If that last cup of coffee was one too many, and you’re now wondering when that jittery feeling will pass or the unexpected acidity will start to calm down, you’re in good company. We’ve all been there at one time or another and are here to help.
Coffee generally leaves your stomach fairly quickly. However, caffeine can stay in your system much longer. To calm the jitters, drink water and try moderate exercise to metabolize caffeine faster. For acidity, remedies from changing up your brew method to adding baking soda to the cup can help.
Read on to understand how coffee is absorbed by your body and strategies to ease yourself back to comfort if you’ve had one too many coffees.
Coffee Leaves Your Stomach Fairly Quickly
While it can take 2 to 4 hours for solid foods to exit your stomach, coffee typically gets absorbed quickly; about half its liquid content will be absorbed within about 10 minutes of entering your stomach.
How It All Goes Down
A very quick primer on your digestive system: what you eat and drink all takes the same route, from your mouth, down the esophagus, into your stomach. Foods are broken down in your mouth by chewing and saliva, but liquids like black coffee – which is about 99% water – pass directly into your stomach.
From your stomach, the coffee passes into the small intestine and from there to the large intestine, after which your body removes anything left over as waste. Eighty to ninety percent of the coffee that enters your digestive system is absorbed in the small intestine. The large intestine absorbs some of the remainders, and the rest is excreted.
While black coffee is predominantly water, milk and sugar are not. The fat and sugar you add to your coffee need to be broken down for your body to absorb them, first broken in the mouth, then in the stomach. The vitamins, minerals, and amino acids in coffee (and milk or cream if you use it) will be absorbed in the small intestine.
If you spike your coffee, the alcohol in the coffee will be absorbed into your bloodstream through the small intestine. The rate at which alcohol is absorbed depends on whether you have food in your stomach, which slows down absorption, particularly if the food is high in fat or protein. If your stomach is empty, the alcohol may be absorbed into your bloodstream within a few minutes.
If you feel like your caffeine kick comes faster when you drink coffee on an empty stomach than with a meal, you’re right. Caffeine is also absorbed through your digestive system, about 45 minutes after you drink it, dissolving easily in water and fat molecules and crossing to your brain.
Caffeine reaches its peak concentration in your bloodstream anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours after you consume it, speeded or slowed by food in your digestive system, after which your liver starts to metabolize it – or break it down.
Caffeine remains in your bloodstream between 1.5 to 9.5 hours, depending on factors like the medications you take and whether you smoke. In general, caffeine’s half-life is around 5 hours, which means that 5 hours after you’ve had an average 8-ounce cup of coffee with 95 mg of caffeine, you will still have 45 mg in your system.
Tips To Blunt the Effects of Coffee and Caffeine
The FDA recommends that adults consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine daily, and less if they have caffeine intolerance or certain medical conditions. However, tolerance is individual, and the effect of caffeine on you depends on myriad factors, including the amount you drink, your sensitivity to it, age, and weight.
While you’d need to drink about 100 cups of coffee in a short time to reach caffeine toxicity, you can still go overboard and need to tone down the side effects of that extra cup. The following methods can help reduce the side effects of too much coffee and caffeine:
This may seem obvious, but it’s worth saying. Don’t keep ingesting more caffeine, whether from coffee, energy drinks, energy bars, caffeinated soda, or chocolate, until the effects have passed. Beware that certain medicines also have caffeine and, while you may need to take them, don’t forget to consider the effect they may have on how much caffeine is in your bloodstream.
The excess caffeine in your system takes time to metabolize, and remember that the half-life of caffeine is long, so even once the initial effects have worn off, you may want to be careful about loading back up too quickly.
It may only be 9:15 a.m., but if you have all that excess energy keeping you from sitting still, you don’t necessarily need to sneak out of work to the gym. But do move around; taking a light walk can help speed your metabolization of caffeine.
There’s mixed evidence on whether water helps reduce the impact of excess caffeine intake, but there’s no harm in adding a little more hydration to your day and, if you’re dehydrated, drinking water is likely to make you feel better.
Once caffeine is in your system, you may need to wait for your body to metabolize it. While some suggest eating foods high in fiber or bananas can help, once the caffeine has been absorbed into your bloodstream, food is unlikely to reverse that.
If you know that caffeine has a tendency to raise your anxiety levels or cause physical agitation, eating something with your coffee may help slow your body’s absorption of caffeine. You also might want to consider drinking decaffeinated coffee or half-cafs – a mix of half caffeinated and half decaffeinated coffee – or switching to lower caffeine coffee.
Many coffee drinkers find that too much coffee causes them heartburn. Coffee can relax the muscles where the esophagus opens into the stomach. When these muscles stay relaxed, it can trigger gastroesophageal reflux, which allows your stomach contents, including stomach acid, up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation.
One option to soothe the acidity is to add baking soda – an ingredient in many heartburn remedies – to your coffee, which advocates say is undetectable in the cup. For example, Kitchn suggests adding 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to a pot of coffee or 1/2 teaspoon to the grounds before brewing. Another alternative is to add almond milk, which is alkaline, to help tone down coffee’s natural acidity.
You also can opt for a darker roast. Choose a brew method that produces lower concentrations of acid compounds, such as cold brew, and forego coffee made from very finely ground beans, such as Turkish coffee, which permits faster extraction of acidic compounds.
Finally, you might try to lower the caffeine level of your coffee. The science as to whether caffeine may trigger reflux is unsettled. However, if coffee is provoking reflux for you, giving a lower caffeine coffee or decaf a chance can’t hurt.
Coffee doesn’t linger in your system for long, but caffeine does. Figuring out your caffeine limits and eating a meal – or even a muffin – with your coffee can help slow the rate at which caffeine is absorbed into your bloodstream. If you drink a bit too much, try the remedies suggested above to bring your body back into coffee, enjoying equilibrium.
- Caffeine Informer: The Half Life of Caffeine
- Healthline: Can You Flush Out Caffeine? Tips and More
- Healthline: How Long Does Food Stay in Your Stomach?
- Healthline: Is Coffee Acidic?
- Kitchn: Have You Ever Added Baking Soda to Your Coffee?
- Livestrong: Does Coffee Affect the Esophagus?
- Medical News Today: How long does a cup of coffee keep you awake?
- Medical News Today: Should people with GERD avoid caffeine?
- Harvard School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source: Caffeine
- Science ABC: How Are Water and Other Fluids Digested In The Human Body?
- Scientific Reports: Acidity and Antioxidant Activity of Cold Brew Coffee
- University of Washington: What to Do When You’ve Had Too Much Caffeine
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