Caffeine and Gastritis: Why Does Coffee Hurt my Stomach?

Woman standing on balcony, drinking coffee. Feature image for Caffeine and gastritis article. [Thumbnail image]

Coffee is a beloved beverage for many, but for some, it comes with an uncomfortable side effect: stomach pain. If you’ve ever wondered, “Why does coffee hurt my stomach?” you’re not alone.

In this article, we’ll explore the connection between caffeine and gastritis, the reasons behind coffee-induced stomach discomfort, and offer tips on how to enjoy your favorite brew without the pain.

Can Caffeine Cause Stomach Pain?

Caffeine, a natural stimulant found in coffee, tea, and added to various energy drinks, is known for its ability to boost alertness and energy levels. However, it can also have some less desirable effects on your stomach and, therefore, causing you stomach pain:

  • Increased Acid Production: Caffeine stimulates the stomach to produce more acid. For individuals with sensitive stomachs, this excess acid can lead to irritation and discomfort.
  • Relaxation of the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES): Caffeine can cause the LES (‘a high-pressure zone located where the esophagus meets the stomach and protects the esophagus from the reflux of gastric contents’) to relax, which might allow stomach acid to escape into the esophagus, leading to heartburn and indigestion.
  • Acceleration of Gastric Emptying: Caffeine can speed up the rate at which food leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine (that’s why right after you drink coffee, you need to go to the restroom). This rapid movement can cause cramping and discomfort for some people.

Understanding these effects is crucial to managing your caffeine intake and mitigating stomach pain if you suffer from some of these effects. Now, let’s delve deeper into the relationship between caffeine and gastritis.

What Is the Relationship between Caffeine and Gastritis?

We already have explained how coffee affects your stomach but, besides these effects, caffeine can indeed contribute to the development and exacerbation of gastritis too. Gastritis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the stomach lining, and caffeine’s impact on acid production and gastric motility can aggravate this inflammation.

To better understand the relationship between caffeine and gastritis, it’s important to first grasp what gastritis is, what causes it, and how caffeine contributes to the condition. By doing so, you’ll be able to determine whether coffee is the reason behind your gastritis symptoms.

What is gastritis?

Gastritis is the inflammation or irritation of the stomach lining. It can be a short-term or chronic (long-term) condition and can result from various factors, including bacterial infections, certain medications, and excessive alcohol consumption. However, even thought caffeine doesn’t directly cause it, it can exacerbate the symptoms of gastritis by increasing stomach acid production and irritating the stomach lining.

Portrait of woman clutching belly suffering stomach ache, gastritis or constipation

What causes gastritis?

Gastritis can be caused by several factors, many of which are worsened by caffeine. Here are some common causes:

  • Bacterial Infections: Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a common bacterium that can cause gastritis. It’s often treated with antibiotics, but the presence of excess stomach acid, which caffeine promotes, can worsen the condition.
  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol can irritate and erode the stomach lining, leading to inflammation and pain.
  • Regular Use of Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): Medications like ibuprofen and aspirin can damage the stomach lining over time.
  • Stress: Chronic stress can increase stomach acid production and contribute to gastritis.
  • Dietary Factors: Spicy foods, fatty foods, and caffeine can all aggravate the stomach lining.

If you consume coffee regularly and experience symptoms like a burning sensation in your stomach, nausea, vomiting, or a feeling of fullness, you might be dealing with gastritis.

Can I Drink Decaf Coffee with Gastritis?

Decaf coffee might seem like a logical alternative for those with gastritis, but it’s not a foolproof solution. While decaf coffee does contain significantly less caffeine than regular coffee, it’s not completely caffeine-free and can still stimulate some acid production in the stomach. Additionally, decaf coffee is often still acidic, which can irritate the stomach lining just like regular coffee.

However, for some people, switching to decaf coffee can reduce the severity of their symptoms. If you find that regular coffee causes severe discomfort, it might be worth trying decaf to see if it makes a difference. Keep in mind that individual tolerance varies, so pay attention to how your body responds. If after a couple of weeks you still feel the symptoms of gastritis, we are sorry to tell you that you should stop drinking coffee (we recommend switching to tea so you don’t feel the void of not drinking a delicious cup of coffee every morning. You will survive, promise).

How to Drink Coffee with Gastritis?

But, if you’re not ready to give up your daily coffee (we get it), there are ways to enjoy it while minimizing the risk of gastritis. Here are some tips to help you drink coffee without the pain:

  1. Choose Low-Acidity Coffee: Some coffee brands offer low-acidity options, which are less likely to irritate your stomach.
  2. Limit Your Intake: Try to reduce the amount of coffee you drink each day. Instead of multiple cups, stick to one or two.
  3. Drink Coffee with Food: Consuming coffee on an empty stomach can increase acid production. Eating something beforehand can help buffer this effect.
  4. Avoid Additives: Creamers, sugar, and artificial sweeteners can further irritate the stomach lining. Try drinking your coffee black or with a small amount of milk and use sugar substitutes if needed.
  5. Stay Hydrated: Drinking water alongside your coffee can help dilute stomach acid and reduce irritation.
  6. Monitor Your Symptoms: Keep a journal of your coffee consumption and any symptoms you experience. This can help you identify patterns and adjust your habits accordingly.

Another thing that can help you a lot with gastritis is taking probiotics, as there’s proven evidence that they can help you treat gastritis.

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Understanding the connection between caffeine and gastritis is crucial for anyone experiencing stomach pain after drinking coffee. While caffeine can worsen gastritis by increasing stomach acid production and irritating the stomach lining, there are ways to manage your symptoms and continue enjoying your favorite beverage. By choosing low acid coffee, moderating your intake, and paying attention to your body’s signals, you can find a balance that works for you. Remember, everyone’s tolerance is different, so it’s essential to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed.

Posted in Nutrition

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