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Coffee and Gut Health: Friend or Foe?

Whether it’s an ice-cold vanilla latte, a grande café mocha or just a traditional cup of Joe, people’s love affair with coffee is as strong as a cold brew.

But the question remains, can coffee wreak havoc on your digestive system? It depends on the sensitivities of the person, according to Adrian Dobrowolsky, M.D., general surgeon, Foregut Program of Hoag Digestive Health Institute.   

Coffee is known for having health benefits, including links to longevity, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, protection against cancers – liver, prostrate, breast and colorectal – just to name a few.

It’s also universally loved as a sure-fire way to kickstart their morning.

But for those who grapple with acid reflux or GERD, it’s important to monitor how coffee makes one feel in order to find a solution.

“I tell my patients to keep note of their symptoms after drinking coffee. Do you notice a burning pain in your chest? Sour taste in your mouth after having a cup? You may want to cut down if you’re noticing some changes in how you feel after drinking caffeine,” said Dr. Dobrowolsky.

There are ways to cut some of the acid reflux and digestive issues that can arise from those with caffeine sensitivities by making sure you have something to eat with your morning coffee, decreasing the amount of caffeine in your drink by mixing with a decaffeinated blend, or limiting the amount of coffee you have throughout the day.

“Drinking coffee has a lot more benefits than detriments,” said Dr. Dobrowolsky. “But like most things, it’s about moderation. Too much coffee can lead to unwanted side effects from insomnia, upset stomach, nausea, headaches, and heartburn. But it is possible to avoid issues by not overdoing it on coffee consumption.”

A few benefits of drinking coffee:

  • Improve digestion by feeding the healthy bacteria in one’s gut, because coffee contains dietary fiber and melanoidins.
  • Increase the growth of healthy gut bacteria, which fights off pathogens.
  • Lowers risk of colon cancer
  • Coffee contains antioxidants and can reduce inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Prevents constipation since coffee acts as a natural laxative that can cause muscle contractions in the colon and stimulate bowel movements.

“Some patients don’t know that they may have a loose valve at the bottom of their esophagus leading to feelings of heartburn and can even have damage of the esophagus lining that can lead to severe problems, even cancer,” said Dr. Dobrowolsky. “Some people can also have part of their stomach moving above the diaphragm, called a hiatal hernia, that can be the cause of their symptoms. Any of these should be discussed with your doctor as there are surgical and non-surgical means of helping fix the problem.”

To learn more about the Hoag Foregut Program, visit