Is coffee good for gut health? If you have IBS or other digestive woes, you may wonder if coffee can fit into your daily routine. 

If you’re a coffee lover but fear it may be bad for your gut, we’re going to unpack your most common coffee and digestion questions.

Many of my coffee-loving clients come to me for advice on how to fit coffee into a gut-friendly diet (or if they should at all). Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of coffee and gut health.

Is coffee good for gut health?

Does coffee help digestion in some cases? The answer to this is it depends on the person. For some, coffee can worsen digestive symptoms. For others, coffee in moderation does not pose a problem and can actually support healthy digestion.

Here are a few ways in which coffee can support gut health:

  1. Triggers bowel movements – If your digestive symptoms are more often on the constipation end, coffee can help keep you more regular (and feel less bloated). Coffee does this by stimulating muscle contractions in the colon, speeding up the digestive process, and in turn, promoting a bowel movement.
  2. May act as a prebiotic – A prebiotic is a type of beneficial fiber that probiotics (the health-promoting bacteria in our gut) feed off of. Some research has shown coffee may function as a prebiotic, supporting gut health.

Stimulates production of stomach acid – This can facilitate the digestion of food. The degree to which coffee affects our gut health depends on the person. While there are benefits to drinking coffee, there are also a few ways that coffee may negatively affect gut health.

How can coffee negatively affect our gut?

The way the body responds to coffee is dependent on the person. But why does coffee help digestion in some people and worsen it in others? 

Here are a few possible negative effects of coffee and how it may lead to these symptoms if you suffer from IBS.

  1. Can aggravate acid reflux
  2. May cause diarrhea and urgent bowel movements
  3. Can irritate the gut lining

There’s more to the coffee story than meets the eye, however.

Coffee does stimulate gastric juices but that’s not the whole story

Coffee does affect our stomach by triggering the release of gastric juices, like stomach acid.  This is partly the reason that coffee is often one of the first foods that health professionals will tell you to omit from your diet if you have gut problems like IBS or heartburn.  

It’s not just coffee that can affect our stomachs this way, but other beverages too such as wine can do the same.

There is also new research that shows coffee might release our stomach acid because of the bitter taste affecting our taste buds. 

On the other hand, other research shows that other compounds in coffee might prevent the release of stomach acid. This research showed dark roasted coffee in particular to be less effective in releasing stomach acid.

Long story short, coffee’s effect on our bodies is complex.  While there is differing research out there, drinking too much coffee when you have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), acid reflux, or a sensitive stomach may irritate your gut.   

Coffee and pooping

Caffeinated coffee does stimulate our colon which can be why coffee makes you poop.  Decaf coffee is lower in caffeine than regular coffee so it may have less of an effect on our colon.  In my practice, I have seen people react to different types of coffee in different ways. 

For some coffee makes them poop while for others it makes them constipated. In addition, some people may be able to drink it with no effect on their guts at all.

Coffee grounds could be a prebiotic food

There could be potential for coffee to be a gut-friendly food. A new study was released that took used coffee grounds and fermented them in a test tube with human poop. 

The results of their study showed that the coffee grounds helped grow some of the good types of gut bacteria found in our poop making coffee a possible prebiotic food

The coffee grounds didn’t have a beneficial effect on all types of our good gut bacteria, however. So while coffee has the potential of coffee to be beneficial for our gut bacteria, there is still more research needed to determine to what extent it does so.

text that reads: some things to think about. To the right of the text is a picture of a coffee cup.

If you suspect coffee is a trigger for you, here are a few things to remember:

Coffee is more than just caffeine 

Coffee contains many compounds and caffeine is just one of them. Sometimes the issue might be with coffee as a whole and sometimes it might be more of a caffeine issue. Experiment with decaf to try and see if caffeine is more of the problem.

It could be the creamer and not the coffee

When answering the question “Is coffee good for gut health?” it’s also important to consider what you’re adding to your coffee. In some cases problem might not be the coffee or caffeine, but what you put in it.  

For example, the addition of milk (cow milk or even nut milk like almond), sugar, or flavorings like cinnamon could be the natural irritants to your gut. Experimenting with omitting these ingredients and adding them back in one at a time can help you better determine the true culprit.

Watch how big your coffee cup is 

Sometimes coffee is better tolerated when you only have a small cup in the morning and that’s it. Everyone’s tolerance is different. so experiment with a smaller amount of coffee or try reducing how many cups of coffee you have a day.

Go for a cold brew instead

Because coffee acids are better extracted at high temperatures, cold brew can be up to 60% less acidic than hot brewed coffee. Many people also love the smoother, sweeter flavor of cold brew. 

Since fewer acids are extracted than from a typical heated brewing process, it doesn’t have the same bitter bite to it that can be off-putting for some.

Choose a clean & healthy coffee

A heaping spoonful of low-quality instant coffee (such as the coffee you might buy at most gas stations) will likely use the cheapest, lowest-quality coffee beans (usually selected based on price alone). 

These beans may contain a higher ratio of bean defects (such as insect damage, over-fermentation, and oxidization) and higher levels of mold. 

Plus, the coffee at these places could be stale if it’s been sitting out for a while. Many of the benefits of the coffee compounds will still be present, but so will toxins and chemicals that can create adverse health effects.

It is best to find a coffee that’s tested to be free of contaminants. If the coffee product has a USDA Organic label or is third-party lab tested, it is more likely to be of higher quality.