Should you drink coffee on an empty stomach?

  • Science has no definite answer on whether it's good or bad to drink coffee on an empty stomach
  • While coffee can affect cortisol levels, whether or not you eat food makes no difference
  • It also makes no difference to those with conditions like heartburn and dyspepsia

South Africans and the world love their coffee – especially first thing in the morning.

Just in 2014, South Africans consumed around 31.5 million kilograms of coffee according to Stats SA

Coffee is made up of more than 800 volatile compounds, according to a Thieme review on the impact of coffee on health, and caffeine and chlorogenic acids are the most abundant compounds. 

But should it be the first thing you consume before breakfast? 

READ: Drink up! Coffee won't harm your heart, according to a new study

This is a hotly contested debate, and studies have found links between the production of stomach acid and coffee. This is cited by many people as a reason to have something to eat to prevent the acid from affecting your stomach lining. 

Generally, the stomach and small intestine absorb the caffeine, which takes place within 45 minutes of ingestion. When drinking reasonable quantities (about four cups a day), coffee might even help stave off diseases like type 2 diabetes and liver disease. 

Research has also shown that coffee has a positive effect on your microbiome, providing valuable antioxidants.

No difference for those who sensitive to coffee

And, looking at people who suffer from heartburn, regurgitation, and dyspepsia, researchers found that there was no difference between the severity of these conditions whether respondents drank coffee on an empty stomach or not, regardless of the type of coffee.

There was also no association found between the bitter brew and stomach conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcer, gastritis and stomach cancer.

ALSO READ: Coffee keeping you going during lockdown? Choose filtered as the healthiest option

Affect on cortisol levels

Another aspect that has been researched is coffee's effect on cortisol levels, the body's stress hormone. Coffee first thing in the morning could disrupt natural levels of cortisol that fluctuate throughout the day, but whether or not having food in your stomach affects this is not yet known.

A study from Psychosomatic Medicine did find that consuming caffeine daily reduces the effects that coffee has on cortisol levels. It may, therefore, be safe to assume that daily drinkers are better equipped to handle coffee on an empty stomach.

In the end, while science still has no definitive answer, it all comes down to listening to your body. If you feel fine, then there's no need to alter your coffee schedule, but if your stomach doesn't feel too great after your cuppa before breakfast, then maybe it's time to switch things around.

READ: Coffee a rich source of fibre?

Image credit: iStock

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