Should You Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach?

Here's everything you need to know about drinking coffee on an empty stomach.

According to a 2016 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, 75% of American adults age 20 and above consume coffee regularly, with 49% of those individuals having at least a cup everyday. If you've landed on this piece, it's likely you're one of the 175 million-plus adults who enjoy a cup of joe.

Decades of research have explored the compounds in coffee—mainly caffeine and chlorogenic acid—to evaluate the effects they have on the body. While you may have seen headlines over the years sharing buzz-worthy news from these studies, what's most important is to look at the body of research available. For instance, a 2017 literature review published in the journal Planta Medica found that moderate consumption of coffee (typically 3 to 4 cups a day) in healthy individuals posed no significant health risk and may actually provide some benefit.

With this said, personalized nutrition is key, and how caffeine affects people individually is quite wide-ranging. While there is always a need for more research as science evolves to investigate the impacts of caffeine (and coffee) on the body, we have a starting place to use as a baseline for now. Let's explore this a bit more so you can decide for yourself.

Read Now: The Healthiest Way to Brew A Cup Of Coffee.

How Coffee Impacts Digestion

Before we get too far into the science, let's remember that not all coffee is created equal. For instance, the type of coffee (instant, decaffeinated, caffeinated, half-caffeinated, etc.) as well as how someone takes their coffee (with milk, cream, sugar, etc.) will impact first and foremost how their coffee is digested.

Coffee and GERD

According to Sarah Koszyk, M.A., RDN, a registered dietitian and co-founder of MIJA, a superfood wellness company, "Many people love their cup of joe first thing in the morning, right when they wake up, to get that caffeine fix." While she notes that this is unlikely to cause harm or damage to the stomach based on the available body of research, it does warrant consideration for the additional stomach acid produced and for those who are prone to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and symptoms of heartburn.

A 2022 review published in Nutrients was inconclusive as to whether coffee is the real culprit for those who experience GERD after consumption or whether other lifestyle factors, like obesity and other chronic health conditions, may also play a role. However, a study published in the September 2020 issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology that looked at data from the Nurses Health Study II noted that intake of coffee, tea and soda was associated with an increase in GERD symptoms among participants.

Since research is mixed, what's most important is to pay attention and note how your body responds to coffee on an empty stomach. If you notice heartburn and/or other GERD symptoms after a cup, then modify your coffee habits with our tips below to hopefully help reduce your symptoms.

Coffee and Bowel Movements

Research shows that coffee helps stimulate the colon and promote bowel regularity (in conjunction with a balanced diet.) Plus, studies show that coffee consumption may be an effective strategy to help restore colonic contractions and function of the bowel after abdominal surgery.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with enlisting the help of your morning cup of joe to make more space in your tummy, Koszyk suggests being cautious of how quickly your "urge to go" increases after drinking coffee on an empty stomach. She shares, "Without any food in the belly, that need might be quickened."

How Long Does Coffee Take to Provide a Caffeine Fix?

According to the 2017 review in Planta Medica mentioned above, caffeine is completely absorbed by the stomach and small intestine within 45 minutes after consumption. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that after about 30 minutes you will notice the effects of caffeine, but the range can be anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes (with research noting peak plasma concentration around 15 to 20 minutes after ingestion).

While you may (or may not, depending on how your morning goes) have the time to tune into your body to recognize these individualized responses to caffeine, you likely can tell how your cup of joe is affecting you individually based on when you have to use the restroom or when you suddenly feel a sense of alertness. But, consumer beware, caffeine should not be a substitute for sleep! It's a stimulant, yet does not provide the same restorative health you need to keep your decision-making abilities sharp.

Tips for Caffeine-Sensitive Individuals

If you find yourself sensitive to black coffee on its own, you're not alone. Take Koszyk's advice and consider adding milk to your coffee, which can create a buffer and reduce the potential risk of heartburn.

  • Make it a latte (1 cup of milk provides 8 grams of protein to help with digestion of the caffeine)
  • Add a creamer (be sure to check the label and try to choose a product that is free of added sugars)

She also suggests drinking coffee with breakfast to decrease the absorption rate, which can temper some of coffee's potential side effects. Some dietitian-approved favorites include:

  • A slice of whole-grain toast, nut butter and fruit
  • A cup of oatmeal prepared with milk, chia seeds and berries
  • A yogurt parfait with granola and fresh fruit

You may also enjoy 7 Breakfast Recipes Perfect for Coffee Lovers.

The Bottom Line

For healthy individuals, having a cup of coffee on an empty stomach is unlikely to cause any significant harm. However, you know your body best. If you find that your body is sensitive to caffeine, consider pairing a snack with your coffee to help with digestion. Either way, as Koszyk shares, "You can still get your coffee fix in a responsible way and feel good while doing it!"

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