A warm beverage is often considered a remedy for a respiratory illness like a cold or the flu.
In fact, studies show that hot drinks can help temporarily relieve symptoms like runny noses and sore throats. Plus, there’s no denying that a warm cup in your hands is comforting as you battle a virus.
When it comes to coffee, though, the hot nature of the beverage isn’t enough to make it a totally positive beverage option when you’re sick ― and there are a number of reasons why.
Below, experts share their thoughts on drinking coffee when you’re sick.
Coffee keeps you awake, but your body needs rest when sick.
“So, caffeine is a stimulant, and while it’s probably not going to have any impact on the clinical courses, either of a cold or flu or COVID or RSV ... the stimulant nature of caffeine may be counterproductive,” said Suan Hassig, an associate professor emerita of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at Tulane University in New Orleans.
“Because, when you’re dealing with a viral infection, one of the things you really need to do is get good rest,” she said.
Sleep helps your body recover from these viruses, and since coffee is intended to keep you awake, it can make it harder to get the sleep you need.
The same goes for energy drinks, which often have more caffeine than a cup of coffee, Hassig said.
“Too much caffeine can be bad for you whether you’ve got a cold or flu or not,” Hassig stated.
For infrequent coffee drinkers, it can also be dehydrating in large quantities.
“If it’s more than a mild illness, we want to be careful when we’re consuming caffeine because it’s dehydrating, it has a mild diuretic effect,” said Dr. Daniel Monti, the chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine and Nutritional Sciences at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, who also runs DrDanMonti, a medical advice Instagram account.
Note that this does not go for everyone: Recent research shows that people who regularly drink a moderate amount of coffee do not experience dehydration from the beverage. Instead, any mild dehydration from its diuretic nature is seen in those not used to caffeine and drink a lot of it at once, according to NPR.
So, if you don’t normally drink java, it’s not a good idea to make yourself a giant pot of coffee when you have a cold or the flu. Instead, it’s important to hydrate with water when you are under the weather, Monti said.
And if you have any sickness-related vomiting or diarrhea, it’s doubly important to focus on hydration (with water, not coffee).
“[Hydration] is particularly a concern if the illness is severe, so if we’re talking about a flu where there might be vomiting or diarrhea, then we really need to be careful because rehydrating and hydrating is very important,” Monti stated.
Additionally, coffee can upset your stomach.
It’s well known that coffee makes you poop. It’s also not rare to hear that coffee hurts certain people’s stomachs.
As mentioned above, people with certain seasonal illnesses may not want to consume something that adds to their stomach discomfort.
“Some of these infections, not so much the cold, but the flu, can sometimes cause gastrointestinal symptoms as well, and aggravating that whole system from the stomach through the gut is just not a good idea,” Hassig noted.
So, if you have an upset stomach and a history of coffee-induced tummy issues, you may want to skip your morning cup.
All in all, drinking a modest amount of coffee when you’re sick is likely fine.
Long story short, you most likely do not need to cut out coffee when you’re sick, but it could help reduce your caffeine consumption.
“There’s nothing wrong with having a cup of coffee, certainly in the first half of the day if that’s something that keeps you from having a non-caffeine headache or otherwise just helps you get going,” said Hassig, “but [you] should moderate [your] consumption because of the stimulant effects of caffeine, and you need to rest when you’re sick.”
“If your illness is mild, the risks are low,” Monti said. When it comes to coffee consumption, potential issues only arise if you are throwing up or having diarrhea.
Other beverages are ideal.
You should make it a habit to drink other, more hydrating drinks when you have a respiratory illness.
“It is very important to make sure that you maintain a good level of hydration, but plain water or organic fruit juices is a perfectly appropriate way to do that — water is actually best in that regard because it provides the body with what it needs most, which is the fluids to counteract the [illness],” Hassig said.
Hot herbal teas and warm broth can also be useful beverages to drink when you’re sick, Monti said.
Additionally, caffeinated teas like green tea can be easier on the stomach, making it a good replacement for someone who still wants an energy jolt but doesn’t want coffee, according to Monti.
Remember: When you’re sick, prioritize rest and hydration.
Inflammation in our bodies increases when we have a cold or flu, according to Monti, which results in things like congestion, a runny nose and puffiness around the eyes.
“If you’re looking to lower inflammation, the two things you can do naturally is to stay hydrated and to rest,” Monti said.
Decreased inflammation can help alleviate some of those bothersome cold symptoms, while hydration and rest can help your body kick the virus it’s dealing with.