Almost everybody has a cup of tea or coffee at least a couple of times a day. It’s a natural part of our daily routine that we feel we don’t need to think too much about. Those of us who prefer coffee might have a cup of coffee in the morning to try and defeat the morning blues, and get in the mood for less relaxing activities throughout the day.
The popularity of coffee has encouraged scientists to conduct research on the effects of caffeine on the functions of the human body. You might already have some idea about what drinking coffee might do with regards to functions such as sleep and alertness, but what about the effects of caffeine on speech, language, and other aspects of communication? As you might have guessed, research on this topic is new and ongoing, but some possible answers have been found for what drinking coffee might do to your voice.
Hydration is the key to a healthy voice…
…and coffee has the potential to have the opposite effect on the vocal folds. If the airflow from your lungs is the ‘fuel source’ of the voice, the vocal folds can be likened to the ‘gears’ of the engine that is your larynx (or voice box). Like gears, the vocal folds must be well lubricated to work effectively, and this is done by ensuring you drink enough water each day. Coffee contains caffeine, which has been found to dehydrate the body, including the vocal folds. This could result in reduced strength and range of your voice, which is not conducive to efficient communication.
Coffee can also make acid reflux symptoms worse…
…which could, in turn, reduce vocal quality. Caffeine can weaken the lower oesophageal sphincter, causing acids from the stomach to flow back into your voice box. Reflux can lead to persistent throat clearing and coughing, which could have a negative impact on how your voice sounds naturally, and make it difficult for you to control the way it sounds. While reflux might not have any effect on the voice for some people, others who are pre-disposed to health conditions like obesity and gastro-oesophageal anomalies, might risk their vocal health with consistent and excessive consumption of caffeine.
Knowing the above (and still wanting to be on Team Coffee!), how can you manage coffee consumption while maintaining a healthy voice? Here are some useful tips!
- Try to keep your coffee intake to a maximum of one cup (approximately 240mL) a day
- Avoid drinking coffee during the hours leading up to significant voice use (e.g. singing; giving a speech, lesson or lecture), and opt to have it after the session instead
- Go for instant coffee rather than filtered coffee as the latter can have more than twice the amount of caffeine
- Consider having some water, a decaffeinated tea, or another decaffeinated drink if you feel like drinking more than one cup of coffee a day
- If you crave extra coffee, ensure you get a refill of water for each cup of coffee you have, and drink the refill of water right afterwards to rehydrate your vocal folds
- Keep track of how much coffee you drink each day
“All things in moderation,” they say, and this adage certainly rings true in ensuring you limit your coffee intake to have a healthy voice that facilitates good communication rather than hinder it. Many people might not experience any issues at all from drinking coffee every day, but it would be beneficial to keep the possible effects of caffeine on the voice in mind next time you reach for that extra cup of coffee.
S. Akhtar, G. Wood, J. S. Rubin, P. E. O’Flynn and P. Ratcliffe (1999). Effect of caffeine on the vocal folds: a pilot study. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 113, pp 341-345.
Colton, R.H., & Casper, J.K. (1995). Understanding voice problems: A physiological perspective for diagnosis and treatment. Philadelphia: Williams & Wilkins.
Verdolini, K., Titze, I.R., & Fennell, A. (1994). Dependence of phonatory effort on hydration level.
Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 37, 1001-1007.
Verdolini-Marston, K., Sandage, M., & Titze, I.R. (1994). Effect of hydration treatments on laryngealnodules and polyps and related voice measures. Journal of Voice, 8, 30-47.