Can You Drink Coffee When You Are Sick?

We all know that there are do’s and don’ts of what you put in your body while you’re sick. Dairy is a no because it’s hard to digest, chicken soup is a yes because it’s comforting and easy on the stomach. And of course, drinking as many fluids is possible is the best way to help your body fight whatever battle it’s trying to fight. That being said, not all fluids are productive to drink when you’re sick. You might be thinking “if herbal tea is good while you’re sick, coffee must be fine.” Unfortunately, while coffee isn’t the worst thing you can drink on a cold, it’s definitely not going to help. So on the spectrum of herbal tea (yes) to margaritas (no), where does coffee stand?

What's the Deal, Doc?

Generally speaking, you can drink coffee while you’re sick. If you’re well enough to crawl out of bed and brew a hot pot of joe, you won’t be writing a death certificate by enjoying a mug or two. That being said, coffee is not the best choice if you’re trying to maximize your body’s recovery efforts. There are a number of reasons it’s probably best to avoid drinking coffee while you’re sick. 

Reasons to Cut Back When Sick

For starters, coffee will prevent you from properly hydrating. Contrary to popular belief, coffee is not actually a diuretic in the same way that alcohol is. It doesn’t actively cause you to flush fluids from your system. What it does is prevents your kidneys from properly absorbing the fluids you drink. Eventually, your body will start to flush out more fluids than it’s absorbing. If you’re already dehydrated, you’ll notice more frequent urination and it will be much more difficult to rehydrate. So if you’re already dehydrated (which you almost certainly will be if you’re ill), coffee will make it significantly harder to get and stay hydrated. Seeing as hydration is one of the key factors in getting healthy fast, you might be better off avoiding that coffee. 

On the plus side, coffee can give you a nice jolt of energy, which can feel pretty good when you’re bogged-down by illness. The problem here is that all those ache, pain and fatigue symptoms are there for a reason. They are your body’s way of saying “slow down, go to bed, I need to focus on fighting this sickness.” When you take medication and other stimulants, you are only addressing the symptoms, not the underlying problem. And in most cases, sacrificing the rest your body desperately needs results in longer recovery times. So if you have a minor cold and your cup of coffee helps you cope with the day, it’s not the end of the world. But if you want to recover quickly or are suffering from something a little more serious, probably best to wait it out.Plus, your coffee will taste that much better after you’ve been on an illness-induced hiatus. 

What If I Can't...

If you do decide that your coffee craving overrides your desire for a fast and efficient recovery period, by all means indulge. But you might be surprised what a difference it makes when you opt for rest, relaxation, and proper fluids. Despite the health risks, many people continue to attend work and go about their daily lives when they have a minor cold because the symptoms may not feel severe enough to warrant time off. Get up, go to work, drink that cup of coffee - how big a difference can it really make? It may not feel like a big difference, but you can end up extending your illness for two or three times as long, as well as increasing the risk of spreading it to others. 

Some studies have also shown that coffee can slow the immune system’s ability to fend off and fight illness, though these processes are not well understood. The chemical makeup of coffee is highly complex, and its interactions with our bodies are complicated, so it’s difficult to pinpoint how exactly coffee is interacting with your body while you’re sick. Coffee’s acidic properties can also make things worse. While it might not directly affect your cold, it will prolong recovery and potentially add to your discomfort, especially if you are prone to coffee-induced heartburn or other common side effects. If you must have a coffee, decaf (lower caffeine) or cold brew (lower acidity) are a little friendlier to the system, but in general, you will feel better and recover faster if you avoid it altogether.

Darkroast Doctor

The Darkroast Doctor is a coffee enthusiast who loves nothing more than starting his day with a piping hot cup of his favorite brew. With several years of experience working in coffee shop, he loves to spend his time writing guides, tutorials, and blog posts.