5 ways coffee can affect your digestion

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Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
Ask Ali

11 September 2019

Does coffee really upset your digestion?

Those of us who rely on regular coffee fixes might wonder how this affects our health and, in particular, our digestion. Here, I explore some common digestive symptoms that could be related to regular coffee consumption, including:

  1. Heartburn
  2. Diarrhoea
  3. Constipation
  4. IBS
  5. Leaky gut.

Throughout this blog I explore in more detail how coffee could potentially give rise to some of these problematic symptoms and what can be done to help keep them at bay.


Coffee often gets the blame for exacerbating symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux, so what could be going on? As coffee is rich in caffeine and this component acts as a stimulant, coffee causes the stress response, also known as our 'fight-or-flight mode' to kick into action. As the name suggests, this helps to prime the body for an emergency situation, whereby the cardiovascular system, lungs and skeletal muscles become priority, as they all provide very physical means of managing whatever physical stress you're under!

However, as always, the systems in your body work in a delicate balance. When in fight-or-flight mode, the processes governed by your sympathetic nervous system are more active, which means that some other systems in your body (which are instead controlled primarily by your parasympathetic nervous system) can be left somewhat out in the cold. This can include your digestive system, for one; and as blood flow to your digestive tract becomes diverted, your stomach can really suffer as a result.

Contrary to popular belief, we need strong stomach acid to help keep our digestion working optimally. Therefore, if you struggle with insufficient gastric secretions (commonly exacerbated by stress as mentioned above), symptoms such as heartburn can easily crop up. Being stressed is thought to exacerbate this state further and digestive symptoms can soon appear.

What can be done to help?

As well as the effects on the stomach, being in a stressed state can give rise to other symptoms including an increased heart rate or heart palpitations, anxiety, feeling a little jittery, or having sweaty palms. If you're keen to do what you can to help minimise some of these effects, plus improve your stomach function (apart from limiting your cuppas of course), our Yarrow Complex may be helpful.

Yarrow Complex is a herbal bitters remedy; so, when taken before meals, it can help to spur your stomach into correct action. However, the tincture formula also contains a favourable dose of some calming herbs, which can help to restore a little calm within the digestive tract and beyond.

My Top Tip:

If you struggle to get enough bitter tastes in the form of foods, why not try out adding some Yarrow bitters to your regime. Take these 5-10 minutes before your meals, 3 times daily, for best results.

"I suffer a lot from acid reflux and heartburn, this helped to make me feel better and calmed everything down. Would highly recommend."


Read what other people are saying about Yarrow.

2. Diarrhoea

Coffee is considered a stimulant, but unfortunately it can stimulate areas we might not necessarily want to be overly activated! This can include the rings of smooth muscle that line the length of your digestive tract to help things move along.

Now, there has been some debate as to which part of coffee is responsible for these effects. Caffeine is the obvious culprit; however, interestingly, research suggests that this may not be as straight forward as we might have first assumed, as both caffeinated and decaf coffee options have been found to have similar effects on gut motility.1

Therefore, it has been suggested that some other chemical components of coffee, including chlorogenic acids (CGAs) and alkanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamides (C5HTs), may also have a part to play in the laxative effects of your daily brew.

What can be done to help?

Rather than opting for decaf coffee in a bid to calm your stomach (which, as it turns out, may not actually offer any additional benefits), a caffeine-free, coffee alternative such as Bambu may be a more suitable option.

Bambu is made from organic chicory, Turkish figs, malted barley, wheat and Greek acorns, and tastes remarkably similar to the real deal – enjoy!

3. Constipation

Whilst, initially, you may be running to the loo more often if you've recently had a coffee, as coffee also acts as a mild diuretic and increases urinary output, over time this could risk making you dehydrated and could eventually contribute to additional symptoms such as constipation.

Dehydration is thought to be one of the leading causes of constipation but, actually, this is not a bad thing. (Bear with me!) If we can identify dehydration as an underlying cause, with any luck it should be relatively easy to address - we can have a good go at managing our symptoms with the help of simple and cost-effective lifestyle changes.

What can be done to help?

Whilst reducing caffeine intake may help you to better hydration levels in the long-term, actually, an even simpler first step is to up your water intake.

Now, for those who assume they're getting enough water as a result of their daily coffee consumption, I'm here to underline that this simply isn't the case! To really improve your hydration status, you need to work on consuming a decent proportion of plain, still water (at least 1.5l daily) on top of any warm drinks that you're having.

Having a tall glass of water upon waking, as well as sipping your way through a large bottle or two throughout the course of the day, should help to ensure that you're hitting your daily quota.

4. IBS

IBS is simply an umbrella term for digestive symptoms, which means that this condition encompasses a wide range of digestive turmoil. Therefore, the set of symptoms people can experience will vary from case to case. However, 'IBS' is often characterised by symptoms including diarrhoea, constipation or even alternating bouts of both, all three scenarios of which, we now understand, can also have links with coffee consumption.

What can be done to help?

According to the NHS, there is no known 'cure' for IBS; but given that the condition varies so much, it is not surprising that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Pinning down a very specific treatment plan for the individual is necessary.

Therefore, the best advice would be to keep track of your symptoms with the help of a food and symptoms diary. This may help you to pinpoint some of the underlying, contributing factors that could be exacerbating your symptoms, such as certain foods, or other factors including stress.

5. Leaky gut

In naturopathy, coffee is often considered problematic as it may add to chronic or subclinical inflammation. So, how is this the case? On closer inspection, coffee beans are in fact seeds, so are technically classed as grains. This means that coffee isn't fully absorbed before reaching the large intestine, where it can then easily irritate more sensitive individuals.

In addition, some of the compounds contained in coffee, including advanced glycation end products (AGEs), are thought to add to the inflammatory nature of coffee. Although, interestingly, research has found that these chemicals may become less apparent as coffee beans are roasted, so darker roasts may be slightly gentler options.2

So, coffee, much like gluten or other grains, may be more likely to alert unique immune cells which live in the gut, especially if digestive processes are sluggish (for example, low levels of stomach acid). This, in turn, can risk triggering a mild inflammatory response from the immune system (just in case there is an imposing threat, rather than simply a coffee bean!). Unfortunately, over time, this can affect the structure and function of the gut wall (a state often called leaky gut), and can give rise to systemic, low grade inflammation. In addition to this, animal studies also suggest that coffee could alter the gut microbiome, potentially suppressing some of the good gut bacteria.3

What can be done to help?

Whilst cutting back on coffee may give your gut more of a chance to repair, recuperate and return to its optimal state, there are also some remedies which could help get your gut back to a better place.

Molkosan, for one, is rich in L+ lactic acid and this beneficial component can help to encourage the right conditions throughout the length of your digestive system. By helping to support the pH, internal environment and balance of bacteria throughout your digestive tract, prebiotic remedies or foods including Molkosan can help to support the optimal functions of key digestive organs, including the stomach, pancreas and large intestine.

Molkosan should be diluted in a tall glass of water and taken once to twice daily, in between meals, for best effects.


1. https://gut.bmj.com/content/31/4/450.long
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2898551/
3. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190519123556.htm

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