As a naturopathic doctor we are supposed to live what we preach but sadly, in regards to coffee consumption, I am not a very good role model. The naturopathic profession always spoke about how detrimental coffee was for a person’s health. I have written this article not only for the health conscious reader, but also as a reminder for myself as to why it is important to try to kick this habit. Having prefaced this article with this coffee self-confession, I can now begin to talk to you about the health realities of coffee.
What is it about coffee that makes it so desirable?
Coffee contains caffeine. In 1994 scientists established that caffeine was an addictive substance. Why do most people not look at coffee this way? When 80% of people are drinking coffee every day it becomes extremely hard to see caffeine for what it really is-- a drug.
Caffeine is in coffee, green tea, black tea, chocolate, coke and other soft drinks. The average cup of drop coffee contains 136 milligrams of caffeine per cup. Three cups per day (my latest average) means one is consuming more than 500 milligrams of caffeine – twice the amount considered a large drug dose of caffeine. A five minute steeped black tea has between 40-100mg. Coca has 45mg.
How does caffeine work?
Soon after you drink or eat something containing caffeine, it’s absorbed through the small intestine and dissolved into the bloodstream. Its chemical nature makes it able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain, which is where most of the action of this drug takes place.
Once in the brain caffeine is blocks Adenosine receptors. Adenosine normally activated its receptors which cause a chain reaction that makes us feel tired. Caffeine works by getting to those receptors first and blocking the receptors from being able to accept the Adenosine. Without the adenosine activation the receptor will not be able to trigger the feeling of tiredness. As well, some of the brain’s own natural stimulants (dopamine) work more effectively when the adenosine receptors are blocked, and all the surplus adenosine floating around in the brain cues the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline, another stimulant.
Regardless of the scientific chemical ways that caffeine works, one thing is forsure, caffeine makes us less tired and more alert. With the ever-increasing work and family demands we are in need of more and more energy and it appears that as a society we reach out to the drug caffeine to help us cope. But the question is clear - what are the long-term side effects of taking an addictive drug?
Why is caffeine/coffee so bad for our health?
What happens is that people who consume coffee, tea, soda or energy drinks with caffeine on a daily basis eventually begin to have altered brains with adjusted brain chemistry. The most notable change is that brain cells grow more adenosine receptors. As I mentioned above, Adenosine receptors control the feeling of being tired. With more receptors we are going to need increased amounts of caffeine to block them or we will end up feeling even more tired. As well, studies indicate that caffeine causes the brain to decrease the number of receptors for norepinephrine, our natural stimulant that gives us energy. In other words – Drinking Coffee makes us more tired in the long run.
What else is coffee/caffeine doing to my body?
Although research has not always been consistent, caffeine has been implicated as a definite or contributing factor in reactive hypoglycemia, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, moodiness, insomnia, hypertension, fibrocystic breast changes, impaired fertility, headaches, cardiac arrhythmias, and acid reflux.
As can be ascertained from the above list, coffee is not a good choice for people who have with these concerns or anyone trying to avoid the their development.
Aside from the abovementioned disease states caffeine causes a host of other problems.
Depletes Magnesium: Caffeine has been noted to block Magnesium from being absorbed in the body, which is a critical mineral, involved in relaxing muscles – so you may end up with body aches and pains as a heavy coffee drinker. Note that the Fibromyalgia patients have 20% less magnesium to begin with, so coffee is a really bad idea for people suffering from Fibromyalgia.
Depletes B vitamins: Most common is B1 – responsible for energy metabolism, protein synthesis and nervous system function. Deficiency leads to fatigue, and headaches.
Pesticides: Yes it is unfortunate but true. Growers of coffee use more pesticides on coffee plants than on any other crop.
Nitrosamines: These naturally occurring substances in coffee are the same carcinogens found in bacon and other cured meats.
Dehydration: Caffeine is a diuretic. For each cup of coffee you drink you lose a cup of water. When drinking it you are actually not getting any water intake.
Adrenal exhaustion: Feeling extremely tired? Remember I mentioned that adrenal glands secrete the stimulant adrenaline. The problem is that eventually the adrenal glands start to burn out from being stimulated for adrenaline too much by the caffeine.
Suppressing Optimal Digestive Functioning: The response of the body to coffee is to not "rest and digest" but to shunt blood away from the stomach. Eating food while drinking coffee is therefore not a good idea. Food left in the stomach will ferment, putrify and turn rancid. Nutrients and mineral will not be absorbed.
Acidic: The acidic nature of coffee will over time kill a lot of the healthy bacteria in your stomach. Health problems associated with decreased good bacteria are: acne, constipation, diarrhea, recurring colds and flu’s, colitis, IBS, and fibromyalgia.
Blood Sugar Chaos: Caffeine makes blood sugar levels rise slightly. Adding sugar and milk to your coffee further worsens this increase in blood sugar. What happens is that the sugars are then removed rapidly from the blood into the cells via insulin but the effect is that you are left more sugar deficient in the blood (reactive hypoglycemia) than you started before drinking the coffee. Then you end up craving more sugar and feel tired shortly after your coffee – it’s a vicious cycle.
Is there any good news about Coffee?
It is an antioxidant, which is generally a pretty good thing. It also is associated with reduced incidence of certain chronic diseases, namely gallbladder disease, Parkinson’s disease and type 2 diabetes. But green tea has the same effect (at least on reducing the incidence of acquiring diabetes) with much less caffeine and a much wider variety of bioflavonoids, antioxidants and anti cancer properties.
What are some Coffee Alternatives?
Start kicking your caffeine addiction by replacing coffee with green tea or herbal teas. Drink a lot of water.
What are some healthy alternatives I can use for improving my energy?
There are a lot of healthier ways to support energy production in the body. Diet, nutrition, exercise, certain vitamins and herbs can help you safely support the body as it tries to cope with the rigors and stresses of work and life demands.
The final word on coffee:
It’s clear from the abovementioned information that caffeinated Coffee is not a good long-term solution for dealing with our need for more energy. It has been shown to have many negative side effects and seriously affects our bodies while at the same time altering our brain chemistry. What’s worse – it contains a known addictive substance that makes us more tired in the long run. Although coffee has some real benefits, in my opinion, they do not outweigh the negative effects it causes to our overall health. Hopefully this article has inspired you to think a bit more critically about the nature of coffee and possibly given a few of you the “boost” you needed to quit drinking coffee for good.
Dr. Anders Nerman, N.D. is a Naturopathic Doctor with an Integrative Family Medical practice in Wolfson Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel. For more visit www.drnerman.com or call 972-54-427-8667.
Information is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or adopting any treatment for a health problem.