Why Does Coffee Make My Stomach Hurt?

why does coffee make my stomach hurt

Have you ever enjoyed your favorite coffee drink, only to suffer a stomach ache afterward? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

It’s not uncommon to experience stomach discomfort after coffee intake. In fact, there are three main possibilities as to what may be causing this problem.

But there’s no need to fear! Most of the time stomach irritation can be avoided or minimized. So, you don’t need to stay away from coffee altogether. There’s also no need to drink it, only to suffer in silence afterward.

If you or someone you know has stomach issues due to coffee, read this short guide below to learn why coffee makes your stomach hurt.

1. You Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach

Is drinking a cup of coffee the first thing you do after waking up? If so, that could be the reason you are experiencing stomach discomfort. Coffee is rich and complex, giving it the taste we know and love. These are the same reasons, however, that can potentially make it our foe.

Coffee consumption causes the stomach to produce acid. A lot of acid in the stomach with nothing else to absorb it can cause indigestion and heartburn. In extreme cases, habitual coffee intake on an empty stomach can even damage your stomach lining.

This is the most common reason why your stomach may hurt after drinking coffee. Thankfully, it’s also the easiest to solve!

Simply put, try to avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach. If you aren’t the breakfast type, this can be a bit hard to get used to. You don’t have to have a big breakfast. Cereal with milk might do the trick. If this does little to help, try adding something with more substance such as a banana or some protein.

empty stomach

Image credit: AndCan, Pixabay

2. You are Extra-Sensitive to Acid

Our digestive system needs stomach acid. It is an integral part of the absorption and digestive process as it helps break down everything we consume. However, too much of a good thing can be a problem.

Acidity is measured on a scale from 0-14. Pure, unaltered water is neutral with a 7.0 pH. Anything lower than that is acidic and anything higher than that is alkaline. Coffee ranks in at 5.0 pH. (For comparison, orange juice is 3.0 pH). Of course, this number can vary slightly due to bean type, roast, or even elevation growth.

Fun fact: Coffee can contain up to 30 different types of acids, including acids that are found in citrus fruit and vinegar!

If you experience bloating, belching, or general discomfort after drinking coffee, acidity may just be the cause. This is especially the case if you also notice a similar reaction after drinking other acidic drinks such as alcohol or fruit juices.

Acidic foods help produce more acid in the stomach. Sometimes this can irritate the stomach lining and cause mild indigestion. But this does not mean that you have to avoid your favorite beverage altogether. You just have to be careful. Here are some useful suggestions:

  • Cold-brew coffee. Cold-brewing means that the coffee is made with cold water instead of hot water. This process can actually reduce acidity by up to 66%. If cold coffee is not your thing, no worries! Cut the concentrate, add hot water and, voilá, you have a hot coffee!
  • Baking soda. Sounds crazy, right? Baking soda ranks in at 9.0 pH which means that it’s alkaline. Adding a pinch to your coffee will help cancel out some of its acidity.
  • Dark roast beans. According to the American Chemical Society, dark roast beans produce a chemical that prevents the stomach from producing too much excess acid.
  • Low-acidity coffee. Coffee grown at lower altitudes tends to have lower pH and can be easier on the stomach.

cup of coffee

Warning: There can be some confusion when it comes to talking about “acidity.” Here we are talking about the quality of the bean. Conversely, when describing a coffee’s flavor, acidity refers to the flavor notes of the brew and not the coffee’s pH.

3. You Are Sensitive to Caffeine

Caffeine, not coffee in and of itself, may actually be the culprit! Sounds confusing, doesn’t it? C8H10N4O2—commonly known as caffeine—is known to irritate the stomach. It forces your digestive system to work faster, thus producing a laxative effect.

Although caffeine insensitivity is mostly genetic, it can also be determined by age or gender. As you grow older you can become more sensitive to caffeine. With regard to gender, women tend to be more sensitive to caffeine than men. Also, pregnancy and oral contraceptive use tend to heighten this.

To counteract this effect there are several possible solutions:

  • Eat a banana with your coffee. Not only are bananas high in potassium, but they also contain calcium and carbohydrates which counterbalance the ill-effects of caffeine. It’s no coincidence that many cafés sell them.
  • Decrease your daily coffee intake. This may seem hard and even borderline impossible, especially if you’re a heavy coffee drinker, but getting down to one or two cups a day may really improve your stomach’s reaction. It can even make your coffee drinking experience more pleasurable.
  • Go decaf. This may seem sacrilegious to the hardcore coffee lover, but it’s not as bad as it may seem. Decaf doesn’t mean a product of lesser quality. It is possible to enjoy everything you love about regular coffee, just without the caffeine. In fact, there’s even specialty decaf coffee!

If you have stomach discomfort after drinking coffee, the best thing to do is to consider these potential causes and experiment with the solutions. Try to determine whether the problem is an empty stomach, acidity, or caffeine.

The most important thing is to listen to what your body is trying to tell you and make little adjustments accordingly.

If you don’t have any current health issues and have tried all of these suggestions with no success, it would be wise to go see a doctor.

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SOURCES:

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf904493f?journalCode=jafcau&