Chicory coffee has the coffee taste and look, but it’s not real coffee – it’s a coffee substitute. Chicory coffee is naturally caffeine free and good for high blood pressure, arrhythmia and extrasystoles, and has antidiabetic and antithrombotic effects. But despite its many benefits for health, it is not devoid of side effects. From allergic reactions to digestive upset resulting in bloating and loose stools, there are some adverse reactions, risks and contraindications to chicory coffee.
What is chicory coffee?
Chicory coffee, or chicory root coffee to be more exact, is a type of herbal coffee consumed as an alternative to regular coffee made from coffee beans. Chicory coffee is made from the roasted and ground taproot of the plant known as root chicory, scientific name Cichorium intybus sativum. Root chicory is a variety of common chicory and one of many different types of chicories and endives.
What are the side effects of chicory coffee?
Can cause allergic reactions
One of the biggest side effects of chicory coffee is that it can cause allergic reactions with the potential for anaphylactic shock. Root chicory from which chicory coffee is made belongs to the daisy family, scientifically known as Asteraceae. It is related to daisies, chamomile, dandelion and ragweed, all of which are common allergens. Daisy family plants are notorious for having an extremely allergenic pollen (source). But when it comes to chicory coffee, it’s usually not the pollen from the flowers that is the cause of allergic reactions.
Sesquiterpene lactones, compounds occurring naturally in chicory root and chicory root coffee, are known to cause allergic dermatitis (source) and can, in certain instances, progress to full-blown allergic reactions. At the same time, studies show sesquiterpene lactones from chicory root exert important anti-inflammatory benefits which could recommend chicory root extracts, and even coffee, for use in arthritis, for pain management, improvement of joint mobility and general functionality (source).
If allergic, the only recommendation is to avoid chicory in all forms and preparations, including chicory coffee and coffee with chicory. If not allergic, you do not need to discontinue consumption and can continue to enjoy the benefits of chicory coffee for health.
Adding ground chicory flowers to chicory coffee, either fresh or dried, can also cause allergic reactions which can progress to anaphylactic shock which is a medical emergency. The risks for allergic reactions are greater if you already have multiple pollen allergies, especially to plants in the daisy family (chicories, endives, lettuce, sunflower, ragweed, dandelions).
Has purgative effects
Drinking chicory coffee can have a purgative effect in some people. This is because chicory root from which chicory coffee is made is high in inulin, a type of soluble dietary fiber. Inulin does not get digested, but instead dissolves in water, becoming gel-like. Inulin enters the composition of stools and makes them bulkier and softer which encourages the GI tract to pass bowel movements more frequently. While this is good because it relieves constipation, it can also result in a purgative effect due to too frequent bowel movements. Effects are typically dose-dependent, associated with excessive intakes of chicory coffee.
Moreover, inulin from chicory root is a type of FOODMAP, that is, a fermentable carbohydrate as in it ferments in the digestive tract. Some digestive systems are less apt at processing fructans such as inulin which can result in altered bowel habits such as loose stools and diarrhea, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In other words, drinking chicory coffee can cause loose stools and diarrhea due to inulin which ferments.
Causes digestive upset: gas, bloating, diarrhea
Chicory coffee is high in inulin, a type of soluble dietary fiber. Inulin does not get digested, and passes virtually unchanged through the stomach and small intestine. It is only when it reaches the colon that it gets fermented by specialized gut bacteria. Inulin fermentation produces beneficial byproducts known as short-chain fatty acids and grows colonic microbiota, actively contributing to the health of the gut environment and preventing the onset of disease.
But this very process that is good for bowel health and general health is also a source of side effects. Gases are also byproducts of the fermentation of inulin in chicory coffee and can cause bloating with side effects such as abdominal distension, painful abdominal cramps, excessive flatulence (gas), burping. Other side effects may include loose stools and diarrhea.
The range and severity of the digestive upset is typically a result of an excessive intake of chicory root byproducts such as chicory coffee or dietary supplements. Side effects also typically occur more frequently in those with a below average fiber intake, and those with inflammatory bowel conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Does chicory root coffee give you energy? Chicory root coffee does not give you energy like regular coffee. This is because chicory coffee is caffeine free, so it is not stimulating like regular coffee. Caffeine is a natural stimulant of the nervous and cardiovascular systems – it occurs naturally in coffee beans and coffee, but also tea tree leaves of the Camelia sinensis species which are used to make green tea, white tea and black tea, and cocoa and chocolate.
Chicory root and byproducts such as chicory coffee contain no caffeine which is why it seems like chicory coffee isn’t energizing. Coffee is technically not energizing either, but rather stimulating. Caffeine in coffee works by increasing alertness and counteracting drowsiness at the level of the nervous system by blocking specific receptors. It also triggers cardiovascular effects such as increased heart rate and blood pressure which further counteract drowsiness and increase alertness.
May contain trace amounts of heavy metals
Chicory root has been observed to absorb heavy metals such as cadmium from the soil it grows in (source), albeit in trace amounts. However, uptake of cadmium or other heavy metals from chicory root coffee consumed in normal food amounts has not been identified as a source of side effects or health risks. Coffee from coffee beans, cocoa and chocolate, rice and other common foods also contain trace amounts of cadmium, nickel, arsenic and other heavy metals.
Not nutritionally relevant
People have been eating chicory root for a lot longer than they have been drinking chicory root coffee. Consumed as a vegetable, chicory root is a source of good nutrition, providing a nutritional value on par with that of other root vegetables. But the coffee itself is not nutritious per se.
That is, drinking a cup of chicory coffee a day will not provide any significant amounts of any essential vitamins or dietary minerals. While the chicory root itself is a good source of nutrition, with small to moderate amounts of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and B vitamins, the brewed root coffee will not contribute to daily nutritional requirements. Chicory coffee derives most, if not all of its benefits for health from water soluble components with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and other bioactive effects.