If you’re one of the millions of Americans who enjoys a cup of coffee every day, you might be wondering about the effects of drinking it on an empty stomach.

According to a 2016 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, 75% of American adults over the age of 20 consume coffee regularly, with 49% of those individuals having at least one cup every day.

Research has extensively examined the compounds in coffee, primarily caffeine and chlorogenic acid, to evaluate their effects on the body. While numerous studies have produced buzz-worthy headlines, it’s essential to examine the body of research available. For instance, a 2017 literature review in the journal Planta Medica found that moderate coffee consumption (typically 3 to 4 cups a day) in healthy individuals posed no significant health risk and may even provide some benefits.

What Happens When You Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach?

However, personalized nutrition is crucial, and how caffeine affects people individually is quite varied. While more research is needed to investigate the impacts of caffeine and coffee on the body, we have a starting point to use as a baseline for now.

How Coffee Impacts Digestion

It’s important to note that not all coffee is the same before delving too deeply into the science. The type of coffee (such as instant, decaf, caffeinated, half-caffeinated, etc.) and the way it’s consumed (with milk, cream, sugar, etc.) will primarily affect how the coffee is digested.

Coffee and GERD

Sarah Koszyk, M.A., RDN, a registered dietitian, and co-founder of MIJA, a superfood wellness company, explains that many individuals enjoy their morning cup of coffee to get their caffeine fix. While Koszyk notes that based on available research, drinking coffee on an empty stomach is unlikely to cause harm or damage to the stomach, it’s essential to consider the additional stomach acid produced, especially for those prone to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and symptoms of heartburn.

While a 2022 review published in Nutrients did not provide a definitive answer on whether coffee is the main cause of GERD in those who experience it after consumption or whether other factors like obesity and chronic health conditions are at play, a study published in the September 2020 issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology analyzed data from the Nurses Health Study II and found that the intake of coffee, tea, and soda was linked to an increase in GERD symptoms among participants.

Also Read: 15 Best Foods to Cure a Stomach Ache

Given the inconsistent findings from research, the key is to be attentive and observe how your body reacts to drinking coffee on an empty stomach. If you experience symptoms of heartburn or GERD after drinking a cup, then you may consider modifying your coffee habits using the tips below in the hope of alleviating your symptoms.

Coffee and Bowel Movements

Studies have indicated that coffee can aid in promoting bowel regularity by stimulating the colon when combined with a balanced diet. Furthermore, research has suggested that coffee intake may be a helpful strategy in restoring colonic contractions and bowel function following abdominal surgery.

However, it is important to be mindful of the speed at which your body reacts to coffee on an empty stomach. Sarah Koszyk advises caution, noting that the “urge to go” may be accelerated without any food in the stomach.

How Long Does Coffee Take to Provide a Caffeine Fix?

According to a Planta Medica review from 2017, caffeine is fully absorbed by the stomach and small intestine within 45 minutes of consumption. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the effects of caffeine can be noticed after about 30 minutes, but the range can vary from 15 to 45 minutes. Research has shown that peak plasma concentration occurs approximately 15 to 20 minutes after ingestion.

Although your morning routine may vary, you might be able to discern how caffeine affects you individually based on your restroom breaks and increased alertness. However, it’s important to note that caffeine is not a replacement for sleep, despite its stimulating effects. While caffeine can enhance your decision-making abilities, it doesn’t provide the same restorative benefits that sleep does. It’s crucial for consumers to be aware of this distinction.

Tips for Caffeine-Sensitive Individuals

If black coffee tends to make you feel sensitive, don’t worry, you’re not alone. A suggestion from Koszyk is to try adding milk to your coffee as it can act as a buffer and potentially lower the risk of heartburn.

  • One option is to make a latte with a cup of milk, which can also aid in digestion of caffeine with its 8 grams of protein.
  • Alternatively, you can use a creamer, but it’s important to check the label and choose one that is free of added sugars.

Here are some examples of dietitian-approved breakfast options to pair with your coffee, recommended by Koszyk:

  • Whole-grain toast with nut butter and fruit
  • Oatmeal made with milk, chia seeds, and berries
  • Yogurt parfait with granola and fresh fruit

The Bottom Line!

Generally, consuming a cup of coffee on an empty stomach is not a cause for concern for healthy individuals. However, it’s important to listen to your body and determine if caffeine affects you adversely. If you are sensitive to caffeine, it might be beneficial to have a snack with your coffee to aid digestion. Regardless, as Koszyk suggests, “It’s possible to indulge in your love for coffee responsibly and feel great about it!”


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