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Why Does Coffee Make Me Nauseous?

Rebecca Hanlon
Last Updated: February 28th, 2023

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages consumed around the world for its deliciousness and perks of waking you up in the morning. While drinking coffee comes with many benefits, it does have the ability to cause an upset stomach or nausea from time to time.

There are several reasons why drinking coffee can make you nauseous. Some of the most common reasons include drinking coffee on an empty stomach, high-acidic coffee, and other coffee components that can trigger nausea.

Let’s take a closer look at how coffee can make you feel nauseous and some tips to help prevent it.

Drinking Coffee on an Empty Stomach

Drinking coffee on an empty stomach can irritate the stomach lining due to the acid that is already present within the stomach combined with the acidity that’s in coffee.

Caffeine in coffee is a diuretic, which increases the need to urinate and speeds up the digestion process. If you don’t have enough food in your stomach, the diuretic effects of caffeine can cause nausea.

Caffeine also activates gastric acid secretion, which can produce excess amounts of acid in the stomach when it is empty. This can cause further irritation and lead to an upset stomach and nausea.

Anything below a seven on the pH scale is considered acidic, with seven being neutral. The human stomach already has an average pH level between 1.5 to 3.5. For comparison, lemons have a pH level of 2.

Black coffee is considered to be acidic because, on average, it has a pH level of five. As a result, our stomachs can be very sensitive to higher acidity levels than we are used to by consuming acidic foods and drinks.

Lactose Intolerance

lactose intolerance

If your preferred coffee drink contains a lot of milk or cream in it, this could cause you to feel nauseous if you are lactose intolerant.

According to the National Health Service, lactose intolerance most commonly develops in people aged between 20 and 40.

A sudden intolerance to lactose can be the cause of your nausea or an upset stomach after consuming a coffee drink with milk or cream.

To figure out if milk or cream is the problem, try drinking coffee without it for a few days and monitor how your stomach feels after consuming the coffee. If nausea still persists, lactose intolerance is likely not the issue.

Coffee with High Acidity Levels

Even if you drink coffee on a full stomach, you may still feel nauseous from drinking coffee with high levels of acidity.

Two types of coffee known for high acidity levels include light roast coffee and coffee made from Arabica coffee beans, according to Cleveland Clinic. Research has also shown that hot brew coffee has more acidic components than cold brews.

A study conducted by the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Thomas University determined that cold brew coffee had less titratable acids than hot brew.

High acidity levels in the stomach can lead to gastrointestinal issues. Switching to cold brews can help you determine whether the coffee you are drinking is too acidic for your stomach.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a common condition that one can develop at any age, but the chances of developing the condition are higher after the age of 40.

Acid reflux may also appear more commonly in individuals who are pregnant, regular smokers, overweight, or taking medications that have acid reflux as a side effect.

There is a common misconception that caffeine can cause acid reflux. Although caffeine can worsen acid reflux symptoms, it does not directly cause acid reflux.

The diuretic effects of caffeine combined with acidic coffee can cause nausea for people with acid reflux because it disrupts the gastrointestinal system.

Coffee With Sugar or Flavored Syrups

coffee with sugar

Even though sugar or flavored syrups can make coffee become a deliciously sweet drink, it can be harsh on your digestive system.

When we consume large amounts of sugar, our body goes into defense mode and tries to flush out our system by releasing water from the gastrointestinal tract.

People who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IDB) are especially vulnerable to coffee drinks high in sugar.

Caffeine and high doses of sugar can lead to an upset stomach and nausea because it triggers gut motility.

How to Prevent Nausea When Drinking Coffee

The good news is you might not have to cut coffee out of your diet completely because it’s making you nauseous. There are several ways you can avoid experiencing nausea from coffee without having to stop drinking it altogether.

Try Dark Roast or Low-Acidic Coffee

Light roast coffee and any coffee produced from Arabica beans typically have higher acidity levels. Dark roasts are a great alternative for reducing your acid intake without having to drop your coffee regimen.

There are some specialty coffees, including light roast options, that are low in acidity as well. Due to the cold brewing process, cold brew coffee has less acidic components than hot brew.

The same goes for espresso beans. Drinking cold brew or espresso can reduce your acid intake.

Only Drink Coffee on a Full Stomach

drink coffee on a full stomach

Drinking coffee on an empty stomach is one of the most common reasons for nausea. Sometimes skipping morning breakfast alone can make us feel queasy.

Because coffee has a relatively high acidic level, consuming low-acidic foods and drinking coffee on a full stomach may help prevent nausea.

When your stomach has food in it to digest, this will decrease the risk of having too much acid in your stomach.

Drinking coffee after a meal may actually be beneficial to your digestive system because it helps you digest food better.

Drink Black Coffee

Adding too much sugar, artificial sweeteners, or flavoring and milk or cream to your coffee may be making you feel nauseous.

You can try to cut out one at a time to see if it stops that nauseous feeling. If milk or cream is the issue, you more than likely would have an upset stomach accompanied by nausea.

Sometimes we don’t realize how much of an effect sugar or caffeine has on the body. Parting ways with your favorite coffee mixture can be hard, but it might help relieve your digestive system.

Try drinking black coffee with little to no sugar for a few days to see if it prevents nausea.

Drink Decaf Coffee

The caffeine in coffee alone may be making you nauseous. Drinking a lot of caffeine in a day can cause an upset stomach, nausea, or headaches.

Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. We also tend to become more sensitive to caffeine as we get older.

Decaf coffee is a great alternative if you still want to enjoy coffee without experiencing the side effects of caffeine. Watering down coffee is another way to dilute the drink to prevent overconsumption of caffeine.

Why Does Coffee Make Me Nauseous? – Final Thoughts

The main culprit for why coffee can make you nauseous is the acidity level. Before dropping coffee, consider trying these tips to prevent nausea first:

  • Drink low-acidic coffee
  • Cut out sugars, milk, or cream
  • Only drink coffee after you’ve eaten
  • Drink decaf coffee

If you’ve exhausted all the efforts above and are still experiencing nausea after drinking coffee, it may be time to take a break from coffee and caffeine.

You can go on a coffee sabbatical for a week or two to see if your nausea symptoms are related to drinking coffee in any way.

If nausea still doesn’t go away, it may be time to see a doctor to figure out what other issues may be causing you to feel nauseous.

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About The Author

Rebecca Hanlon

Rebecca has been a blogger for over 5 years, before that enjoying a number of jobs to fund her passion for travel. She's taught English as a foreign language, a part-time Barista, a waitress, and a tour guide.

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