Is coffee good for your gut?

August 6, 2020

Many of us rely on a cup of coffee to start the day and get us moving (in more ways than one!). But how does it affect your gut health? 

The US is a nation of coffee drinkers, with over 60% of us enjoying at least one cup a day. And while it helps to keep you alert, there’s evidence that drinking coffee can be beneficial for your health. 

Research has shown that coffee may have a wide range of health benefits including reducing your risk of diabetes, heart disease Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and various types of cancer

But have you ever wondered what does your cup of Morning Joe does to your microbiome? We speak to our expert Dr. Nicola Segata from the University of Trento, Italy, to find out what we’ve learned from our PREDICT studies about how coffee affects your gut health. 

In this post, we take a closer look at:

  • The many biological molecules that coffee contains and their relation to overall health.
  • The gut-related benefits of drinking coffee.
  • Novel findings from our PREDICT studies relating to coffee consumption and gut microbiome diversity.

How coffee affects your gut health

There are more than a thousand bioactive molecules in coffee. The best known - and our favorite! - is caffeine, which provides that famous energy boost. But there are lots of other beneficial compounds in coffee, including vitamin B2, magnesium, and polyphenols. So how do all these chemicals affect our gut? 

One of the most obvious effects of coffee is its ability to keep things moving through your gut. Caffeine activates contractions in your digestive tract, while other compounds in coffee stimulate the production of stomach acid, which both help move food through your gut and keep you regular.

You might have noticed that after you finish your cup, you need to make a speedy exit to the bathroom. If so, you certainly aren't alone: nearly 30% of people say that drinking coffee makes them need to poop within 30 minutes. 

Coffee also contains a range of anti-inflammatory molecules that can help maintain a healthy digestive tract and prevent inflammatory reactions that have been linked with chronic diseases

How coffee affects your microbiome

The millions of microbes living in your gut (known as your microbiome) play an essential role in your gut and overall health. They can also have a significant impact on how you respond to food. To eat to support our best health, we need to understand how the things we eat and drink (coffee included) affect our gut inhabitants. 

In our PREDICT studies, we took a closer look at how coffee consumption affects the microbiome. 

"We saw a very strong correlation between drinking coffee and the composition of the gut microbiome," says Nicola. "We noticed that people who drank coffee tended to have higher microbiome diversity."
"We also found that the link between coffee and the microbiome was dose-dependent, so people who drank more than four cups per day tended to have the highest microbiome diversity, compared with people who drank fewer cups or none at all."

As you might remember from our previous posts, a rich, diverse microbiome with lots of different microbial species is generally a healthy microbiome. That's because when you have lots of different gut microbes, you have a capable, resilient community that can cope with whatever you throw at it. Importantly, a high microbiome diversity has been associated with a reduced risk of obesity and chronic diseases. 

So, a diverse microbiome is a healthy microbiome, and it seems that coffee might help us get there. But how does it work?

Although we can't say precisely why coffee drinkers tend to have higher microbiome diversities, it may be linked to the fact that coffee contains polyphenol and soluble fiber compounds that act as food for our beneficial ‘good’ gut microbes and increase their diversity and activity.

Coffee also contains antimicrobial molecules that can help reduce the presence of harmful microbes, making room for ‘good’ bacteria and helping them flourish. 

Bearing all this science in mind, we see no reason to cut out coffee - and it might help keep you regular and increase your microbiome diversity too!

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