Coffee and Pancreatitis: Is it Safe to Drink?

People with pancreatitis are told to give up quite a few of the major guilty pleasures: drinking, smoking, steak, pizza, french fries, ice cream, and pretty much any other food or drink that isn’t low in fat and super healthy. With all those temptations to fend off, many of us would prefer to keep our guilty pleasure of a morning cup of coffee – unless there is a clear reason not to do so. In this blog post, we will explore the relationship between drinking coffee and pancreatitis. Is it okay and are there potential risks to consider?

Can you drink coffee with pancreatitis?

Some people with pancreatitis are able to enjoy coffee in moderation without experiencing any issues, while others may find that it triggers their symptoms and causes pain. This seems to suggest that drinking coffee is different for each person and may have to do with the severity of their pancreatitis (acute vs. chronic pancreatitis), overall health, and personal reactions to caffeine and other ingredients found in coffee.

What Experts Say

While enjoying coffee may not cause symptoms for some people, what do experts actually say about drinking coffee with pancreatitis? Both the National Pancreas Foundation and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) put caffeine (which coffee is high in) on the restricted list. However, the Nutritional Guidelines for Chronic Pancreatitis by Standford Medicine recommends coffee for pancreatitis patients.

The reason why some experts recommend limiting coffee and others suggest drinking it is not entirely clear. Some believe that coffee can dehydrate pancreatitis patients, which is one reason why it may be on the “restrict” list. Research, however, has shown that coffee may actually prevent the development of pancreatitis, which may be why it’s included on the “recommended” list by others.

Coffee, Pancreatitis, and Dehydration

One of the reasons why it’s recommended for people with pancreatitis to limit their coffee intake is because caffeine acts as a diuretic. This means it promotes the loss of fluids (through the production of urine) and can stimulate the pancreas. Since it’s important for pancreatitis patients to stay properly hydrated, it’s suggested to limit foods and drinks that can potentially cause dehydration. That’s why some sources may tell patients to avoid coffee, as caffeine may increase fluid loss and decrease hydration levels.

On the other hand, even though the caffeine in coffee is a diuretic, studies have found that coffee itself is unlikely to dehydrate you:

  • In a 2014 cross-over study, researchers looked at 50 male coffee drinkers, who drank 26.5 ounces (800 ml) of coffee daily for 3 days, and found that it was equally as hydrating as drinking the same amount of water.
  • In a 2003 review, it was found that large amounts of coffee can have a diuretic effect at first, but the body adjusts after a short period of time. Additionally, it found that moderate coffee consumption seems to have no diuretic effect.

Can coffee cause pancreatitis?

Some research suggests that coffee does not cause pancreatitis and can actually decrease the risk of developing pancreatitis. A study conducted in 2006 by researchers at the University of Liverpool discovered that caffeine has the ability to block abnormal chemical signals that trigger pancreatitis. The study focused on the damaging effects of alcohol and fat consumption on pancreatic cells when there are low oxygen levels in the organ. This can result in an excessive amount of calcium in the pancreas, further harming the cells. However, the study revealed that caffeine, found in beverages like coffee, can partially close the channels that release calcium into the pancreas, reducing the risk of developing pancreatitis.

Another study by Kaiser Permanente in 2004 looked at how smoking and coffee affect the risk of pancreatitis. It found that smoking definitely increases the risk of developing pancreatitis – no surprise there – but drinking coffee can decrease the risk of getting pancreatitis slightly.

While this may be good news for coffee drinkers, simply drinking coffee to try to limit your chances of an attack, while continuing to drink and smoke, is not recommended. Instead, you should consider avoiding alcohol and smoking altogether if you are at risk of developing acute pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis.

Is coffee bad for pancreatitis?

Research hasn’t shown whether or not coffee is actually bad for people with pancreatitis. They also don’t show whether a person suffering from chronic pancreatitis will do better or worse with caffeine. Given the reduced risk of developing pancreatitis by drinking coffee and the lack of evidence that it’s dehydrating, there certainly doesn’t seem to be a strong argument for giving coffee up entirely. Rather, I would advise fellow pancreatitis patients to do what’s best for them.

My Own Experience

As a pancreatitis patient myself, I have done quite a bit of personal experimentation with caffeine over the years. While I have gone through periods of cutting it out entirely, I typically have two large, strong iced teas a day and can tolerate that level without much issue. When my caffeine intake increases – during travel, busy periods at work, or other times when I need help staying awake – pain and other symptoms do seem to worsen. Although, I tend to be less careful with my diet during such periods, so it is hard to draw a firm conclusion. I do know I cannot tolerate coffee at all, though I am not sure if that is due to caffeine content or acidity. I’d suggest that fellow pancreatitis sufferers do some experimenting for themselves to see if coffee or other caffeinated drinks are right for them.

Tips for Enjoying Coffee With Pancreatitis

The good news is that life with pancreatitis doesn’t always mean giving up coffee entirely. Before you start grounding those coffee beans, however, there are some things to consider to help reduce the risk of a flare. Keep these tips in mind so you can enjoy a nice cuppa pancreatitis-friendly joe!

Start Slowly

Before chugging down on a cup of coffee, try reintroducing caffeine back into your diet slowly. Consider experimenting with decaf coffee first, which has about 2 mg of caffeine per cup. Then try tea, which has about 26 mg of caffeine per cup. If both go well, slowly drink small amounts of regular coffee (95 mg of caffeine per cup) before having a full cup.

Drink Coffee in Moderation

As the saying goes, moderation is key! If you find that you do well with coffee, make sure to drink an appropriate amount. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) limit for caffeine is 400 milligrams daily for adults. That’s about 4 cups of coffee per day! Any more than that, and it can have negative effects on your health, including increasing your risk of dehydration.

Stay Hydrated

Coffee can be counted towards your daily hydration needs; however, the best drink to stay hydrated with is water! The amount of water you need can vary depending on your weight, so use this formula to determine how much fluid to drink per day: 

Body weight x 16 = number of milliliters (mL) of fluid one needs to drink per day

Convert milliliters to cups: 240mL = 1 cup

It’s also important to remember that on days that are hot or when you’re increasing your physical activity, you may need to drink more fluids.

Use Low-Fat or Fat-Free Milk and Creamers

When it comes to pancreatitis, keeping an eye on your fat intake is important. It’s generally recommended for pancreatitis patients to limit daily fat consumption to around 30-50 grams. So, when you’re adding milk or creamer to your coffee, go for the low-fat or fat-free options. Take a peek at the nutrition label and pick the ones that have a fat content that suits you best. By being mindful of your choices, you can keep your coffee creamy and satisfying, while still staying within the recommended fat limits.

Key Takeaways

  • The effects of coffee on pancreatitis patients are largely personal, with some people having no issues and some experiencing pain
  • Some sources suggest that pancreatitis patients limit their caffeine intake, while others recommend coffee as a safe option
  • Research suggests that coffee does not pose a significant dehydration risk and may actually prevent the development of pancreatitis in some cases
  • Research does not show whether coffee is harmful to people with chronic pancreatitis, so individuals should make decisions based on their own needs

This article was originally written by Eric Golden in 2014 and published on his former blog, Updates were made by Skye Shrader for the sake of clarity and additional information.

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