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.