Is Coffee Inflammatory? What The Research Says

Most people are aware that there can be side effects to consuming too much caffeine, such as nervousness, jitteriness, anxiety, increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, irritability, tension, and even exacerbated panic attacks.

But, is coffee inflammatory? Does coffee increase inflammation or decrease inflammation? Does the type of coffee impact the association between coffee and inflammation?

 In this nutrition guide, we will discuss the benefits of coffee, the effects of coffee on inflammation, how coffee increases inflammation or decreases inflammation, and ultimately answer your question: is coffee inflammatory?

We will look at: 

  • Does Coffee Increase Inflammation?
  • Coffee and Inflammation Research Findings
  • Why Is Coffee Anti-Inflammatory?
  • So, Is Coffee Inflammatory?

Let’s jump in!

People with cups of coffee.

Does Coffee Increase Inflammation?

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world, and people may enjoy coffee for the taste, the habit, and the boost of energy from caffeine consumption.

There have also been numerous health benefits associated with drinking coffee.

For example, one long-term study involving more than 400,000 individuals found that coffee drinkers had a significantly lower risk of mortality over the 12-year study period than non-coffee drinkers.

Moreover, the research findings suggested that it wasn’t just a small amount of coffee that seemed to be the most advantageous for increasing longevity. 

Rather, drinking 4 to 5 cups of coffee per day was associated with the lowest respective risks of death, decreasing the mortality rate by 12% in men and 16% in women, respectively.

Moreover, evidence suggests that habitual coffee drinking can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 23-67%.

A cup of coffee being poured.

For example, one large review of 18 clinical trials and studies that amassed the data of over 450,000 individuals found that for every cup of coffee that individuals drank per day, the risk of type 2 diabetes dropped by 7%.

However, the association between coffee drinking and inflammation is less clear.

One of the conflicting claims you might hear about coffee is that some people say that coffee has anti-inflammatory properties, such that coffee decreases inflammation, whereas other people say that coffee is inflammatory and increases inflammation.

So, what does the research say? Is coffee inflammatory or anti-inflammatory?

Like many nutritional compounds or “functional foods,” the association between coffee and inflammation seems to be somewhat individualized.

For most people, coffee seems to exhibit anti-inflammatory benefits; however, coffee can increase inflammation for certain individuals, or certain types of coffee can be inflammatory.

Evidence from research studies investigating coffee and inflammation has been mixed, though most research suggests that coffee may help reduce inflammation in the body.

Pouring milk into coffee.

Coffee and Inflammation Research Findings

Oftentimes, the difficulty in determining the coffee inflammatory vs anti-inflammatory effects in research studies stems from issues with how a research study is conducted in terms of whether the experimental design was enough to prove causation or just correlation.

In other words, some studies that have looked at coffee and inflammation have found that habitual coffee drinkers seem to have lower levels of inflammatory markers in the body.

However, this is an association study and not necessarily evidence that coffee decreases inflammation.

There may be other lifestyle behaviors, dietary foods, exercise practices, etc., that are common among the consistent coffee drinkers that contribute to lower levels of inflammation aside from just the consumption of coffee.

To this end, one study did find that people who regularly drink large amounts of coffee did exhibit lower levels of certain inflammatory markers (5 of 77 tested serum levels) than people who did not regularly drink coffee or drank very little coffee as self-reported on a food intake questionnaire.

The researchers concluded that coffee may afford a protective effect against certain cancers and inflammation by reducing the levels of the particular immune and inflammatory markers identified in the study as being notably lower in those who drank the most coffee on a regular basis.

A cup of coffee.

In another research study that used a better design actually to detect whether drinking coffee increases inflammation or decreases inflammation, researchers looked at the changes in inflammatory markers when coffee was added or removed from the diet.

In this study, 47 habitual coffee drinkers were first asked to refrain from drinking coffee for one full month.

This resulted in a 6% increase in levels of certain serum inflammatory markers.

Then, the participants were asked to drink 4 cups of filtered coffee per day (150 mL per cup of coffee) for another month.

Finally, the participants were asked to double their coffee consumption to 8 cups of coffee per day (150 mL per cup of coffee) for a month for the third month of the study.

After drinking coffee, the participants experienced an 8 to 16% decrease in the same markers of inflammation that had increased when they stopped drinking coffee.

In contrast, some studies have indeed demonstrated an inflammatory effect of coffee.

It is thought that differences in genetics and individual biochemistry may affect whether coffee increases inflammation in your body or decreases inflammation.

Filling an espresso machine with ground coffee.

Why Is Coffee Anti-Inflammatory?

There is often a question as to what about coffee makes it anti-inflammatory or inflammatory.

In other words, is caffeine inflammatory or anti-inflammatory? Are the same coffee and inflammation effects found with decaffeinated coffee vs regular caffeinated coffee? 

Or, does the caffeine in coffee not impact coffee‘s inflammatory effects but rather some other polyphenols or compounds in coffee beans themselves?

For example, in addition to caffeine, coffee is high in antioxidants, which is why consuming a moderate amount of coffee can be advantageous for your health, and may be one of the reasons why coffee drinking may be associated with lower levels of inflammation.

In fact, studies suggest that coffee actually provides more antioxidants in the typical Western diet than fruits and vegetables combined.

Although the evidence is not totally clear, one review of 15 studies (8 involving coffee and 7 involving caffeine from sources other than coffee) found that most of the studies said coffee consumption decreased inflammation, but caffeine consumption did not.

A cup of coffee and coffee beans.

In other words, there was predominantly an anti-inflammatory effect of coffee but not caffeine consumption in general.

It’s also important to note that while most of the studies in this review found that coffee had an anti-inflammatory response in the body, a couple of the coffee-drinking studies demonstrated a pro-inflammatory effect of coffee.

This points to the complex effects of coffee on the inflammatory response and the likelihood of individual variations in the biochemical response to coffee.

So, Is Coffee Inflammatory?

Overall, the research is mixed about whether coffee is inflammatory or anti-inflammatory, so there isn’t a clear consensus as to the association between coffee and inflammation in the body.

What does seem clear is that different individuals may respond differently to coffee.

Another factor to consider when looking at coffee and inflammation is the type of coffee you are drinking or how you prepare your coffee.

A cup of coffee.

This not only refers to whether the coffee is decaffeinated or caffeinated but the additional ingredients in the coffee drink.

For example, sweetened coffee beverages with syrups, sugar, artificial sweeteners, chemical flavoring agents, etc., are likely to cause inflammation in the body.

These coffees increase inflammation not necessarily because the coffee beans are inflammatory but because the added ingredients in the coffee beverage increase inflammation, so the net inflammatory effects of the coffee drink increase inflammation.

Artificial sweeteners and non-caloric sugar substitutes can also increase inflammation in the body, so coffee with Splenda or Sweet & Low can also be a net inflammatory coffee.

To this end, dairy products can potentially be inflammatory, particularly if you have lactose intolerance or a sensitivity to dairy.

Therefore, if you are adding milk or cream or a dairy-based creamer to your coffee, drinking that coffee may increase inflammation because whatever possible anti-inflammatory effects of the coffee itself are nullified by the inflammatory effects of the dairy products you have added to your coffee beverage.

A coffee with a heart in the milk.

For these reasons, the the worst coffee for inflammation, or the most inflammatory type of coffee drink, would be any of the highly processed, sugar-laden, sweetened, milky, flavored coffee drinks.

These types of coffee Frappuccinos and similar combine both dairy and sugary inflammatory ingredients to your coffee.

Even some types of plant-based milk may increase inflammation, particularly if you use nut milk like almond milk and you have a tree nut sensitivity, or you use soy milk that has been made with genetically-modified soybeans or contains other emulsifiers, fillers, artificial sweeteners, sugars, or inflammatory ingredients.

Drinking black coffee will reduce the inflammatory risk of added ingredients.

That said, you may need to see how your own body responds to coffee and whether you feel better or worse after drinking coffee.

Interested to learn more about caffeine consumption and how much caffeine may be too much per day? If so, click here!

Coffee beans.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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