A typical morning for a lot of people involves getting up, going to the kitchen and brewing a cup of coffee before doing anything else. Coffee has lots of health benefits including helping strengthen your cardiovascular system and helping reduce the risk of dementia. Although there is nothing wrong with craving a cup of coffee in the morning, many people wonder if drinking coffee on an empty stomach is okay. Is there anything wrong with drinking coffee on an empty stomach and is drinking coffee on an empty stomach bad for you? We will be answering these and other questions below.
Extensive research into the effects of drinking coffee regularly show that drinking coffee stimulates the production of stomach acid, specifically hydrochloric acid. The production of this acid is not usually a problem because there is food in the stomach that the acid works on. However, if there is no food and the stomach is empty, the acid can irritate the stomach.
This can cause several gut disorders including irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, stomach ulcers and indigestion. Caffeine on an empty stomach also leads to the relaxation of the lower oesophageal sphincter. This is the valve that opens to let food and fluids into the stomach and closes to prevent anything going back. When the valve is relaxed, it does not close properly and this can lead to issues such as acid reflux and gastric ulcers.
A common symptom to watch out for is heartburn which indicates there is acid in the oesophagus and if this condition is not treated then serious issues such as gastric ulcers and oesophageal blockages can occur.
To reduce any gastric issues associated with taking black coffee in the morning empty stomach, it would be better to take basic foods with your coffee. These include foods like eggs and avocados as these alkaline foods can help reduce the total acidity in the stomach, caused by either the coffee itself or the stomach acids whose production is stimulated.
Caffeine and Cortisol
Caffeine has a huge effect on cortisol levels in the body, and some of these effects contradict each other depending on when you drink coffee. Caffeine in coffee can increase the production of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that plays a significant role in out fight-or-flight reactions. The increase in the production of this hormone is what increases our energy levels and makes us more alert when we drink coffee.
When the levels of cortisol are elevated for prolonged periods - for example, in people who take coffee throughout the day - they can have some serious effects. One of these is increased anxiety levels. Cortisol might be released due to stress, but it can also cause stress when its levels remain elevated for too long as your body will be looking to act, finding nothing to act on and thus remaining in a state of heightened awareness.
Elevated cortisol levels also affect women by impacting ovulation, hormonal balance as well as both weight gain and weight loss.
Drinking coffee in the morning when your cortisol production is supposed to be high causes a shift in the production cycle. Even though you might be feeling alert, your cortisol levels will be low and you will be headed for a crash since your cortisol will be produced much later in the day. This can put you in a weird cycle which leads to craving more coffee. Instead of doing this, get some rest and try to drink coffee later in the day, around 8am-10am, when your cortisol levels have stabilised.
There are new studies that show that the effects of coffee and caffeine on cortisol tend to reduce the longer you drink coffee. This means that if you have been drinking coffee for a long time, your body might be used to it and might have built a tolerance that leads to a slight hormonal variation when you drink coffee. That said, this tolerance and reduction in the effects of caffeine depend entirely on your genetic make-up and will not be similar in everyone.
Caffeine Is a Diuretic
Most people do not know that caffeine is a diuretic. Diuretics increase the rate of water excretion in the body and can lead to the loss of vital minerals and vitamins through urination. This is not a good thing, especially if you have not taken any food that would help with the replacement of these minerals and nutrients.
Two of the more important minerals excreted due to excessive rumination are magnesium and potassium. These minerals and their ions are crucial for various bodily functions, notably muscle movement, mobility and agility.
Eating in the morning or before taking coffee to reduce the absorption rate of coffee can help reduce the diuretic effects experienced when you take coffee with empty stomach.
Caffeine and Blood Sugar
Caffeine has been shown to lower insulin sensitivity. Low insulin sensitivity means that your cells do not react to insulin as they should and thus do not absorb as much sugar (glucose) from the blood.
Most people sleep for 7-9 hours, meaning they fast throughout this period. They wake up with low blood sugar levels and when they take coffee, their cells are not unable to make use of the little glucose that already exists in the blood. If you only take coffee, you can expect to feel alert for the first few hours and then feel like you do not have energy later as your cells are unable to make use of available glucose.
Caffeine affects your insulin by affecting several hormones including epinephrine, where elevated levels reduce the cells’ ability to process glucose and adenosine. Reduced levels of these impact the body's ability to produce insulin. Caffeine also interferes with your sleep, which in turn leads to lowering insulin sensitivity even further.
If you already have type 2 diabetes, the lower insulin sensitivity can make it harder to maintain healthy blood glucose levels, something your body will already be struggling to do. Over time, a combination of taking coffee on an empty stomach, not eating well in the morning and the ensuing insulin insensitivity can lead to diabetic complications.
Low Energy Levels
Cortisol is the hormone that is supposed to make you feel awake in the morning. However, some people may feel groggy in the morning and this is why a lot of them start their day by drinking coffee. Your cortisol levels can be high and you might still not feel fully awake.
This is because coffee interferes with your natural wake-up mechanism. This happens because some people’s bodies have become so used to coffee in the morning that they see it as an important part of the wake-up process. Without the coffee, their body thinks something is lacking and thus does not complete the waking up process.
Getting enough sleep is crucial if you want to wake up alert and refreshed. There are lots of reasons why you might not be getting enough sleep and one of these is coffee. Remember that coffee interferes with your circadian rhythm and thus makes it harder to fall asleep and, when you do, it makes it harder to get the level of quality sleep you need.
The result is waking up in the morning feeling groggy, tired and not fully awake. To remedy this, reduce your coffee intake after 3pm. Also, avoid taking any beverages that contain caffeine after this time. If you have to drink coffee, go with decaffeinated coffee or opt for coffee varieties that have very low levels of caffeine.
What to Do
It is critical to pay close attention to what happens when you take coffee on an empty stomach and when you take coffee with a meal or some food. If you experience any of the issues discussed above when you drink black coffee in the morning empty stomach without eating anything, then you should reduce your coffee intake or ensure you always have some food when taking coffee.
You could also try going with decaffeinated coffee. Since caffeine is the main culprit in many of these issues and decaffeinated coffee contains none of it, you might see some relief if you switch. Do note that if any of your issues, especially the digestive issues, are caused by the bitterness or acidity of the coffee, switching will do you little good.
Many people enjoy a cup of coffee when they wake up. There is a lot of evidence to show that coffee can be bad for you when taken on an empty stomach, especially in light of digestion and other gastrointestinal issues. Some people do not see any effects of drinking coffee on an empty stomach, especially those who have been doing so for a long time. It is always best to gauge how your body reacts to caffeine in the morning and to reduce it to see if these issues subside. If they do, you might want to reconsider drinking coffee on an empty stomach.