Coffee: Is it Good for Us?
Coffee is a drug. It’s the most widely consumed and accepted stimulant in the world. It gives us clarity of mind and a ‘get up and go’ to take on the day. But is it good for us?
This is the most asked question I get in my clinical practice and health seminars. There is so much conflicting research on coffee these days which leaves most of us confused.
There are many reports that drinking moderate amounts of coffee (some research indicates up to 6 cups per day!) is good for us. Reports show that a moderate amount of coffee intake is linked to a reduction in developing Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancers, and Parkinson’s disease.
At the same time, there is a body of research showing high coffee intake is linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, inflammation, cholesterol, decreased bone density, gastric reflux and heartburn. Just to name a few.
So, what do we do!?
What is the answer when it comes to our daily ritual of a cup of joe?! To decide this, let’s look at how coffee affects the body.
It’s interesting to note that most of the studies on the benefits of coffee show the same benefits with or without caffeine. Why is this?
In all plants and herbs, there are thousands of active constituents (called phytochemicals) that influence the physiology. When we take out the caffeine in coffee, the positive benefits remain relatively the same due to these phytochemicals. Through research, we know the phytochemicals in the coffee bean are potent antioxidants. So it’s these substances that are exerting coffee’s beneficial effect, not so much the caffeine itself.
Antioxidants are substances which combat free radicals – molecules that damage the integrity of cells and tissues, and create wear and tear internally which leads to disease. The most powerful antioxidant in coffee is called Chlorogenic acid. But that’s not the only constituent in coffee. Some aren’t so positive.
The negative impact coffee has on the physiology is due to the beans acidic qualities and the effect its type of caffeine has on the nervous system. Most of the negative research on coffee consumption is a result of the increased production of degenerative stress hormones.
The way coffee works is by increasing the release of stress-fighting hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol (this is still true for decaf which leads us to believe there is another stimulant in coffee besides caffeine.) These stress hormones are what create the buzzy, alert feeling most people get and desire from coffee. The trouble with this is that these hormones are usually reserved for life and death situations. After a cup of coffee, these hormones are still buzzing around the system for hours. The elevated and prolonged release of these hormones is so damaging to our physiology and linked to a wide range of health conditions. If we are stressed, anxious, or live a busy lifestyle, we are already secreting far too many of these hormones. When we are constantly in this alert state, our blood pressure is raised, inflammation is increased, hormones are disturbed, sleep is impaired and digestion imbalanced – it impacts our entire system.
Other ways it’s damaging is that coffee reduces the ability to absorb key nutrients and depletes B vitamins from the body – a major vitamin needed for energy production. Due to its acidic nature, it contests the lymph and exacerbates hot flushes, migraines and inflammatory condition such as arthritis.
Can there be a Healthy Coffee Intake?
In clinical practice, 99% of my clients who I have taken off coffee to treat a specific health condition report they feel so much better. Symptoms improve, they have more balanced energy that lasts throughout the day and they start sleeping much better. (This is after the initial withdrawal obviously as coffee is an addictive substance!)
If you are suffering any of the mentioned conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, acid reflux, arthritis, hormonal imbalance, inflammatory conditions, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, etc., then it would be best to cut out coffee completely. Or only have a couple of times per week.
If coffee feels like a best friend to you and you can’t picture your life without it, even for medical reasons, then I usually compromise with my clients with the below conditions.
- Don’t have coffee on an empty stomach: When you drink coffee on an empty stomach—especially first thing in the morning, first of all, it increases acidity in your system. This can cause damage to your digestive mucosal and creates reflux and digestive upset as its a digestive irritant. Secondly, our stress hormone cortisol is highest within the first half an hour of waking. Having a coffee at this time can make your mind race, energy erratic and is quite taxing to your nervous system. It drains our energy reserves.
- Take coffee after food, mid-morning: take a hearty breakfast with some fruit, protein, and whole grains, then drink coffee a bit after, or around 10 am.
- Don’t take coffee after 3 pm: this is especially important if you have trouble sleeping. Coffee is very stimulating to the nervous system.
- Drink 1 cup of water for every cup of coffee: Coffee is a diuretic and very dehydrating to the system. You lose 1 cup of water per cup of coffee so re-hydration, in addition to your daily requirement, is important. It can dry the gut, skin and lymph.
- Go organic and choose real coffee: Avoid instant coffee. Organic is best as a lot of coffee and instant coffees contain pesticide residue which is toxic to our system.
- Take 1 cup per day. Max. Ideally, 2-3 times per week is better.
- Please note regarding decaf coffee – no decaf is 100% free of caffeine. So the above still applies to a degree. Also, most methods use high amounts of chemicals in the process. Choose water extraction decaf for this reason.
The above advice is best for fit and healthy people. But even so, you need to look at your relationship with coffee and ask ‘is this helping or harming me?’ ‘Am I addicted and reliant on this substance to get me through the day or boost my mood?’ If so, then it’s best to give it a break. Try stopping coffee for two weeks and see how you feel.
Author: Tegan Wallis
Tegan is a Naturopath, Ayurveda Health Consultant and Yoga Teacher.