Coffee, the second most consumed beverage in the United States after water, holds a revered place in daily rituals for many, with three-fourths of Americans enjoying at least one cup daily. While abundant research supports the health benefits of coffee, experts caution against drinking it on an empty stomach, as it may have adverse effects on gastric health. Dr. Chantel Strachan, a primary care physician and internal medicine specialist with Columbia Primary Care, highlights that some individuals habitually reaching for coffee upon waking may encounter unpleasant symptoms.
Certain foods can trigger acid reflux and heartburn, resulting in a burning sensation in the chest and upper abdomen. Coffee, for many, contributes to increased stomach acid production and can relax the sphincter separating the stomach and esophagus, potentially leading to acid backflow and heartburn. Chronic reflux may elevate the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus, a condition where the esophageal lining thickens due to acid reflux, though direct causation with coffee on an empty stomach remains unproven.
Interestingly, not everyone experiences negative consequences from drinking coffee on an empty stomach. Some individuals remain symptom-free, potentially aided by mixers like creamer or milk that could reduce acid production associated with coffee. Opting for decaffeinated or low-acid coffee blends may also mitigate gastric acid production, lessening symptoms or their severity. Dr. Strachan emphasizes that coffee, despite potential drawbacks, offers numerous health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and various cancers.
To safeguard the gastric system from acid influx, Strachan recommends consuming a small breakfast before indulging in that first cup of coffee. Listening to your body is crucial; if coffee on an empty stomach leads to adverse gastrointestinal symptoms, discontinuing the practice is advised. However, for those without symptoms, there may be no need for a change. For those seeking alternatives, green or black tea offers similar benefits with less gastric distress. Herbal teas, incorporating ingredients like ginger, chamomile, turmeric, and peppermint, may further enhance digestion and soothe the stomach.