Raise your hand if you’re one of those people who starts your morning off by tossing a good ~cup o’ joe~ down your gullet into the pit that is your empty stomach — and it makes you happy… 😄
Well, a quick TikTok search — a TikTok Google as I like to call it — will populate tons of videos with people telling you that this is bad for your health.
Several TikTok users claim drinking coffee on an empty stomach dysregulates cortisol patterns which affect hormones and contribute to things like painful periods, bloating, afternoon exhaustion, acne, hair loss, gut issues, anxiety, and thyroid imbalance.
So, as an individual who drinks coffee on an empty stomach and also experiences the whole gamut of period cramps, bloating, etc., I knew I needed to find the truth.
Insert Dr. Idrees Mughal — who goes by Dr. Idz on social media. He is a medical doctor in the UK, specifically studying nutritional research and lifestyle medicine.
“Drinking coffee on an empty stomach is not inherently damaging to our health,” Dr. Idz said. “Coffee is actually very health-promoting for the vast majority of people. A large umbrella review by Robin Poole and colleagues in 2017 covering hundreds of individual studies showed that coffee consumption reduces your risk of death and various chronic diseases, including heart disease, liver, and metabolic conditions.”
Even though coffee may be beneficial to our health, the TikTok argument is that coffee is bad on only an empty stomach because it spikes cortisol levels too high.
So, first, let’s understand what cortisol is. “Cortisol is a glucocorticoid (steroid hormone) that is produced by your adrenal glands. It’s the main ‘stress’ hormone and acts as our internal alarm clock. Its primary roles are to stimulate the ‘fight or flight’ response when faced with a stressor (like when someone scares you),” Dr. Idz said.
In general, caffeine stimulates cortisol — especially for those who aren’t used to drinking caffeinated drinks. So, consuming coffee on an empty stomach can speed up the rate at which you uptake caffeine into your system because there is no food to slow down the digestion and absorption process, Dr. Idz said. “But if you’re used to drinking it, your body will adapt and cortisol responses will be reduced,” he added.
This means that once your body gets used to you consuming caffeine, it shouldn’t cause health problems related to hormones, but that doesn’t mean drinking it on an empty stomach is good for you. Coffee makes your stomach acid increase, so if you drink it on an empty stomach, it may cause heartburn or indigestion. In addition, caffeine in general can trigger gastritis and other stomach issues. “Large amounts of caffeine are not advised for people with hypertension, heart arrhythmias, kidney or liver diseases, and anxiety.”
“Also, some people may be particularly sensitive to coffee, which could lead to painful periods or be an acne trigger. If you feel this is the case for you, then it wouldn’t hurt to trial a week or two without coffee to see what happens. There are some medical scenarios in which regular coffee consumption may pose an issue, so it’s always best to check with your doctor,” he said.
And while coffee is generally health-promoting for most of us, Dr. Idz said it’s wise to avoid consuming caffeinated drinks in the late afternoon onward. “This is because it can take up to 10 hours for caffeine to leave our system and — if high levels are present in the body at night — this can negatively impact your sleep. Poor sleep has its own cascade of negative health problems, so if you like and drink coffee, try to keep it to the morning and early part of the afternoon.”
TL;DR: Regarding the claims made on TikTok that caffeine dysregulates hormones, Dr. Idz said there is minimal evidence to back this claim. “The small bit of research available is not particularly meaningful by itself, especially when there is so much research showing moderate coffee intake is generally health-promoting,” Dr. Idz concluded.
The one thing to be aware of is that coffee increases the amount of acid in your stomach, so drinking it on an empty stomach can cause acid reflux and/or heartburn. That is why many experts suggest eating a little something with your morning coffee!