Drinking Coffee When Sick: Is It That Bad?

Coffee is great, right?

It’s that one drink that can instantly make you feel good- even when you’re sick.

But, is it safe?

It turns out that while coffee can make you feel better; it has several effects on your body you’re still not probably aware of until now.

And in today’s post, we’ll show you exactly why drinking coffee when sick is a terrible idea.

Coffee and Malaise

If you’ve been down with the flu, you’ll know what malaise feels like.

It’s that general feeling of weakness where your thoughts, movements, and alertness get reduced. In a simpler term, its feeling groggy and dazed.

Now, what does coffee got to do with malaise?

coffee when sick

The psychologists at the University of Bristol achieved an interesting result when they tested the effects of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee on a hundred volunteers who developed colds.

Caffeinated coffee, as you probably expected, increased both the alertness and performance of the volunteers who were sick. But, guess what?

Volunteers who were asked to take decaffeinated coffee experienced improvements in their malaise, too.

In essence, this means that caffeine in coffee isn’t the only thing that can make you feel better when you’re sick. It is, however, one of those things that can make you feel a lot worse when you have the flu.

Let me explain.

Drinking Coffee When Sick

Should you drink coffee while sick?

Frankly, no.


Well, let us explain the reasons one by one.

1. It’s acidic

coffee when sick

Being acidic, coffee can cause further irritation to your inflamed throat, making it more itchy, irritated, and painful.

The acidity can also spell bad news for your stomach. Drinking coffee can worsen the nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain that frequently come with the flu.

2. It can weaken your immune system

Coffee has this ability to mess up with your body’s ability to defend itself.

By suppressing your body’s ability to produce antibodies, coffee can leave you vulnerable to infections and diseases. And when you have a cold, that’s the last thing you want to happen.

Coffee can also release cortisol, a stress hormone that interferes with the way your immune system functions.

Here’s how:

When there’s too much cortisol in your body, your heart becomes affected and the levels of your blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol fluctuate, too.

Those things can dramatically lower your resistance against diseases.

Another effect of coffee that can suppress your immune system involves sleep. When you drink coffee, your brain becomes alert and you have a hard time falling or remaining asleep.

And when you don’t get enough sleep, your immunity suffers.

3. It can cause dehydration

One of the strongest reasons why you should stop drinking coffee while sick is its diuretic effect. It will make you pee more and that can leave you dehydrated.

Let me explain further.

When you are sick, your body temperature increases. This means that your metabolism increases and all your biochemical reactions speed up, too.

With increased metabolism, you breathe faster to make sure your body gets the extra oxygen it needs.

And with faster breathing, more moisture leaves the body.

Now, apart from obvious water loss, there’s also a lot of hidden ways a flu can make you lose water. Just think about increased sweating, having a runny nose, and vomiting.

They may not look like they’ll dehydrate you right away, but when you experience those things for several days, the effects will surely add up.

Plus, you won’t feel like eating or drinking when you’re sick, right?

For a short period, caffeine can also boost your metabolic rate. So, when you drink coffee while sick, you’re causing twice as many problems for your body.

Quitting Your Coffee

By now, you’re probably wondering: Should I completely forget about coffee?

Here’s the good news.

Coffee isn’t really your main enemy; it’s actually caffeine.

All those nasty things we’ve mentioned earlier aren’t solely caused by your favorite cup of coffee but the caffeine in it.

This is where decaf coffee steps in.

Remember the study we mentioned earlier?

In that study, decaffeinated coffee produced a slight improvement in patients’ malaise- just like caffeinated coffee.

However, since it doesn’t have caffeine, drinking decaf coffee when sick won’t put you at risk of all those negative effects.

In fact, it’s the other way around.

Decaf coffee can soothe the following:

  • Chest congestion
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Upset stomach

And if you choose one with herbs or add a few drops of honey, you can get additional benefits, like a boost in immune system and better sleep.

A word of caution:

Decaf coffee, contrary to what you might think, may not always be completely free from caffeine.

A 97% decaffeinated coffee, for example, can still expose you to 3% caffeine.

While that doesn’t seem a lot, drinking several cups of coffee a day can surely add up.

So, the solution?

Drink decaf coffee in moderation.

Containing less caffeine isn’t an excuse for you to indulge in your favorite drink while you’re still sick. Just save it for when you’re feeling better.

And make sure to avoid consuming other drinks containing caffeine.

The list includes sports drinks, energy drinks, teas, and soft drinks. Although they don’t contain caffeine, leave fruit juices and alcohol alone, too.

Wondering what’s the best drink for you while sick?

The answer is water.

If that sounds too plain and boring for your taste buds, you can add slices of lemon in it.

coffee when sick

Lemon water can loosen up your congestion and stuffiness while giving your immune system a little boost.


While coffee can make you feel better, it’s not the best drink for you to have when you’re sick. Its caffeine content can make your flu symptoms a lot worse and it can keep your body from recovering as early as possible.

If your craving for coffee is too strong, go with decaf coffee but make sure not to drink too much of it.

Decaffeinated coffee can still contain caffeine which means it can still make you dehydrated, sleepless, and more prone to other diseases.

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Gregory Tumlin

Gregory Tumlin editor of agreatcoffee.com has worked in the coffee industry for 5 years now. He used to work at Coffee and Espresso Bar in Princeton, NJ and have done some side coffee consulting and training through Barista School. He is also a husband and father of a young boy as well as a masters student. In whatever spare time he has left, Gregory enjoys running, cycling and reads just the right amount of trashy romance novels.

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