New report discusses coffee's effect on digestion and digestive disorders

May 28, 2020

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.
    Readers interested in finding out more about coffee & health can visit:

    Notes to editors
    • Moderate coffee consumption can be defined as 3-5 cups per day, based on the European Food Safety Authority's review of caffeine safety33.

    • To read a full overview of coffee and digestion, please click here.
    Author of the report

    Professor Carlo La Vecchia, Department of Clinical Sciences and Community Health, University of Milan, Italy.


    1. Zhang Y.P. et al. (2015) Systematic review with meta-analysis: coffee consumption and the risk of gallstone disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 42:637-48.

    2. Leitzmann M.F. et al. (1999) A prospective study of coffee consumption and the risk of symptomatic gallstone disease in men. JAMA, 281:2106-12.

    3. Leitzmann M.F. et al. (2002) Coffee intake is associated with lower risk of symptomatic gallstone disease in women. Gastroenterol, 123:1823-30.

    4. Setiawan V.W. et al. (2017) Dietary Factors Reduce Risk of Acute Pancreatitis in a Large Multiethnic Cohort. Clin Gastro Hepatol, 15(2):257-265.e.3.

    5. Wijarnpreecha K. et al. (2018) Heavy Coffee Consumption and Risk of Pancreatitis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Dig Dis Sci, 63(11):3134-3140.

    6. Boekema P.J. et al. (1999) Coffee and gastrointestinal function: facts and fiction. Scand J Gastroenterol, 99:35-9.

    7. Papakonstantinou E, et al. (2016) Acute effects of coffee consumption on self-reported gastrointestinal symptoms, blood pressure and stress indices in healthy individuals. Nutr J, 15:26.

    8. Rubach M. et al. (2014) A dark brown roast coffee blend is less effective at stimulating gastric acid secretion in healthy volunteers compared to a medium roast market blend. Mol Nutr Food Res, 58:1370-3.

    9. Arin R.M. et al. (2017) Adenosine: Direct and Indirect Actions on Gastric Acid Secretion. Front Physiol, 8:737.

    10. Yip L. et al. (2004) Role of adenosine A1 receptor in the regulation of gastrin release. J Pharmacol Exp Ther, 310:477-87.

    11. Douglas B.R. et al. (1990) Coffee stimulation of cholecystokinin release and gallbladder contraction in humans. Am J Clin Nutr, 52:553-6.

    12. Chang C.S. et al. (1997) The incidence of reflux esophagitis among the Chinese. Am J Gastroenterol, 92:668-71.

    13. Rao S.S. et al. (1998) Is coffee a colonic stimulant? Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol, 10, 113-8.

    14. Brown S.R. et al. (1990) Effect of coffee on distal colon function. Gut, 31:450-53.

    15. Scheperjans F. et al. (2015) Linking Smoking, Coffee, Urate, and Parkinson's Disease - A Role for Gut Microbiota? J Parkinsons Dis, 5:255-62.

    16. Murakami K. et al. (2006) Dietary intake in relation to self-reported constipation among Japanese women aged 18-20 years. Eur J Clin Nutr, 60:650-7.

    17. Gniechwitz D. et al. (2007) Dietary fiber from coffee beverage: degradation by human fecal microbiota. J Agric Food Chem, 55:6989-96.

    18. Moco S. et al. (2012) Metabolomics view on gut microbiome modulation by polyphenol-rich foods. J Proteome Res, 11:4781-4790.

    19. Mills C.E. et al. (2015) In vitro colonic metabolism of coffee and chlorogenic acid results in selective changes in human faecal microbiota growth. Br J Nutr, 113:1220-7.

    20. Brazzelli M. et al. (2014) Clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of cholecystectomy compared with observation/conservative management for preventing recurrent symptoms and complications in adults presenting gallstones or cholecystitis: a systematic review and economic evaluation. Health Technology Assessment, 18(55):1-101.

    21. Dent J. et al (2005) Epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review. Gut, 54(5):710-717.

    22. Wendl B. et al. (1994) Effect of decaffeination of coffee or tea on gastro-oesophageal reflux. Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 8:283-7.

    23. Arivan R., Deepanjali S. (2018) Prevalence and risk factors of gastro-esophageal reflux disease among undergraduate medical students from a southern Indian medical school: a cross sectional study. BMC Res Notes, 11(1):448.

    24. Mehta R.S. et al. (2019) Association Between Beverage Intake and Incidence of Gastroesophageal Reflux Symptoms. Cin Gastroenterol Hepatol, S1542-3565(19)31380-1. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2019.11.040. [Epub ahead of print]

    25. Nilsson M. et al. (2004) Lifestyle related risk factors in the aetiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux. Gut, 53:1730-5.

    26. Dore M.P. et al. (2008) Diet, lifestyle and gender in gastro-esophageal reflux disease. Dig Dis Sci, 53:2027-32.

    27. El-Serag H.B. et al. (2007) Determinants of gastroesophageal reflux disease in adults with a history of childhood gastroesophageal reflux disease. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol, 5:696-701.

    28. Ercelep O.B. et al. (2014) The prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux disease among hospital employees. Dis Esophagus, 27:403-8.

    29. Shimamoto T. et al. (2013) No association of coffee consumption with gastric ulcer, duodenal ulcer, reflux esophagitis, and non-erosive reflux disease: a cross-sectional study of 8,013 healthy subjects in Japan. PLoS One, 8:e65996.

    30. Pandeya N. et al. (2012) Prevalence and determinants of frequent gastroesophageal reflux symptoms in the Australian community. Dis Esophagus, 25:573-83.

    31. Friedenberg F.K. (2010) Prevalence and risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease in an impoverished minority population. Obes Res Clin Pract, 4:e261-e269.

    32. Jaquet M. et al. (2009) Impact of coffee consumption on the gut microbiota: a human volunteer study. Int J Food Microbiol, 130:117-21.

    33. EFSA (2015) Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine, EFSA Journal, 13(5):4102.

    About ISIC

    The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC) is a not-for-profit organization, established in 1990 and devoted to the study and disclosure of science related to "coffee and health." Since 2003 ISIC also supports a pan-European education programme, working in partnership with national coffee associations in nine countries to convey current scientific knowledge on "coffee and health" to healthcare professionals.

    ISIC's activities are focused on:
    • The study of scientific matters related to "coffee and health"

    • The collection and evaluation of studies and scientific information about "coffee and health"

    • The support of independent scientific research on "coffee and health"

    • Active dissemination of balanced "coffee and health" scientific research and knowledge to a broad range of stakeholders
    ISIC respects scientific research ethics in all its activities. ISIC's communications are based on sound science and rely on scientific studies derived from peer-reviewed scientific journals and other publications.

    ISIC members are six of the major European coffee companies: illycaffè, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Lavazza, Nestlé, Paulig and Tchibo.


    The website is a science-based resource developed for healthcare and other professional audiences and provides the latest information and research into coffee, caffeine and health.

    Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC)

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