Ever notice your stomach feeling tight, overly full or even painful after your morning cup of coffee? Digestive discomfort can be frustrating, especially when there is no clear cause.
There is a range of reasons for bloating — from allergies to stress and hormonal changes — so it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint the problem.
It can usually be traced back to gas or constipation, but can also happen if you eat something you're intolerant to or if you have a medical condition. It's common to feel bloated before your period, too.
Coffee is another bloating trigger for some people, due to the effect it has on the body's acidity and stress hormone production. If you're one of them, caffeine sensitivity doesn't necessarily mean you can't drink coffee altogether. (Although substituting it for a cup of green tea every so often wouldn't hurt!).
This article will explore how coffee impacts your digestion, why it can cause irritation and what you can do about it.
The benefits of coffee
Along with its rich flavour, coffee provides a natural energy boost thanks to its caffeine content. This stimulant effect can increase alertness and ability to concentrate and even improve your mood when consumed in small doses.
Coffee is a source of vitamin B2 and magnesium and may prevent the formation of gallstones by helping to break down cholesterol.
A moderate amount of coffee each day is associated with a bunch of other health benefits, including a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s, reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease, a positive effect on liver function and a protective effect against particular cancers, especially colon cancer .
Two large studies have found that drinking coffee is correlated with living longer overall. Of course, there are plenty of other lifestyle factors involved in mortality, so there's no need to worry if you need to reduce your coffee consumption for any reason .
Does coffee make you gassy and bloated?
All these health benefits can unfortunately come with some unwanted side effects. Feeling bloated after drinking coffee is not unusual, and the first step is to pin down exactly what is causing your stomach to swell.
Working with a doctor or nutritionist to keep a food diary for a couple of days can help with this, allowing you to experiment with different triggers and eliminate potential causes.
For someone who regularly drinks coffee, the culprit may be found in full-fat cow's milk. In fact, around 44% of Australians experience some level of lactose intolerance according to a 2017 study . Using non-dairy milk instead or switching to black coffee may give you clues about the source of your digestive issues.
Artificial sweeteners including sorbitol and aspartame (found in sugar substitutes like Equal) may cause bloating in a similar way to coffee and dairy, although more research is needed into their effects on the digestive tract.
Why does coffee cause bloating?
Caffeine stimulates gastrin release and gastric acid secretion (including hydrochloric acid), which can lead to acid reflux and heartburn. A 2001 study found that coffee causes the stomach to enlarge more than the same quantity of water, which may result in a feeling of fullness or bloat .
Caffeine also increases the activity of your brain and nervous system. Caffeine tolerance is different for everyone, but coffee can cause a noticeable increase in the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in your body.
Researchers have established that the increased cortisol levels as a result of excess caffeine can cause gastrointestinal upset and that increases in cortisol can affect men and women differently .
Whatever the cause, if you're experiencing recurrent abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting or constipation it might be worth discussing your symptoms with your GP.
Which type of coffee is better for bloating?
The acidity level of coffee changes as the beans are roasted and brewed. Some coffee roasters label certain beans as 'low acid' blends. This often means they are grown at lower altitudes and have a milder flavour because the plants receive more oxygen.
Coffee beans that are roasted for longer are less acidic. Dark roasts, like French or Italian, are therefore less acidic and can be a better option to reduce heartburn and reflux.
If it is the acidity, rather than the cortisol, is upsetting your stomach, cold brew coffee can be a good alternative as it has been found to have lower levels of acid .
Decaf is another option, but for some people with sensitive stomachs, it can still cause bloating because it contains traces of caffeine. Black coffee often has the most dramatic effects on your digestion due to its high acidity.
Can coffee cause weight loss?
Coffee has a reputation for helping people lose weight, but its effects on the body are complex. Weight loss is hugely dependent on individual factors like diet, sleep, age, genetics, medications and physical activity, all of which will interact with the coffee.
Overall, a recent meta-analysis found that drinking coffee might promote weight, BMI and body fat reduction . This is likely because it has a mild diuretic effect, meaning it causes your body to flush out water weight .
However, the way caffeine interacts with blood sugar levels and sleep can actually result in weight gain over the long term. Coffee sometimes functions as an appetite suppressant, but for many people, this can lead to unhealthy cycles of restriction and overeating.
There is increasing evidence that insufficient sleep (including caffeine-fueled insomnia) contributes to weight gain . For most people, drinking coffee once or twice a day will not have a noticeable impact on weight loss.
Is caffeine a concern for other health problems?
Alongside coffee bloat, caffeine can cause anxiety and sleep problems, especially in larger doses. Your body can become tolerant of caffeine over time, meaning you need to up your intake to get the same effect.
Eventually, you can even become dependent on caffeine to the point of experiencing withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, headaches, irritability, anxiety, sweating and muscle pain if you don't consume it.
400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day is the suggested maximum for an average person. A latte generally contains around 110 mg of caffeine, but it can also be found in chocolate, tea, cola and energy drinks, so it's important to consider your intake throughout the day.
Dehydration can be another unwanted side effect of coffee, leading to constipation in more serious cases. Because of this, drinking a glass of water alongside your latte can improve digestion.
According to the Victoria State Government, children and pregnant women particularly should limit their caffeine intake .
For kids, caffeine can contribute to insomnia and anxiety and have more serious health impacts than for adults. It can interfere with calcium absorption as well, which is needed to help their bones develop .
How do you get rid of coffee bloat?
If a caffeine hit is a regular part of your morning routine, the accompanying digestive issues may sometimes be unavoidable.
If you're feeling uncomfortably full or your stomach is visibly bloated, physical activity and abdominal massage can be helpful in getting your digestive system moving again. It is also recommended that you avoid fizzy drinks, which add to the gas already in your stomach.
Eating more fibre, like wholemeal bread and legumes, helps with digestion and prevents constipation. This additional fibre can also be consumed as part of a digestion supplement which aims to help the body process and absorb the nutrients from food.
Tips for reducing bloating
If you've established that caffeine, rather than dairy products or artificial sweeteners, is the cause of your coffee bloat, there aren't many easy fixes. You might have a sensitive stomach that reacts to the acidity of the drink or to the higher levels of stress hormones.
For starters, you may want to try a supplement that supports your digestion. This is where Kin's Daily Digest can come in — our 4-in-1 supplement helps promote and restore digestive health thanks to the addition of pre and probiotics, fibre and digestive enzymes in an easy-to-drink formula.
Our patented probiotic formula can help debloat and relieve indigestion, constipation and gas, while also improving the absorption of vitamins and minerals from food.
Secondly, it might be time to reduce your caffeine consumption — especially if you have a gastro-intestinal condition like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Crohn's.
There is increasing research into the brain-gut interaction and the effects of chronic stress on the digestive system, but caffeine's role in this reaction is still unclear . What we do know is that a caffeine habit can negatively impact digestive health for some people.
If you can't give up your morning cuppa altogether, try lower-caffeine beverages like chamomile, oolong or green tea, or herbal infusions that do not contain caffeine at all. Many people find avoiding drinking their morning cup of coffee on an empty stomach can help, too, because this is when acid production is at its highest.
Our body needs to stay hydrated and healthy at the best of times and this also aids in reducing bloating.
Kin's Electrolyte Powder is packed with ingredients that work together to keep you hydrated, healthy and energised — and has a freshing orange flavour!
Electrolytes and Vitamin C are essential for keeping your water levels up and for providing essential nutrients to support your body’s mineral and fluid balance.
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