Caffeine and gastrointestinal function

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Dyspepsia can be defined as painful, difficult, or disturbed digestion, which may be accompanied by symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, heartburn, bloating, and stomach discomfort. The digestive problems may have an identifiable cause, such as bacterial or viral infection, peptic ulcer, gallbladder, or liver disease. Often, there is no organic cause for the problem. There is evidence that functional dyspepsia may be related to abnormal motility of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Stomach problems may also be a response to stress. Dietary factors, including coffee and caffeine, are often associated with these complaints however there is no scientific evidence suggesting that caffeine is clearly involved in these complaints.

All studies performed so far concerned coffee and not caffeine alone. There is apparently no link between gastro-intestinal complaints and consumption of coffee45. A study of 8,407 adults, conducted in the UK, showed a significant relationship between the presence of Helicobacter pylori and dyspepsia, but no relationship with coffee consumption46. It is, however, considered that stomach irritation is not due to caffeine but seems to be linked with other specific constituents of coffee some of which have been identified47.

Gastro-oesophageal reflux (GORD) refers to the backward flow of acid from the stomach up into the oesophagus. People experience heartburn, also known as acid indigestion, when excessive amounts of acid reflux into the oesophagus. A recent meta-analysis48 considered 15 case-control studies published up until December 2012 and found no significant association between the risk of GORD and coffee intake.

Peptic ulcer disease (PUD) consists of open sores that develop on the inside lining of the stomach and the upper portion of the small intestine called duodenum. This lesion is due to chronic inflammation and is often related to an infection, the frequent use of painkillers like aspirin, ibuprofen or Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). Peptic ulcers can also have a partly genetic cause. The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is abdominal pain. Scientific studies to date show no relationship between coffee consumption and the risk of duodenal ulcers. In the most recent study 5451 healthy Japanese coffee drinkers were compared to 2562 non-coffee drinkers. The authors found no association between coffee consumption and either gastric or duodenal ulcers49.

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