Do you feel perkier just thinking about sipping a delicious cup of coffee? Let’s be honest, for many people (myself included) that morning cup of Joe is a treasured ritual. But, when one cup becomes two and then three and then another after lunch and so on… it feels more like an addiction than a “treat”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to demonize your treasured cup of Joe. There’s even some recent research showing that the benefits of coffee outweigh the risks (study)! But if coffee has a tight grip on you and you experience painful symptoms when you don’t drink it, there may be more downsides than upsides to this beverage for you. So, let’s talk about the good, the bad and some solutions for those who want to pull back a bit on the jitter juice.
We’ll start by covering some of the main reasons coffee gets a bad rap…
Coffee & Sleep Health
A good night of sleep, especially between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. helps you heal, for real. Restful sleep activates your body’s own regenerative abilities—it’s the time when your body repairs and restores itself. But, coffee (because of its caffeine content) can be the enemy of restful sleep.
One study measured sleep quality when people consumed 400 mg of caffeine (about the amount in a Venti Starbucks) at bedtime, 3 hours before bedtime and 6 hours before bedtime. All groups experienced a statistically significant reduction in sleep. So, even that mid-afternoon java break may be disrupting the restfulness and quality of your zzz’s.
Coffee & Adrenal Health
When you drink caffeine, neurons are triggered in your brain and your adrenal glands start producing adrenaline. This “fight or flight” response is perfect when you need to lift a car off of an injured person, but not if you’re sitting at your desk sorting through emails. When the adrenaline wears off, you’re left feeling wiped out, anxious and moody. Next stop? You guessed it! Off to dose up on more caffeine, sugar or other stimulants. It’s a vicious daily cycle.
This continuous roller coaster results in adrenal exhaustion. And when your adrenal glands are tired out, they can’t be as effective at doing their many jobs, which include: producing other essential hormones, boosting your immune system, regulating the health of your body tissues and balancing blood sugars.
Plus, regular coffee drinkers need more and more caffeine over time to get the same adrenaline boost, which can lead to adrenal burnout. Signs of adrenal burnout include: relentless fatigue, constant low blood sugars, depression, allergies, joint and muscle pain and chronic infections.
The good news is that adrenal exhaustion and burnout caused by too much caffeine can be remedied by eliminating excessive stimulants and stresses on the body. Hooray! So if you can keep your caffeine intake to one or two cups of caffeinated coffee a day, you probably won’t experience the roller coaster—and you just might experience some benefits!
How Coffee Impacts Your Boobs and Bones
Listen up ladies, this one’s for you. Women who are prone to breast cysts and lean women with osteoporosis running in their families, will probably want to stay away from too much coffee and other highly caffeinated drinks.
Caffeine tends to increase the lumpiness of breast tissue, making those lumps more tender, and making monthly self exams more difficult to do. See your gynecologist if you ever feel even the slightest lump. And if it turns out to be a benign cyst, you may want to try reducing these lumps by taking evening primrose and vitamin E. (I take about 1,000 mg of evening primrose and 400 to 800 IUs of vitamin E.) Of course, it’s always smart to talk to your docs about new supplements, so run this by them for good measure.
As for bone health, high coffee consumption (more than 3 cups per day) may decrease bone density in women, therefore increasing risk for osteoporosis. This could be in part due to the decrease in calcium absorption and increase in urinary calcium that happens with caffeine consumption (study). If this is the case for you, you may want to peel back on the number of cups you’re drinking per day.
The Potential Benefits of Moderate Coffee Intake
After reviewing some recent research, I’ve changed my tune a bit when it comes to coffee consumption (yay!) and the fact that a moderate amount may be good for you. The downfalls of coffee have more to do with excess consumption, so if you can stick to one or two cups a day, you may reap some benefits without negative side effects.
A recent review found moderate coffee consumption (less than 3 cups a day) to have neutral or beneficial effects on health concerns often associated with drinking coffee (study). These health concerns included overall mortality, heart disease, a variety of cancers, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, weight control, liver disorders (such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cirrhosis), digestive issues (such as stomach ulcers and regularity), and neurological conditions (such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, cognitive function, and overall mental health).
Although it may be a relief to release the idea that your beloved coffee is a threat to your health, you may still want to pull back on the number of cups per day, especially if you’re exceeding two. So, here are some tips for keeping it cool with your favorite hot beverage:
Wrangling Your Coffee Consumption
Start slow. Drastically reducing your consumption overnight can lead to headaches, crankiness, anxiety, exhaustion and even insomnia. This is especially important if you’re a big coffee drinker. Wean yourself down gradually over a week or two by about 2-4 ounces a day. And if you’re still hurting once you get down to 1-2 cups, supplement with green or white tea to ease side effects.
It’s also important to choose organic, shade-grown coffee because it requires little or no chemical fertilizer or pesticides to be grown. And if you like decaf, choose water-processed (other decaffeinated coffees use a chemical process—yuck!).
4 Tips to Reduce Caffeine:
- Drink a green juice before enjoying your cuppa! The more juice you drink, the fewer outside stimulants you’ll need to feel energized.
- Drink green or white tea after you’ve met your 2 cup-a-day coffee quota. The relatively small amount of caffeine in these drinks will definitely help you transition to a lower caffeine norm.
- Try cacao (raw chocolate). It contains only trace amounts of caffeine. I love adding a tablespoon to my morning smoothie or some warm almond milk for a cup of hot cocoa.
- Brew up something that mimics the taste of coffee. Teeccino or Dandy Blend are great herbal substitutes.