Caffeine with Pancreatitis — Acceptable or Horrible?

coffeePeople with pancreatitis are told to give up quite a few of the major guilty pleasures:  Drinking, smoking, steak, pizza, french fries, ice cream, and essentially any other food or drink that isn’t low fat and ridiculously healthy.  (You can find a collection of advice on nutrition here.)  With all those temptations to fend off, most of us would prefer to keep our coffee (or in my case, iced tea) ritual/addiction intact…unless there is a clear reason to give it up.

Some very reputable sources put caffeine on the restricted list.  According to a fact sheet put out by the Pancreas Foundation on Hydration and Pancreatitis, Caffeine and alcohol should be limited, as they are diuretics and promote fluid loss and can also stimulate the pancreas.”  The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (part of the Department of Health & Human Services) counsels that “drinking plenty of fluids and limiting caffeinated beverages is also important.”  (Similar advice is on the New York Times health website.)

On the other hand, the Nutritional Guidelines for Chronic Pancreatitis put out by Stanford (the most comprehensive set of recommendations on diet I’ve seen) put coffee and tea in the “recommended” column.  And while caffeine is known to be a diuretic (meaning that it depletes the body of fluids), studies have found that the diuretic effect lessens significantly for regular coffee or tea drinkers.  (See a New York Times web article on whether caffeine causes dehydration and a Mayo Clinic posting on the same subject.)

There has been some research on the subject, and it may be good news for coffee drinkers.  A study done by Kaiser Permanente back in 2004 looked at how smoking and coffee affect the risk of pancreatitis.  Smoking definitely increases the risk of getting pancreatitis — no surprise given the unanimity of opinions on the matter.  But coffee was found actually to decrease the risk of getting pancreatitis very slightly.  (See an abstract of the study here.)  Another journal article stated that the abnormal chemical signals that can trigger pancreatitis (and that are increased by alcohol and biliary disease like gallstones) can actually be inhibited by caffeine (abstract here).

These studies don’t seem to discuss whether people already suffering from chronic pancreatitis will do better or worse with caffeine.  Given these findings, though, and the doubt cast on whether caffeine really dehydrates, there certainly doesn’t seem to be a strong argument for giving it up entirely.  If you’ve heard differently, or had direct experiences, please comment.

February 2014 addendum:

I did some personal experimentation, and found that drinking caffeine does seem to bring on pain within about an hour.  I have therefore cut out caffeine entirely — painful for me but not as painful as pancreatitis.  This is anecdotal, and how you react to various stimuli when you have chronic pancreatitis seems to be quite personal…but I’d suggest that sufferers do some experiments themselves.


24 replies
  1. Diane Charmley
    Diane Charmley says:

    Thanks for this information. I’ve wondering about drinking coffee but realize it’s too stimulating and I agree….the pain is NOT work it..thanks for being the guinea pig.

  2. Michael glass
    Michael glass says:

    I have suffered from hereditary pancreatitis for 16 years and have only suffered from pain a couple of times. I do however get nauseous 90% of the time when I drink coffee. I take a 25mg phenergan tablet with my coffee. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t and I end up throwing up the coffee. It is a huge annoyance but Its worth dealing with. I should mention that I’m also on 100mgs of methadone daily. If I try to drink coffee without having opiates in my system it makes me violently ill with pain nausea etc.

    • lee
      lee says:

      Hello Michael I just got out of the hospital for pancreatitis I was drinking way too much. Is there any pointers you can give me about living with this?

      SUNNNIE says:


  3. Robert Myrsta
    Robert Myrsta says:

    Thanks – very useful information and ideas – I just had my first (and I hope only) attack and find that coffee with low-fat or non-fat milk has NO adverse effects on me. We’ll see how adjusting to the low-fat life affects my daily routines, but so far so good.


  4. lemon ice
    lemon ice says:

    hi! im 19 and ive been diagnosed with father had it too, he had his surgery last year. i’ve read that gallstones can cause pancreatitis or something . recently i’ve been experiencing symptoms of it. although, i am not sure to conclude anything about it. anyway, the other day i ate this ‘coffee latte’ cream chocolate cookie sandwich, because, well, i thought it would be fine since the cream itself was less than a teaspoon. after a while, i started to regret eating it coz the pain really hurt and makes it hard to breathe. it took around three hours then i felt better only after throwing up.

    • Rianna
      Rianna says:

      If I may give a bit of advice. If you were diagnosed with gallstones, have it removed immediately. I sorely wish I had. I was diagnosed with gallstones 2 years ago. I opted to forgo the surgery and, instead, alter my diet. Despite following a very healthy diet I inevitably encountered a sever attack where a gallstone had passed from my gall bladder and lodged in the duct that it shares with the pancrease causing such severe pain that I could not breath and felt like I was dying. I landed in the hospital and scheduled for emergency surgery to remove the gall bladder and hopefully treat the resulting pancreatitis. My lipase levels were above 10,700. I was informed that normal levels are between 50 – 100. I then went home and suffered in excruciating pain for 4 days because my doctors did not seem it necessary to properly treat the acute pancreatitis that I was still suffering from. After 4 days of absolute misery I went to the ER of a different hospital and was promptly admitted and spent 5 days being treated for the pancreatitis. Treatment for mine was 5 days with nothing consumed orally, not even water. I was on IV fluids and morphine to manage the severe pain. I am now home but am still on a liquid diet. No solids, only broth and jello.

      • Dianne
        Dianne says:

        Meaning you stopped for 80 days and had another attack or started drinking again?
        I just had an attack and believe it was drinking related. Was told I could never drink again, then I heard six months. So who knows.

    • Jimmyp
      Jimmyp says:

      No. Stop drinking. You don’t want to wake up at 30 or 40 … Whole life ahead of you and realize that you have a disease that could have been avoided. You’ll beat yourself up over it every single day. You’ll have the most agonizing disease and no available cure. Please follow my advice. It’s not even worth it. its tough. I am quitting right now too. No way to say it doesn’t suck; but it doesn’t suck as bad as 20 hospital visits, diabetes, going on disability and chronic, never-ending pain.

    • Moment Johnson
      Moment Johnson says:

      I have been living with chronic pancreatitis for 16 years. I would very highly recommend never consuming any alcohol ever again.

  5. Jimmyp
    Jimmyp says:

    For those asking … I’d say don’t drink at all. Now that’s coming from a guy who has had acute pancreatitis … Drank for several years after (like a butt head) and had a major wake up call at age 30. Thankfully I don’t have Chronic Pancreatitis.

    22 year old me was like … But life IS drinking. My social life will be ruined. I totally understand that, but as you get to be my age at 30, drinking isn’t everything. You start wanting to buy a house – have kids, get married, go to concerts, and do more things without alcohol.

    Sadly though, if you follow your 21 year old instincts, you may very well get chronic pancreatitis and be in permanent pain, sickness and (maybe death) by age 30. Not to mention, the constant thought that it could have all been avoided if you didn’t drink.

    I gave up at 30… And if i could go back in time, I’d slap the bottle out of 22year old me’s hand.

    But if I have not been persuasive enough for you, then I’ll give you a challenge. Head over to Instagram (or find a public pancreas support forum) and every time you want to take a drink, look at a photo or read someone’s story about chronic pancreatitis. It’s horrifying. Ask yourself if the beer is worth it.

    Take up a new hobby, find new friends or hell … Smoke a big marijuana joint. Just don’t drink. Your future YOU will thank you for it.

    • Blackrose
      Blackrose says:

      I’ve been hospitalized 3 times with acute pancreatitis. The first time they didn’t tell me that’s what it was, so when I got out I didn’t do anything differently. I kept smoking, and drinking alcohol (and quite a lot) as well as my 3 XL coffees a day. I was hospitalized again a year later.

      This time I was told no more alcohol, no fatty foods and I should quit smoking.

      I quit alcohol for 3 months, not a drop, while living on a 20g of fat a day diet. I then started slowly adding back in some light wine and some fat. A pizza here, a chocolate bar there. The only change I made to my coffee was I switched from cream and 2 sugar, to two milk and 1 sugar, but still drank over 2 liters of coffee a day.

      I made it a full 2 years without another attack and hospitalization. As I went longer and longer without an attack I started drinking more and more alcohol and way more bad bad food. Fast food or pizza more then 2 times a week. I think this is what brought me back into the hospital.

      Everyone is different and in no way is this advice, just my story. But for me, if I keep my alcohol to wine and not hard stuff and keep it to the weekend or every other weekend, and keep the fatty crap food to just a treat every now and then I think I will be fine (I was fine for 2 years). No intentions of quitting drinking completely or giving up my coffee or my smoking.

      Bottom line is everyone is different, and you should listen to your body, if you have a coffee and it hurts or makes you feel sick and you don’t want to feel that way don’t do it.

  6. Candy
    Candy says:

    Caffeine is known for preventing optimal absorption of many nutrients, especially minerals. I started regularly drinking coffee several months ago, and I noticed on my last blood test results that serum ferritin has dropped to only one third of what it was only a few months ago. If malabsorption isn’t stabilized, caffeine is likely to make nutrient deficiencies even worse…

  7. Gene Rogers
    Gene Rogers says:

    I agree with Jimmyp 110% on his comments. I was diagnosed with pancreatitis around 4 months ago and haven’t even considered a drink or drop of alcohol. It comes down to weather you want to die or live…..NO JOKE! I have drink my entire life starting at 16 and now I’m mid 50’s and I’m more angry at alcohol for the pain. I don’t want to die, want to spead time with kids and grow old with them. Faced with death is so surreal that I don’t miss alcohol. Dianna, find a hobby, learn golf, you will worry about hitting the ball than hitting a drink:) just my 2 cents worth, sorry so long, just want ppl to understand how serious this is. Good Luck to all that suffer from this horrible disease.

  8. Brando
    Brando says:

    Dietitian here. Most of the studies I see re: this topic suggest that moderate coffee consumption could have a mild protective effect on alcoholic pancreatitis. In chronic pancreatitis, significant damage to the pancreas is already done, so pain regardless as to what one eats could be an unfortunate reality if the chronic panc is severe enough. Cream and other additives, such as sugar, could stimulate the pancreas and cause pain. Epigastric pain could also be due to GERD (acid reflux), which coffee is known to exacerbate in some individuals. The take home here is that research is limited, so start small and test your personal tolerance. The rule of thumb for general health is to keep caffeine intake under 300 mg daily (roughly 2-3 6 oz cups of coffee daily). Google “caffeine content beverages” for more info on what sources of caffeine are out there. There isn’t enough research to definitely say “yay” or “nay” here. I suggest 4-6 small, low fat meals daily, keeping intake within guidelines, sticking only to black coffee or plain teas, and abstaining if it seems like a trigger for chronic panc pain.

  9. Christina
    Christina says:

    I’m 39 years old was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis last year. Im struggle massively with this disease. My chronic pancreatitis isn’t from alcohol abuse. The Physicians think it is from long term use of Depakote which was given to me to treat seizures. Im finding everything from spaghetti to coffee makes the pancreatitis unbearable. Coffee is hands down a contributor to chronic pancreatitis flare up. Coffee was a major part of my morning routine. Sad to see it go but the pain is not worth it!

  10. Paul
    Paul says:

    I have had chronic pancreatitis for 10 months now because of too much alcohol. I find tea and coffee actually relieves my pain quite a lot. The main thing is not to drink too much of it though. Maximum of 4 half cups of fresh coffee a day provides effective pain relief for me personally.

    What I’ve found out while researching this condition is how individual the pancreas seems to be. The two main things I’d recommend to all fellow sufferers is to stop drinking alcohol completely and to keep a food diary so you can work out what your personal triggers are and what seems to help. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking there’s a one size fits all solution when there isn’t.

    Good luck chaps. Stay positive.

    Good luck!

  11. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    I have just spent 5 days in hospital, being diagnosed with acute pancreatitus.i was in so much pain it was like labour pains. Unbelievable! Im now scared to eat anything much. As docs could not find a main cause i will be having my gall bladder removed, as surveys show this could help.every twinge now freaks me out.

  12. Deb
    Deb says:

    I have Pancreas Divisum. It it a congenital defect of the pancreas. Meaning, it is a defect that occurred as I formed as fetus. I am 50 and was just told. The only way to be sure, is an endoscopic ultrasound. I am living on baked chicken breasts and rice/potatoes. I lost from 187 to 117 lbs. Take this seriously! Stop drinking! It is not worth your life. I have a background of violence and abuse. That can contribute to symptoms. I suffered an aneurysm and believe it was due to peanuts. I have no evidence to prove that, and drs in the ER have never hospitalized me to help me eat or help my pain. Be safe out there!

  13. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Hi, I haven’t been diagnosed yet. But I’m a nurse and I know what I have been putting into my system and I feel guilty about it. I eat too much desserts… Yummy!! Fried foods( fast-food) yummy!! Don’t have time to cook or find time to eat vegies. Big coffee drinker here! I always want to make sure my coffee is white! Love the creamers! Until I start hurting on my upper left side of my abdomen. Yayks! I did reasearch.. oops! Must be my pancreas giving me a warning! Sorry from then on, I’m careful on what I eat. Small portions, not giving too much load on my pancreas. I know it needs to rest little bit. So I also just switched to black coffee. At the first, second sip eeew! But after that I’m loving it! I eat only real food. Rich in fiber and nutrients. Because that’s what your body needs. Your body will thank you. As long as I will keep it like this and also exercise , I think I will be alright. I will keep on this routine I guess forever. We’ll see, hope I won’t be tempted again. But pain is real!!!


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