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How To Consume Caffeine In The Healthiest Way, According To A Gut Health Expert

Marvin Singh, M.D.
Integrative Gastroenterologist
By Marvin Singh, M.D.
Integrative Gastroenterologist
Marvin Singh, M.D. is an integrative gastroenterologist in San Diego, California. He is trained and board certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology/hepatology.
Modern Work Desk With Laptop Open And Black Coffee Mug
Image by Nicole Mason / Stocksy

Let me start by saying I love coffee and drink it all the time. Coffee and tea are two of the most popular drinks across the globe—they are basically part of our culture as human beings. And, yes, there can be health benefits, and there may also be health risks in some cases.

Benefits of coffee.

Over 80% of U.S. adults drink caffeine, and many do so for the positive impacts in alertness1, vigilance, attention, reaction time and attention, and even physical performance.

Coffee also has more than 800 compounds, which include caffeine and chloragenic acids, and there is data to support positive benefits including prevention of several chronic diseases like diabetes and fatty liver2.

Plus, it can give coffee lovers that nice warm and fuzzy feeling first thing in the morning.

Negative side effects of caffeine.

There can be downsides to drinking too much coffee, especially if you're a slow metabolizer of caffeine. For example, heartburn is a common side effect3 of excess caffeine.

There has also been some research suggesting that people who include coffee in their diet might be more prone to developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This could be due to a number of reasons, but part of this could be related to altered motility in the gut as a result of drinking coffee (in other words, coffee might make you poop). Since coffee is a stimulant, it could be one of the driving factors in those with IBS and diarrhea4.

Not to mention, many of your favorite coffee drinks are packed full of syrups, creamers, and sugars—this may drive inflammation and an imbalance of bacteria in the gut microbiome5. When you regularly take in these sugar sources, you have an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease, and a whole host of other medical problems6.

How to consume caffeine in a healthy way.

So what are we supposed to do? Do we avoid it and fight our cravings, or do we just drink it and hope for the best? Well, these are excellent questions, and I think we can do both.

There are two key concepts to consider: How much caffeine do you really need, and how is the caffeine being absorbed in your body?

The key comes back to one of my favorite phrases, "the dose makes the poison." Studies suggest that lower doses of caffeine7 at regular intervals across the day can offer you all the benefits of caffeine you might desire while controlling for the side effects that might occur for you when the dose gets too high—this is a concept I refer to as caffeine microdosing. For example, I might be better off taking 200 mg of caffeine (equivalent to 2 cups of coffee) over the course of six to seven hours rather than drinking all of the 200 mg over the course of an hour.

Additionally, it is important to consider how the smaller doses of caffeine are being absorbed. One study suggests that caffeine may be absorbed quicker8 (within minutes) through the buccal mucosa (i.e., the mouth), through products like caffeinated low-FODMAP, low sugar, all-natural gummies. And it's absorbed slower in the gut, which takes approximately 45 minutes, with products like coffee and sports drinks. This more rapid absorption can be particularly helpful, especially in a performance scenario. Whether you're an athlete, student, busy business owner, or a busy parent—this is something to consider.

Personally, I have my nice warm cup of organic black coffee first thing in the morning. It's just part of my habit and routine. I might drink it over the course of an hour or two. Then later in the morning, if I feel like I need a bit of a boost, I might microdose a bit more caffeine. I do this because I know that if I have another full cup of coffee, it might be too much and I might get a headache, feel a little nauseated, or get some palpitations. It's important to pay attention to how caffeine affects you and adjust your routine accordingly.

I also recommend opting for a high-quality, natural source of caffeine. Make sure to look at the label and check out the ingredients. Avoid caffeine products that are high in FODMAPs, allergens, gut irritants, or other fillers, dyes, and binders.

So, remember, you can still have your cup of coffee if you like, but there are ways to consume caffeine without the negative side effects of higher doses over a short period of time. And, as always, be sure to consult your physician before trying something new, to make sure it is right for you.

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Marvin Singh, M.D. author page.
Marvin Singh, M.D.
Integrative Gastroenterologist

Marvin Singh, M.D is an Integrative Gastroenterologist in San Diego, California, and a Member of the Board and Diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Medicine. He is also trained and board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology/Hepatology. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Singh completed his residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Health System followed by fellowship training in Gastroenterology at Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines. Singh was trained by Andrew Weil, M.D., a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine.

Singh is currently the Director of Integrative Gastroenterology at the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute at UC Irvine. He is also currently a voluntary Assistant Clinical Professor at UCSD in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health; prior to this, he has been a Clinical Assistant Professor at UCLA and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Singh is a member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and many other societies. He is actively involved in the American Gastroenterological Association. He is one of the editors of the textbook of Integrative Gastroenterology, 2nd edition (a Weil Series text) and has written several book chapters and articles.

He is dedicated to guiding his clients toward optimal wellness every step of the way, using the most cutting edge technologies to design highly personalized precision based protocols. Towards this end, he founded Precisione Clinic and wrote the book Rescue Your Health to bring the best in preventive medicine to his clients.