Coffee has its benefits and drawbacks. Does it fit in your lifestyle? Toronto naturopath Pat Nardini explains.
Many people enjoy a cup of the dark stuff at least every once in a while. Others can barely function before their first cup of Joe. Much ink has been spilled about the benefits of coffee, but is it really a healthy way to boost your energy and mood?
Certainly we feel better after knocking one back, but are the benefits worth the negative effects it has on the body? I feel it’s important for you to know the benefits and drawbacks of coffee, so you can make an educated decision about your health.
As you probably know, the major active ingredient in coffee is caffeine. A typical cup of coffee has anywhere from 65 to 120 mg of caffeine in it. A decaf coffee has 2-4 mg, and green or black tea has around 30-50 mg.
Caffeine is the stuff that gives you that energy boost when you have a cup. From a biological level, caffeine stimulates your adrenal glands and tells them to maufacture the hormones cortisol and adrenaline (also called epinephrine).
The adrenaline increases your heart and respiration rate as well as blood pressure, which delivers more blood to your brain and muscles. This also increases your alertness and energy. Meanwhile, the cortisol increases your blood sugar, making more fuel available to your brain, blood cells, and muscles. That’s where your caffeine boost comes from.
Caffeine is known to enhance mood as well. Neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and GABA are affected by caffeine. These chemicals in your brain affect your mood, and caffeine can have a positive affect here.
In fact, several studies have shown that brain function and mood can be at least temporarily improved with caffeine consumption. So if you’re feeling down, a cup of coffee may help.
Natural and Antioxidants
Coffee contains a certain number of vitamins and minerals which your body needs. You can find vitamins like riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), as well as minerals like potassium, manganese, and magnesium.
Coffee is also full of antioxidants. In fact, coffee has among the highest number of antioxidants available in any food. Antioxidants are nutrients that counteract the process of oxidation in your body, which has beenconnected to diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and others.
One particular antioxidant in coffee, chlorogenic acid, has been shown to lower blood pressure and aid weight lossin overweight individuals. While the roasting process reduces the amount of chlorogenic acid in coffee beans, the amount in your typical cup of coffee is still quite high
While coffee does have its benefits, there are several drawbacks to coffee as well.
One of the biggest ones is the effect it can have on your thyroid. I have a special interest in thyroid health in my practice and, for this reason, coffee is a little concerningto me.
Coffee has been shown to raise your cortisol levels, as we mentioned above. And cortisol has been shown to slow down the conversion of T4 thyroid hormone into T3 thyroid hormone. T3 is 4-5 times more active than T4 in stimulating your body’s metabolism, so reducing your T3 levels can cause fatigue, low body temperature, depression, hair loss, and weight gain. This is why regular coffee drinkers feel better after coffee, but their overall energy levels are low.
And while elevated cortisol levels have their issues, elevated adrenaline levels can be dangerous as well. Symptoms of anxiety, like heart palpitations, racing thoughts, shaking, and shortness of breath have been linked to elevated adrenaline levels.
Caffeine also changes your cortisol curve, which can make it difficult to sleep at night. This is true even if you only drink coffee in the morning. And if you already suffer from heightened stress and anxiety, difficulty sleeping can make this worse.
Digestive System Effects
You may have noticed that you often need to visit the washroom shortly after drinking a cup of coffee. This is because caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes you urinate more.
This can cause a loss in water-soluble vitamins and minerals from your body, which can cause malnutrition. As a result, our bodies often miss out on some of the nutrients coffee does contain. This can also lead to dehydration, which comes with all sorts of issues.
Coffee also increases acid production in your stomach. This can actually help you digest your food better, but if you suffer from ulcers or gastritis, coffee is a nightmare. IBS, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory bowel diseases can be aggravated by coffee too.
Of course, the rest of these issues wouldn’t be as bad if it wasn’t for coffee’s addictive qualities. Coffee is known to be physically addictive, meaning your body can become dependent upon it and experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink it.
Should I Drink Coffee?
Although there are benefits to coffee, drinking it every day can increase its negative effects.
For many people, having a cup of coffee a few times a week, or even once a day, is alright. But if you’re suffering from anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, or thyroid problems like Graves’ disease, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or Wilson’s temperature syndrome, you should avoid coffee, and all caffeine for that matter, until these issues improve.
Those worried about coffee’s negative effects can drink decaffeinated coffee. Decaf has the same levels of anti-oxidants and nutrients, but without the heavy stimulatory effects. It will still impact your digestive system like regular coffee does, but the effects are reduced. Also, most decaf coffee and tea is decaffeinated using toxic chemicals, like methylene chloride. Make sure to get decaf that is “naturally decaffeinated”, using a water or carbon dioxide extraction method.
If you decide to cut out coffee, though, you should find a new source for your antioxidants. Consider clove or peppermint tea, since they have much higher levels of polyphenols, a potent type of antioxidant, than coffee does.
Remember, it’s your choice whether coffee is right for you. Consider both its benefits and drawbacks when you decide whether or not to drink coffee, and how much.
Written by: Dr. Pat Nardini, ND