A new report from the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC), entitled ‘Coffee and its effect on digestion’ reviews the latest research into coffee’s effect on digestion, and indicates a potential protective effect against gallstones and gallstone disease,1,2,3 and pancreatitis4,5. The report also highlights other beneficial effects that coffee consumption may have on the process of digestion6-11, including supporting gut microflora17-19 and promoting gut motility12,13-16.
The report was authored by Professor Carlo La Vecchia, at the Department of Clinical Sciences and Community Health, University of Milan, Italy, who commented: “The effect of coffee on digestion is an evolving area of research. Data indicates benefits against common digestive complaints such as constipation, as well as a potential reduction in the risk of more serious conditions like chronic liver diseases, from non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), gallstones and related pancreatitis”.
Gallstone disease is a common digestive disorder, caused by the accumulation of gallstones in the gallbladder or bile duct, which affects approximately 10-15% of the adult population20. While the mechanism by which coffee may protect against gallstone disease is not yet known1-3, it has been observed that the risk for the condition declines with increasing daily consumption of coffee1,2. Caffeine is thought to play a role in these associations, as the same effect is not observed with decaffeinated coffee3.
A common question among consumers and focus area for research is whether coffee is associated with heartburn or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Heartburn is a mild form of acid reflux that can affect most people on occasion, while GORD is a chronic and severe acid reflux condition that affects up to one in five adults21, and is characterised by frequent heartburn, regurgitation of food or liquid, and difficulty swallowing. While a small number of studies have suggested an association between coffee drinking and GORD22-24, the majority of studies reviewed suggest that coffee is not a major trigger of these conditions12,25-31.
The report also reviewed a growing area of health and nutrition research, namely: the effect of coffee on the gut microflora (microorganism populations)17-19. Recent studies suggest that populations of the beneficial gut bacteria Bifidobacterium spp., increase after drinking coffee19,32. It is thought that the dietary fibre and polyphenols found in coffee, support the healthy growth of microflora populations18,19.
Additional research findings highlighted in the report include:
- Coffee can stimulate gut motility12,13-16.
- Coffee consumption is thought to stimulate digestion by encouraging the release of gastric acid, bile and pancreatic secretions6-11.
Coffee is already one of the most widely researched components of the diet, and its effect on digestion remains a growing area of research. While this report highlights a number of the more interesting findings that have emerged in recent years, it also provides insight into areas where further research would be beneficial, to better understand the mechanisms behind some of the beneficial effects observed.