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 might start to feel more like an addiction than a treat.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to demonize your java. I love mine and I drink one cup in the morning, a few times per week. And for all you data lovers like me, there’s even some research showing that the benefits of coffee outweigh the risks (study)!
But if coffee has a tight grip on you and you experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink it, there may be more downsides than upsides to this beverage for you. So, let’s talk about some of the health benefits of coffee as well as potential risks, and what you can do to reduce your intake and/or enjoy it in moderation.
So, is coffee bad for you?
We’ll start by covering some of the main reasons coffee gets a bad rap, but before we do, I want to clarify one thing. Most coffee concerns crop up if you’re drinking more than two cups per day. I’m sharing info about the risks with you not to scare you away from coffee, but so you have the full picture. This way, you can make an informed decision about whether or not coffee is right for you. Plus, I know how you love taking charge of your health and learning about this stuff!
Coffee and 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.
How long does caffeine stay in your system?
Caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours. So if you consume 40 mg of caffeine at 3 p.m., you’ll still have 20 mg in your system when 8 p.m. rolls around. To give that some context, one 8-oz cup of coffee contains about 163 mg of caffeine (source), though levels can vary based on the brewing method.
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 Zzzs.
Coffee and Adrenal Health
Caffeine triggers neurons in your brain that tell your adrenal glands to 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 their many jobs, which include:
- Producing other essential hormones
- Boosting your immune system
- Regulating the health of your body tissues
- Balancing blood sugars
Plus, regular coffee drinkers tend to 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
- Joint and muscle pain
- 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 stick 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 folks with tatas, this one’s for you. If you’re prone to breast cysts and/or a lean person with a family history of osteoporosis, you may want to stay away from too much coffee and other highly caffeinated drinks.
Caffeine tends to increase the tenderness and possibly also the lumpiness of fibrocystic breast tissue, making monthly self exams more difficult to do (study). See your gynecologist if you ever feel even the slightest unusual 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 1000 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 the 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 Health Benefits of Coffee
As I said earlier, coffee’s downfalls seem to have more to do with excess consumption than with the drink itself. If you can stick to one or two cups a day, you may reap some of the following benefits of coffee without negative side effects.
Moderate coffee consumption may:
- Help prevent heart disease, a variety of cancers, type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance
- Support healthy weight control
- Prevent liver disorders (such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cirrhosis)
- Improve digestive issues (such as stomach ulcers and regularity)
- Help prevent neurological conditions (such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, cognitive function and overall mental health)
- Decrease overall mortality
Check out this resource for an overview of the benefits of coffee and links to several studies that support these claims.
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…
6 Tips for Cutting Back on Coffee and Reducing Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
- Start slow. Drastically reducing your consumption overnight can lead to headaches, crankiness, anxiety, exhaustion and even insomnia. Try cutting back by 2-4 oz per day over the course of a week or two, then see how you feel.
- Drink a green juice before enjoying your cuppa! The more juice you drink, the fewer outside stimulants you’ll need to feel energized.
- Try swapping those extra caffeinated cups with some decaf. Just be sure to choose water-processed (other decaffeinated coffees use a chemical process—yuck!).
- 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. Plus, tea is packed with good-for-you stuff like antioxidants, so sip away!
- 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.
6 Tips for Enjoying Coffee in Moderation
- Choose organic, shade-grown coffee because it requires little or no chemical fertilizer or pesticides to be grown.
- Coffee can be dehydrating so make sure you’re drinking enough water if you’re going to enjoy moderate consumption. Divide your body weight in pounds by two to get the approximate amount of water in ounces that you need to drink per day (or divide your weight in kilograms by 30 to determine how many liters of water you need per day).
- Stick to sippin’ during the first half of the day. As we discussed earlier, the caffeine from coffee can stay in your system for a long time and negatively affect your quality of sleep.
- Cut the crap! Many coffee drinks are full of inflammatory stuff like dairy, added sugar and other additives. Choose nondairy milks and creamers when possible. Minimize the sugar or choose natural alternatives like stevia or erythritol (just make sure to adjust the amount as sugar alternatives are often much sweeter than the real thing!).
- Bring your reusable cup/mug when you’re on the go. Those disposable coffee cups, straws, etc. add up to a lot of waste, especially when you’re using them on a regular basis. Savor your coffee the sustainable way!
- Try a plant-based version of Bulletproof coffee for some extra healthy fats. You can read more about this popular coffee concoction in this article, but here’s the gist: “It involves making a clean, non-toxic coffee free of pesticides, herbicides, etc. and blending it with medium chain triglyceride (MCT) fats which increase energy and possibly performance, and are said to ward off hunger.” The original recipe includes butter, but it’s easy to make with vegan alternatives and still enjoy the benefits. Yum!
And my final tip: Listen to your body! It will tell you if coffee is something you can include in moderate amounts or not. If you don’t do well when you drink it, then consider that a message from your spectacular system. When in doubt, consult your doc. Cheers!
Your turn: What’s your relationship with coffee and how does it impact your overall well-being?
Peace & conscious coffee consumption,
Check out my book, Crazy Sexy Juice, for 100+ juice, smoothie and nut milk recipes that will help you start your day with a plant-powered blast of energy! Get your copy here.
I am a total coffee junky. I’m always trying to cut back. A year ago it wouldn’t have been at all unusual to see me finishing a venti Americano right before bed. And I could still fall right asleep. What I didn’t put together until recently is although I fell asleep right away, I woke up multiple times during the night and woke up feeling exhausted. I’m currently trying to cut back, I try not to have any coffee after noon and that seems to help when I can actually stick to it 🙂 This post gives me some more concrete guidelines. Love it!
So glad you found these tips helpful and you’re figuring out what works for you! xo, kc
A while ago, I switched my morning cup of espresso to decaf swiss water process organic fair trade coffee. I sleep way better and am more relaxed. My adrenals are way happier too. I noticed a huge difference, mainly because I don’t do white sugar and rarely ever touch alcohol. So, I knew it was the giving up of caffeine that helped me. Yay!
Happy to hear it! Thanks for sharing. xo, kc
Kris. Morning! I used to be a coffee addict and I have no stress in admitting it. When I read your books and started juicing, coffee didn’t felt as needed, as important. Eating healthy gives you so much energy and clears your mind so much that you don’t need what coffee provides. I just have a cup these days per day and it feels completely right, not a sip more, not a sip less. Thanks for your feedback on coffee and all the good things you constantly do to keep the world a better place, Laura
I tried giving up coffee a few years ago. I went several months without, enough time to be over any withdrawals (which I had!). But, I really felt overall unhappy without coffee. It’s a comforting drink I really enjoy. I felt deprived. I’m back to about two cups of a good americano a day, and don’t think I’ll ever give it up again. I realized that overall, my health is so good (at 53 I’m on no medications and almost never get sick), so I feel I’m a walking testimony to the benefits of coffee!
I attempted to quit coffee in August. While it was easier than I expected with respect to few withdrawal symptoms, I quite simply missed the ritual. The hot lemon water didn’t motivate me to get out of bed. I admittedly was more balanced in energy levels and my mood was consistent but months after I still found that I wasn’t motivated to get out of bed. Seeing as I am a morning runner this became an issue. Even though I was awake I wouldn’t get up until I needed to for work. So I decided to reintroduce a small cup in the mornings and when the alarm bells rang I found myself getting up. I have cut back massively on coffee, I don’t drink sodas or anything else with caffeine and never have coffee after 12pm. My morning ritual of coffee, run and watching tge sun rise is here to stay.
I’ve found that drinking warm lemon water first thing in the morning greatly reduces coffee cravings for me. This was unexpected when I added this item into my daily routine.
Question on the supplements mentioned – do you take these daily?
Yes, but check with your naturopathic doc first, especially on the evening primrose oil. xo, kc
Thank you for this! I have been so confused, and this is helpful and reassuring. I’ve been trying to get pregnant for several years and though I (usually) only have a few cups a week – I always feel really guilty about it. I do think I have a bit of caffeine sensitivity, but it is such a comforting treat it makes me sad to think of totally giving it up. I need all the comfort I can get right now!
I always think it’s important to remember one cup of coffee is 6oz, so drinking 6-12oz is the recommendation.
And what about iron absorbtion?
Do I have to wait 1 hour after breakfast to have one cup of coffee?
First, green juice… Wait…
Then, breakfast… Wait
Ah! Mon café!!!!
Hi Guylaine, Iron absorption is only decreased slightly by coffee consumption. But, if you’re low on iron or having bigger needs (such as during pregnancy or lactation), be sure to have iron-rich and vitamin-C rich foods together to boost absorption. Hope that helps! xo, kc
I will now enjoy my morning routine without guilty feelings!
I always feel so guilty drinking coffee in the morning because of the acidity etc. But after reading this article, I feel that I can release that guilt. I enjoy 2 cups of gloriously delicious dark, black organic coffee each morning while reading my emails. It is such a treat!
I absolutely love my morning java! Recently I went on a 2 month break up with my coffee (as well as other things), I felt great but that little voice in my head nagged me all day to just have a coffee. I was given the green light by my Dr to enjoy 1 cup (occasionally 2) a day and it’s the perfect balance. Now I see coffee as a “treat” not something I HAVE to have to make it through the day. I agree with weaning yourself down to less and less because as I learned quitting cold turkey just makes you want it more and more!
Kris, what are your thoughts on toxins in coffee? You recommend above ‘organic, shade-grown coffee’ but I’ve heard that the problem with organic coffee is that the plant has no defences against toxins… (But obviously non-organic is worse for health). I know that there are some brands now that claim to be toxin-free and organic, like Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof and David Wolfe’s longevity coffee, although I don’t know how that deals with the wildlife issues if they are not shade-grown… How do you decide what’s best?! xx
Hi, What I would love to know is – when I read about the pros and cons of coffee, does this apply to espresso as well? I am in the habit of one or two shots of espresso almost every morning in a latte with either milk, soy, or almond milk ( I mix it up).
The coffee recommendations apply to espresso as well. Since we don’t want you going too high in caffeine consumption, we’d recommend no more than 1 or 2 shots a day, and preferably in the morning. xo, kc
I used to drink coffee, but after working on my diet and stress I realized that even 1 cup makes my psoriasis break out and sometimes gives me weird vertigo. Sometimes I’ll treat myself to half a cup, but mostly I just stay away from it! Drinking a couple big cups of water in the morning oddly really sets me up for a good morning. 🙂
Glad to hear you’ve figured out what works for you! xo, kc
I’ve quit coffee 1+ years ago, and wasn’t a big drinker anyway (max 2 cups a day). Any reason for me to pick it up? Thanks.
Nope. No reason to pick it up if you feel great without it and don’t feel deprived. Just wanted to share some current research for those who do love coffee and have trouble without 1-2 cups per day. xo, kc
I love everything you do but I really don’t agree that 1-2 coffees a day could be considered healthy! Especially for anyone with any type of illness or impaired adrenal function (and let’s face it most of us are living an over stressed – therefore adrenal sapping lifestyle). The is also research that suggest that coffee consumption is not so hot for us.
From personal experience and the experience of many of my customers removing that morning cup of coffee has tremendous benefits for ones long term energy levels, mood, emotionally and physical health!
It breaks my heart that anyone promotes coffee as healthy as people are always looking for an excuse to drink it! And need no encouragement.
Yes of course some people will do fine with a cup of coffee each day and live a long healthy life but for most of us that are over stressed or unwell coffee is by no means our friend.
1-2 cups is still to much for anyone who is not fit and healthy.
Thanks Kris for all the helpful tricks.
Thanks for writing this! After reading your Crazy Sexy Diet book, I gave up coffee for a year. But then I missed it and went back to drinking it. But I’ve tried to stay conscious about the quantity, as you point out in this post. Another think I’ve done recently is switched to cold-brewed coffee. I had read that it is less acidic than hot-brewed, and I’m finding that it really does make a difference. I feel less acidic, but equally well caffeinated. Please keep up the great work!
Coffee has been linked with with a range of health benefits including stress and anxiety. Although many people find it quite addictive 🙂 This post has been very useful, thanks!
If your magnesium deficient, I would avoid coffee. So since were all deficient in magnesium I think its a good idea we all avoid it.
Our soils are depleted so our food is too. The most important mineral needed by the body and its being stripped even more which each cup of coffee you drink increasing the magnesium deficiency symptoms even more! There is a lot of info out there about coffee- is it good? is it bad? Check your sources and know who your believing. Im not saying the article about is right or wrong but judge for yourself. Ill tell you though, my fitness and athletic performance has increased 10 fold since i removed coffee from my vocabulary and diet…i only do coffee enema now 🙂
Thank you for this post on coffee. I am being treated for osteoporosis with risodronate sodium. However, I have been drinking 6-8 cups of coffee per day, and even though only two cups caffeine, I wish my doctor would have warned me that this consumption is hurting my bones. I appreciate you.