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Caffeine’s Effect on the GI Tract

Caffeine According to the FDA, eighty percent of adults consume coffee everyday. With our days growing increasingly demanding, it’s no surprise that we have to have our caffeine fix daily! Caffeine is a stimulant found in products such as coffee, tea, cocoa, soda, and some medications. Caffeine makes us more alert, speeds up our metabolisms, and even enhances our moods. But, with all those benefits, too much caffeine can be harsh on your digestive system. Let’s look at it’s effect on your GI Tract.


Caffeine may get you going in the morning, but part of the effect of the drug is that it increases the production of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. Your heart beats faster and you get a boost of energy, but the blood supply to the intestines decreases. This reduction in supply of blood slows digestion.

Increased Peristalsis (We’ll explain further…)

Caffeine acts as a laxative and increases the muscle contractions (known as peristalsis) that move food through the digestive system. This effect can happen pretty quickly after you consume your coffee. Ever wonder why Great Uncle Herb was cranky if he didn’t have his coffee in the morning? You got your answer.

Increased Diuresis

Caffeine acts as a diuretic. Blood flow to the kidneys is increased, resulting in increased urine production. Increased urine can lead to dehydration, which in turn can contribute to constipation. Drink plenty of water to compensate for the loss of fluids.

Gastric Secretions

That just sounds bad, doesn’t it? Caffeine is acidic, increasing the acidity in your digestive system. In turn, your body produces more gastric juices. This can irritate the intestinal lining, leading to upset stomach. Excessive amounts of caffeine can cause ulcers and gastritis. Caffeine can worsen symptoms if you have gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

Keep in mind that reasonable amounts of caffeine in most healthy adults is considered safe. The FDA says that it’s safe to drink one to two cups of coffee per day (that’s up to 200 milligrams, not two supersized travel mugs-worth). Caffeine should be avoided if you have certain health problems including heart disease, hypertension, or disorders of the gastrointestinal system.

© 2012 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

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