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Drinking coffee in moderation might help prevent digestive problems.
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Having a cup of coffee in the morning is a ritual for many people, as it can boost energy levels and help with bowel movements. However, particularly when taken in large amounts, coffee can cause or contribute to a variety of problems with digestion. Drinking coffee in moderation can often prevent such problems, and drinking decaffeinated coffee might help avoid some intestinal issues caused by caffeine. If you have a digestive disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome, it's best to avoid coffee in any form.
Certain components in coffee, primarily the caffeine, increase the secretion of stomach acid, which can irritate the stomach lining and cause bloating and pain in sensitive individuals or in those with gastrointestinal disorders, such as peptic ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease or irritable bowel syndrome. In addition to caffeine, scientists from the American Chemical Society isolated two other constituents found in coffee -- catechols and N-alkanoly-5-hydroxytryptamides -- that increase acid secretion, which means drinking decaffeinated coffee won't necessarily help avoid any problems caused by increased stomach acid.
Drinking coffee can cause peristalsis -- the contraction of the muscles on the intestines -- within four minutes of consumption. Increased peristalsis helps you have a bowel movement, which is particularly helpful if you have constipation. However, more movement of the intestines can cause loose stools or mild diarrhea if constipation is not an issue, particularly if you consume a lot of coffee. As with increased stomach acid, the laxative effects of coffee are not due solely to the caffeine content, as both regular and decaffeinated coffee stimulate bowel movement.
The caffeine in coffee acts as a diuretic, which means that it increases your urinary output. Increased urinary output can sometimes lead to dehydration -- the lack of the proper amounts of fluids in your body. Dehydration also affects the intestines, which can make your stools very dry, possibly causing constipation. Drinking water along with your coffee can often help avoid constipation, as can drinking decaffeinated coffee instead of regular caffeinated coffee.
Indigestion, also known as upset stomach or dyspepsia, is a painful or burning feeling in the upper abdomen. It is not due to increased acid in the intestines, but drinking caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, can cause indigestion or make it worse, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Caffeine causes problems because it increases the production of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine, which gives you a boost of energy but also decreases the blood supply to your intestines. The lack of blood in the intestines slows your digestive process, which can then lead to indigestion.
One or two 5-ounce cups of caffeinated coffee is the suggested limit for most people, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, although the exact amount can vary from person to person. Drinking no more than the recommended amount might help avoid some digestive problems. Decaffeinated coffee has considerably less caffeine that regular coffee, and drinking it might potentially help with problems caused solely by caffeine, such as constipation. If you continue to have digestive problems, even after decreasing your intake or switching to decaffeinated coffee, consult a doctor to rule out an underlying disorder.
Although coffee can be irritating to your digestive tract, a potential benefit can be present in dark-roast coffees, according to researchers at the American Chemical Society, primarily due to one component -- N-methylpyridium, or NMP. NMP is created as part of the roasting process and is not present in raw coffee beans. The presence of NMP can block the production of stomach acid, which may cause less digestive irritation for some people. It's possible that darker-roasted coffees can contain up to twice as much of the ingredient as lightly roasted coffees, although the levels vary depending on the type of coffee bean used and the roasting process used.