When all the different food items in which caffeine occurs naturally are considered, ounce for ounce, coffee contains more than any other natural resource. Just one (average) cup of coffee delivers approximately 100 milligrams of caffeine. That is one quarter of the safe limit established for healthy adults per day acquired from just your morning cup of Joe!
Your safe limit of daily caffeine soon rises, when you consume other food items like colas, chocolate, and energy drinks during the course of a day. Certainly not everything about caffeine is bad, but it does play a very negative role when it comes to the digestive system.
It has a tendency to enhance stomach aches, make food go through the digestive tract too quickly, and make the body lose the much need water. When caffeine enters the stomach, it gets to work by making the stomach release excessive amounts of gastro acid. Under normal conditions when we eat a meal, gastric acid has two jobs (1).
To kill any bacteria that may be present in the food, and to break down the food, especially proteins, so they can easily be absorbed. However, drinking excessive amounts of coffee forces the body to produce too much of this acid unnecessarily, and if this practice is maintained long enough, the body’s ability to produce this important acid, is compromised.
This leads to a shortage of gastric acid for digestion, which in turn leads to stomach problems in general.
Caffeine is a Natural Muscle Relaxant
Furthermore, caffeine is a natural smooth muscle relaxer and it hinders the function of the lower esophageal sphincter muscle located between the esophagus and stomach (2).
Malfunctioning of the muscle allows acid back up into the esophagus causing heart burn.
Too Much Caffeine Can Cause Serious Issues for the Small Bowel
Caffeine also impedes the proper functioning of the intestinal tract. It acts to enhance the natural contractions of the intestines which speeds the flow of waste. This can cause diarrhea and a lot of discomfort. It can also force the stomach to pass its materials into the small intestine prematurely, before they have been broken down to a point that is normal.
This makes the intestines work harder than they are designed to, leading to stomach pains and cramps. Lastly, excessive caffeine aggravates the lining of the intestines, which over time can lead to diseases like Crohn’s or irritable bowel syndrome (3).
Coffee has also been linked with gastrointestinal ulcers. While the ulcers are actually caused by bacteria called H. pylori, it is thought that because coffee weakens the stomach and intestine linings, it provides the conditions needed for the bacteria to take hold. Too much caffeine also impedes with absorption of minerals.
It affects the way in which iron is absorbed in the stomach and calcium, magnesium, zinc and various other vital minerals are absorbed by the kidney. This is particularly worrying because many people are already deficient in magnesium (4).
Moderation in everything is the key to good health. This especially applies to coffee (caffeine of any source) consumption and your health. While one or two cups of coffee are perfectly normal, in fact good for the body, too much caffeine can have a detrimental affect on the digestive system.