If you cannot imagine starting your day without having a cup of coffee, nearly 20 percent of people can. That’s because for them, coffee causes heartburn and stomach distress, and scientists say they have discovered the reason for the pain.
A team of European investigators recently presented their findings at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, where they pointed out that until now, previous research has not established the potential for certain components in coffee to irritate the stomach. Although some coffee manufacturers put their coffee beans through special processes intended to produce so-called “stomach-friendly” coffees, the success of the end results are not clear.
One thing that may occur as a result of these irritant-reducing attempts is that they also lessen the amount of beneficial substances in coffee, which numerous studies have shown to include a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. Stomach-friendly coffees may also lack the taste and aroma appeal of less gastro-friendly brews.
It is difficult to miss the abundance of coffee houses in the United States and around the world, clear indications of how popular coffee is. The NCA’s (National Coffee Association of the USA) 2010 National Coffee Drinking Trends market-research survey shows that coffee consumption has remained unchanged as compared with 2009, indicating that coffee is recession resistant. Daily consumption in 2009 among adults 18 years and older was determined to be 56 percent, while 68 percent reported enjoying the brew within the past week. The NCA also reports that 40 percent of the coffee consumed is gourmet.
Yet an estimated 40 million Americans cannot enjoy coffee at all or only a small amount because they experience heartburn when they do drink it. The new research, conducted by Veronika Somoza, PhD, of the University of Vienna in Austria, and Thomas Hofmann, PhD, of the Technische Universitat Munchen in Germany, believe their study “could lead to a new generation of stomach-friendly brews with the rich taste and aroma of regular coffee.”
The scientists studied the impact of various types of coffee—dark-roast, mild, decaffeinated, regular, and stomach-friendly brews—on cultures of human stomach cells. They found that substances such as caffeine, catechols, and N-alkanoly-5-hydroxytryptamides seem to trigger chemical changes associated with an increased production of acid.
It was the first time such a discovery had been made about these coffee components. Somoza and Hofmann note that a combination of compounds seems to cause the irritating effect and not a single element. They also found that a component called N-methylpyridium (NMP) appears to have a beneficial effect by blocking the ability of stomach cells to produce hydrochloric acid.
Because NMP is not found in raw coffee beans and only appears when the beans are roasted, darker-roasted coffees contain a greater amount of NMP, which means espresso, French roast, and other dark-roasted brews may actually be less irritating to the stomach than less hearty ones. The amount of NMP in any specific coffee can vary depending on the variety of bean and how the coffee is roasted.
“For consumers, coffee is a given, a daily enjoyment,” according to Robert F. Nelson, president and CEO of the National Coffee Association. If Somoza and Hofmann are successful, millions of more people will be able to start their day with a cup or more of coffee without fear of heartburn. They are now experimenting with various varieties of raw coffee beans and roasting methods to see if they can enhance NMP to produce a delicious, stomach-friendly coffee.
American Chemical Society
National Coffee Association