeine. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442452080&terms=caffeine#.UPg2BhzlfW4

  5. Medicines in My Home: Caffeine and Your Body. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/Understanding...