Coffee has always been the morning drink of choice, both for its numerous health benefits and ability to perk you up.
But don’t substitute eating breakfast with nothing more than the caffeinated drink – its effects work even better if you eat.
“Drinking coffee on an empty stomach, or early in the morning before you’ve had breakfast, can increase the level of cortisol in your body. From the moment you open your eyes in the morning, your body starts releasing cortisol, a hormone that’s responsible for regulating your immune response, metabolism, [and] stress response,” says Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, MD.
If you pump your body with caffeine when your cortisol is at its peak, Djordjevic says, you’ll be subjecting your body to even more stress.
A study that looked into caffeinated drinks among medical students found 25 per cent of them drank coffee every morning on an empty stomach. These students were found to have increased risk of mood swings, and even long-term impacts on their health. This was largely due to coffee stimulating acid in the stomach, creating an acidic environment.
“Coffee on an empty stomach can magnify the stimulating effects because there is nothing to compete with absorption,” says Dr. Jamie Long, licensed clinical psychologist. This leads to likely heartburn, or even the development of gastric ulcers, Djordjevic warns.
Coffee on an empty stomach can hamper mental health, too. Too much stomach acid leads to mood swings, jitters, shaking, and other withdrawal symptoms, Djordjevic says. There have been studies linking gastric acid to anxiety and depression as well.
“Especially when consumed in large amounts, studies have found that caffeine mimics symptoms of anxiety and even panic attacks. Symptoms can include restlessness, trembling, flushed face, and accelerated heart rate,” Long says. “And if you’re already prone to experiencing anxiety, you’re even more vulnerable to the effects of coffee.”
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