Coffee: Friend or Foe?
My love for coffee began in University- it was the only thing that got me through my 8:30am calculus class. I’ve been enjoying regular morning coffees ever since until recently, something changed. My stomach started cringing when I was brewing my cup- for some reason it was no longer something I wanted to drink. So I stopped, switched to tea and haven’t looked back. This experience got me thinking: is coffee really for everyone?
Things tend to get categorized as being “good” or “bad” for us, but when it comes to coffee, it mostly depends on 1) the individual and 2) the amount of caffeine consumed. It’s been estimated that most people can safely consume 200-300mg of caffeine without experiencing adverse effects. Check out the caffeine content of different types of sources (tea vs. coffee vs. energy drinks), brewing techniques (drip vs. filter) and brands (Starbucks, McCafe, etc.) here to find out how much you’re getting!
Is coffee the highlight of your morning? Do you drink it in moderation? If so, then I’ve got some good news for you…
Health Benefits of Coffee/Caffeine:
Enhances alertness, ability to concentrate, and short-term memory.
Boosts athletic performance- particularly endurance exercise.
Improves mood, self-reported happiness, and feelings of pleasure.
May be protective from developing neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Improved asthma control.
Decreases all-cause mortality.
Despite these health benefits, coffee may not be for everyone. We differ in the way we break down, respond, and remove caffeine from our body.
Consider avoiding/cutting down if you have:
1. Anxiety or high stress- Caffeine increases norepinephrine, cortisol, and epinephrine which are hormones that are involved in the “fight or flight” stress response. This can contribute to symptoms of restlessness, sweating, heightened feeling of “alertness,” tremors and palpitations in caffeine-sensitive individuals, people with high stress, those with existing anxiety disorders, or if you drink too much.
Alternative? Consider green tea to get your caffeine fix. It contains L-theanine, a calming agent that balances caffeine’s stimulating effects.
2. IBS or digestion difficulties- Coffee increases stomach acid production and increases the rate that food passing through our stomach. This can cause acid reflux and irritation of the small intestine- leading to heartburn and cramping. It also increases colon motility - aka causing gas or the need to take a bowel movement. In some individuals, this means diarrhea and if any underlying gastrointestinal conditions are present, coffee may make symptoms a lot worse.
3. Insomnia or sleep difficulties - Caffeine has been shown to increase the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, cause more wakings in the night, and reduce overall sleep quality. On average it takes 4-6hr to eliminate coffee from the body, but much longer in sensitive individuals. Age, ethnicity, kidney/liver function, and current medications also alter the time it takes to remove caffeine from the body.
4. Osteoporosis/ Low bone density- Research has found that high caffeine intake overtime is correlated with bone loss, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. This is particularly true in individuals with a low calcium intake. Another reason to eat your green leafies, nuts, and yogurt!
5. High cholesterol- Two oil lipid extracts found in coffee, cafestol and kahweol have been shown to raise the “bad” cholesterol, LDL-C. This can be avoided if you use a paper filter when brewing your coffee, which catches these extracts. Note: french press, espressos, and cappuccinos have these cholesterol-raising compounds in high amounts.
So there you have it! When consumed minimally, in moderation, and in the absence of personal risk factors, coffee is not a “bad” thing at all. I’m pretty sure switching to teas has helped me fall asleep at night and it has definitely minimized my feelings of stress during the day. Curious to see how switching to teas or cutting down your coffee will make you feel? Try it out!
Caffeine Informer. Brewed Coffee. 2016 [Internet]. Available from: http://www.caffeineinformer.com/caffeine-content/coffee-brewed.
Rafetto M, Grumet T, French G. Effects of Caffeine and Coffee on Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease & Colitis. 2004. [Internet]. Available from: http://teeccino.com/images/uploads/pages/File/colon.pdf
O’Keefe JH, Bhatti SK, Patil HR, DiNicolantonio JJ, Lucan SC, Lavie CJ. Effects of habitual coffee consumption on cardiometabolic disease, cardiovascular health, and all-cause mortality. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2013 Sep 17;62(12):1043-51.
Spiller GA, editor. Caffeine. Florida: CRC Press LLC;1998.
Drake C, Roehrs T, Shambroom J, Roth T. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. J Clin Sleep Med. 2013 Nov 15;9(11):1195-200.
Urgert R, Katan MB. The cholesterol-raising factor from coffee beans. Annual review of nutrition. 1997 Jul;17(1):305-24.