Jun 10, 2013


That seems to always be the question doesn't it? We smell that alluring waft of rich aromas on walking past a cafe mid morning. We see people everywhere, all over the world, sipping on fluffy cappuccinos, shotting back espressos at bars, or casually carrying their jumbo caffe lattes down the street. All happy they've got their morning fix.

We've all seen, read, chosen to not see and read, and heard all about the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to coffee. One week the celebrities are all over it, looking hagged with dark circles to show off their fatigue and round-the-clock working hours. But the next week, we see sports athletes touting the stuff saying it's their pre-workout drink of choice; sans milk and sugar of course. And then we're the ones left somewhere in the middle not really knowing if it's good or bad for us, to be avoided or not.

Well I'm here to shine some light on the subject for us all.

Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug worldwide. Indeed the majority of adults consume caffeine on a daily basis, most commonly in the forms of coffee and tea, consuming it for the caffeine, seeking increased alertness, attention, and cognitive function - we've all heard someone say "don't talk to me until I've had my coffee".

Within 30-60 minutes of consuming coffee, peak levels are reached causing increased blood pressure, dopamine, adrenalin, noradrenalin, and cortisone levels. After days of regular coffee use, however, tolerance develops and these changes are no longer as drastic as with the first cup. This effect is similar to that experienced with pharmaceutical antidepressant use – the body adjusts the levels of catecholamines (dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline) and cortisone normally produced in anticipation of the surge that will happen once the coffee is consumed.  The consumer often experiences this tolerance as fatigue and morning grumpiness, because these chemicals are closely related to our circadian rhythm and our ability to feel awake in the morning (1)

I was a barista for 8years and served hundreds of coffees and teas everyday. I loved my job. I was very good at it. And yes I drank multiple cups of coffee everyday myself. I loved the stuff. I had a love affair (and possibly still do) with the whole process of it all - choosing beans, grinding beans at the precise grind each day, and making sure every shot was perfect; pouring at the right speed, caramel in colour, with the last little drips looking akin to a mouses' tail; the perfect curl. And of course the taste was impeccable. But I digress...

Since my days behind the machine, I've been on and off the java, and for many different reasons...
On - when living in Italy (and I will be on it again everytime I venture back there).
Off - when I wanted to see if I could function without it.
On - when I no longer wanted to function without it (even though I could).
Off - when I had to save money.
On - when life was serving me lemons and I couldn't be stuffed making lemonade.
Off - when I found out I had adrenal exhaustion.
On - when I needed a morning pick-me-up due to my adrenal exhaustion, even thought I knew it was counter productive.
Off - coz I was on it again daily and it was only making my life worse.
On - ever-now-and-then coz the barista (and coffee conoisseur I like to think) will always love the taste even it had no buzz.

But my coffee history aside (can you relate?), there still seems to be a lot of confusion around the consumption of coffee. Should I? Or shouldn't I?

Coffee (which is sadly one of the richest sources of antioxidants in the average American's diet) contains caffeine and other antioxidants that have the potential to confer both beneficial and adverse health effects. A growing body of research shows that coffee drinkers, compared to nondrinkers, may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, stroke, depression, death from any cause, and neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Coffee appears to have a neutral effect on cardiovascular health (2).

Thumbs up for:

+ Antioxidants (but we can get plenty of these from other sources)
+ Increased cognitive performance, alertness and attention (even in the event of sleep deprivation) - having said that, nothing improves cognitive performance like a good night's sleep
+ Makes us more awake (due to blocking the signal from a particular neurotransmitter that is responsible for letting us know when we are tired, and thus need rest... so whether this is a good thing..??)
+ Improved memory; short term and long term
+ Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
+ Lower risk of developing depression
+ Lower risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases
+ Makes us feel good - it's triggering an upswing in dopamine which activates our pleasure centre in our brain*
+ As a pre-workout, it delays fatigue, improves reaction time and muscular endurance (3)
+ Increases neuro-muscular performance (4)
+ Confers health benefits, but "especially when used in individuals who do not have adverse subjective effects due to its stimulating effects"... interesting
+ Tastes so darn good

Thumbs down for:

+ Acute rises in blood pressure
+ Raises our heart rate
+ Reduces our body's ability to absorb iron
+ * (Also) Triggers an upswing in cortisol and other stress hormones (which can cause more damage especially in those with "tired and wired" adrenals)
+ Affects the distal colon, leading to increased motility, meaning nutrients may not be absorbed as effectively (5) 
+ Increases the need to do your number two's
+ Promotes gastro-oesophageal reflux (GERD)
+ Increased urination leads to dehydration
+ Dependance and addiction
+ Constricting blood vessels, getting less oxygen to our brain
+ Keeping us up at night
+ Making sleep more restless
+ Coffee breathe

NOTE: This is not a definitive list of either pros or cons

So whether you're a forever coffee fan, someone who dips in and out, or not a fan at all, there are certain ways to drink your cup of joe, and certain times of the day to do so, that are going to be of more benefit to you than others.

The best ways to drink your cuppa coffee...

+ Black; or with almond milk and stevia. No dairy. No white sugar.
+ In the mornings only; the stimulation from the coffee then mirrors your cortisol cycle (and exactly why not to drink coffee at night; when your cortisol should be at its lowest)
+ After or with your breakfast; not alone prior to eating
+ With coconut oil or MCT oil, and grass fed butter or ghee (Bulletproof Coffee)

And if you're wanting to give it up...

+ Start easing off coffee before going cold turkey (try half the amount, half the strength, or some on decaf)
+ Drink plenty of quality water
+ Support your body with extra vitamin C
+ Take regular breaks
+ Get plenty of sleep, with regular sleep and wake times
+ Exercise first thing in the morning; this will also mirror your cortisol cycle
+ Support your liver who is doing the job of removing caffeine from your system; eat bitter greens, take vitamin C, drink milk thistle tea

My thoughts...

This will sound cliche but it's what I base my business on with (more than) good reason - we are all unique individual's who have different biochemistry, so one womans cup of coffee is another womans poison. As every person's caffeine tolerance varies depending on how efficiently their liver detoxifies and removes it from the body, without directly working with a client, knowing someone, or having a conversation, I cannot tell you whether or not coffee is suitable for you.

Being a habit-forming drug, more and more coffee overtime is what is needed to get the fix we're after, especially if work, family life, diet or other conditions are proving to be stressful. This then becomes a problem.

If you find you're craving coffee, then either your cortisol levels are low, or your body needs a bloody good rest. And from my experience, it's usually the latter. So pour yourself some dandelion instead (which also helps your liver) and give yourself a rest.

If you're experiencing adrenal fatigue or exhaustion (or think you are), regardless of whether or not your body detoxifies caffeine well, you need to stop drinking coffee. It will be without a doubt complicating your healing process. I've seen this and experienced it myself. I bring this point up because adrenal fatigue has become increasingly common at such a pace that it's a little scary in my opinion. If you are experiencing insomnia, mood swings, acid reflux, fatigue, depression, gastrointestinal complaints, or chronic I suggest removing coffee for a period of 2-3 weeks to see if your symptoms improve. The benefits of coffee may come at a cost for some people.

From a cultural and social aspect, I believe there are psychological and health benefits to the occasional coffee and I too am the first to admit I'll have one when it's on offer, or if the rest of my family are having one. These benefits though, are of course not exclusive to coffee.

Do what works for you. If you feel the benefits in your life and know coffee agrees with you, by all means enjoy your cup. If not, and if you're still drinking it, then maybe reconsider what you're doing to your body and try something else.

Some of my favourite coffee alternatives are:

+ Teechino Chocolate tea bags (add almond milk and stevia)
+ Roasted dandelion tea (black in a plunger)
+ Yogi Green teas (or any other Chinese loose green tea)
+ Herbal teas
+ Chai tea with extra spices, cacao, nut milk and honey

Christie xx

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(2) Pub Med
(4) PLOSone

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