TikTok Says Drinking Coffee on an Empty Stomach Is Bad for You. What Do Experts Think?

A woman drinking coffee by the window

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Key Takeaways

  • TikTok users are claiming that drinking coffee before breakfast can disrupt hormones.
  • In a few viral videos, TikTok users say that eating breakfast before your cup of coffee can improve acne, bloating, and anxiety.
  • Experts say these claims are not proven by scientific studies.

Some TikTok wellness influencers claim that drinking coffee on an empty stomach can disrupt hormones, leading to period pain, acne, bloating, and other unwanted side effects.

In a video with over 10 million views, TikTok user @kalemekourtnutrition attributed her “dysregulated cortisol pattern” to her habit of drinking coffee without eating breakfast. Cortisol is a stress hormone that helps control immune function, blood sugar levels, and mood.

Another TikTok user @liv.ingwell also shared her experience with how eating breakfast before her cup of coffee has improved her digestion, reduced bloating, and helped clear up her hormonal acne.

William R. Lovallo, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, spent over two decades researching how caffeine affects blood pressure and stress hormones. He said caffeine could be absorbed more rapidly if consumed on an empty stomach, but it won’t lead to a hormonal imbalance for most people.

“There’s a lot of stuff that gets posted out there by people who are relating general information from their own experience that may or may not be accurate from a medical or scientific standpoint,” Lovallo said.

Brooke Levine, RD, a registered dietician at NYU Langone Health, told Verywell in an email that “there is no evidence” to prove that drinking coffee on an empty stomach affects cortisol levels. Our body naturally produces cortisol in the morning, which is “unrelated” to coffee intake, she said.

Most research suggests that coffee offers positive health benefits, according to Lovallo and Levine. Recent studies have shown that caffeine contains antioxidants that may protect against chronic diseases such as dementia.

“However, if you are not experiencing any positives, then you may want to reevaluate your consumption altogether or opt for a decaf cup of coffee or a low-acid cold brewed coffee,” Levine said.

Does Coffee Cause Bloating?

Some TikTokers mentioned that coffee causes bloating, but most health experts say this likely isn’t related to cortisol.

“The caffeine in coffee can stimulate digestion, which can cause digestive distress like gas and bloating,” Levine said.

Drinking coffee with dairy milk may also cause bloating if someone has a dairy sensitivity. Levine suggested that people try lactose-free or non-dairy options in their coffee to see if this relieves some of the gastric upset.

Coffee can also increase the release of stomach acid for some people, which may lead to indigestion and bloating, according to Lena Beal, MS, RDN, LDN, a cardiovascular dietitian at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital.

While Beal said that eating something before drinking coffee may relieve boating for some, the claims made in these TikToks may only apply to certain individuals. In addition to drinking coffee, other factors like medications or morning workouts might influence one’s digestion as well.

Should You Eat Breakfast Before Drinking Coffee Then?

Most experts agree that there isn’t enough evidence to make a definitive statement about eating breakfast before drinking coffee.

A 2020 study seemed to recommend eating breakfast before coffee in the morning, but the study’s lead author Harry A. Smith, PhD, a research scientist at the University of Bath, told Verywell that the media release “ended up snowballing” into this suggestion even though the researchers didn’t test that correlation specifically.

His team investigated how a bad night’s sleep may affect metabolism. The results suggested that drinking coffee right after a poor night’s sleep may impair blood sugar control, but the study didn’t look into any long-term impact.

Smith said it was more of a suggestion than an absolute recommendation that people may want to eat breakfast before drinking coffee.

Instead of focusing on when you drink coffee in relation to breakfast, experts say to pay attention to your body’s response to caffeine.

“People differ in how they respond to caffeine,” Lovallo said. “If a given individual feels that they’re uncomfortable or nervous after they consume caffeine, they can switch to decaf and enjoy their cup of coffee and not have that unpleasantness.”

What This Means For You

Current recommendations say that most adults can consume 400mg of caffeine (about 4-5 cups) per day without experiencing negative side effects. However, coffee can impact people differently. If you feel jittery or anxious after drinking coffee, consider switching to decaf or tea that contains lower levels of caffeine.

2 Sources
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  1. Zhang Y, Yang H, Li S, Li W dong, Wang Y. Consumption of coffee and tea and risk of developing stroke, dementia, and poststroke dementia: a cohort study in the UK Biobank. PLoS Med. 2021;18(11):e1003830. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1003830

  2. Smith HA, Hengist A, Thomas J, et al. Glucose control upon waking is unaffected by hourly sleep fragmentation during the night, but is impaired by morning caffeinated coffeeBr J Nutr. 2020;124(10):1114-1120. doi:10.1017/S0007114520001865