I love coffee. I would drink it more often if it didn’t contribute to anxiety, energy fluctuations, and blood sugar instability for me. Instead, I’ll have a cup a few times a month if the mood strikes. Sometimes I’ll go months without. Then I’ll pick it up again and remember why I don’t do it regularly: Sure, I get the buzz, and I’m super productive for a few hours, then I get groggy and crash in the afternoon. But I always notice how nearly everyone I encounter on my way to work has a cup of coffee in their hands. But is coffee healthy?
We, as a society, love our coffee.
Coffee is hotly debated in the wellness world. Like booze, I think that those who want to defend its merits can easily find positive health benefits associated with coffee, and those who are “against” it can find negatives. Let’s examine the great coffee debate.
Is Coffee Healthy?
On the plus side, coffee is very high in antioxidants and contains some minerals, too. In fact, in the Standard American Diet, most people probably get the majority of their antioxidants from their morning coffee. There is also evidence that coffee possesses liver-protective qualities, especially in those who drink alcohol (good news for those of you who reach for a java after Friday night’s partying). We’ve also heard that coffee may prevent Alzheimers and Parkinson’s.
And we’re addicted to the buzz: coffee increases blood flow to the brain, jacking productivity and alertness and also helping us poop in the morning. Many drink it just so they can maintain a regular morning (or whenever) poop. And it sure is tasty and comforting: a warm beverage ritual is a great way to start off the day.
On the minus, coffee is one of the most heavily sprayed crops. It has a very high concentration of pesticides that are also xenoestrogenic and can lead to endocrine disorders and toxic build-up. Coffee, like booze, is a drug, because it contains a lot of caffeine, more than three times the amount in a cup of green tea.
It’s addicting. If you’re addicted to coffee, you’ll experience headaches – sometimes severe migraines – if you go a day without it, not to mention the fatigue and haze you’ll likely encounter. Caffeine can cause anxiety and sleep disturbances. Caffeine has a long half-life, meaning it takes your body a long time to break it down. Coffee consumed at 10am can still affect your sleep 12 hours later.
Also, caffeine affects everyone differently: some can drink coffee after dinner and fall asleep within the hour, whereas others can be wired all day and experience high blood pressure, heart palpitations, insomnia. 50 percent of us lack the enzyme to properly metabolize the caffeine in coffee, and for those folks, it may not have the health benefits it offers those who are faster caffeine metabolizers.
Coffee (especially on an empty stomach) can also adversely affect blood sugar and cortisol levels. Many people like the appetite-suppressing effects and use coffee to stave off hunger and skip a meal. It raises blood sugar, temporarily arresting hunger. But about an hour or 2 later, your blood sugar comes crashing down, leaving you starving, irritable, and/or tired and craving more coffee or sugar. That doesn’t happen for everyone, but you probably know it if that’s you.
Coffee is a diuretic: it causes the body to flush delicate B vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium and potassium. Coffee is acid-forming: it leaches minerals from the body as your system attempts to maintain alkalinity, because it fosters an acidic state in the body. It is also dehydrating (read: bad for your skin!)
So here’s the thing: coffee, like everything else, is probably fine in moderation for some folks. That depends on the person. But are you physically dependent upon it? Can you go a day without it or do you need it to drag yourself through the morning? Why be a slave to addiction? If you can’t go a day without your coffee, it’s time to examine why. Are you excessively fatigued? Time for adrenal repair. Are you constipated and can’t poop without your coffee? Time for digestive assessment or cleansing. Are you using coffee to kill your appetite so you can avoid breakfast (only to binge later)? Do you lack focus, or are you foggy without coffee? My philosophy is that you shouldn’t be addicted to anything, so if you use coffee as a crutch, there is an underlying physiological reason why, and you need to get to the bottom of that.
Try a week without (cut down slowly!) to see what happens. Switch to green tea, which is very high in minerals, has less than half the caffeine, and nourishes the adrenals rather than frying them. Green tea promotes good solid, stable energy without the spike and crash, and stokes the body’s fat burning furnace. Break your addiction by switching from half caff/half decaf, then cut down to once a week. Avoid coffee altogether if you have insomnia, high blood pressure/cholesterol, anxiety, or if you’re doing a cleanse. Caffeine affects everyone differently. Use it with care.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.