Coffee as a Drug?
“I’ll do anything… just don’t take away my coffee!”
This is not an uncommon plea from patients hoping to overcome chronic symptoms such as fatigue. I realize this is a touchy subject for most people, but the pendulum is swinging toward more chronic disease, and my goal as a physician is to help patients eliminate obstacles to cure. Caffeine’s popularity comes as no surprise- it increases short-term energy, lifts moods, and can encourage digestive movement. Current research has focused primarily on the benefits of coffee. Yet we have come to neglect its harmful effects on health. The risks are clear but our addictive personalities have come to overlook these risks. Possible negative effects from caffeine use and abuse (>1 serving per day) include the following:
Caffeine and decaffeinated coffee stimulate acid secretion in the stomach. Therefore, it is important that individuals with ulcers or gastritis do not drink any coffee or other caffeinated beverages. Even people with heartburn or reflux should not drink caffeine. Diarrhea can also occur with the overuse of caffeine.
ABSORPTION OF VITAMINS & MINERALS
Since the pH (acidity) of the digestive tract is changed with coffee consumption, the body is unable to optimally absorb vital nutrients. Caffeine reduces absorption of iron and increases excretion of calcium. These minerals are extremely important for women. Osteoporosis and anemia may be more common with regular caffeine use.
HEART & BLOOD VESSELS
Caffeine briefly raises the blood pressure which is harmful to the vasculature over time. Heart rhythm disturbances and arrhythmias, though usually of a mild type, sometimes occur as a function of caffeine. Coffee that is boiled increases blood cholesterol levels. Therefore, if you choose to drink coffee, use an unbleached paper filter when preparing coffee.
Caffeine has also been found to affect glucose tolerance (blood sugars). Therefore, most naturopathic physicians recommend that patients with glucose intolerance avoid caffeine containing beverages.
Because caffeine increases urinary calcium loss, it may increase the risk of kidney stones. Our kidneys are made for filtering the fluids in the body- caffeine is a major stressor to these vital
Caffeine has a number of metabolic effects as a central nervous system stimulant. Common side effects of caffeine use include nervousness, irritability, insomnia, and subsequent fatigue. Psychological symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks may also occur. Headaches commonly occur with caffeine withdrawal, showing that caffeine is a drug.
Many people become reliant on the stimulating effects of caffeine to maintain their energy level. But they also know that a caffeine “high” is often followed by a caffeine “crash” leading to adrenal fatigue. Over time this repetitive stress on the body can lead to adrenal burnout.
Eliminating caffeine and similar compounds from the diet has shown up to 97% improvement for women in clinical trials.
MOODS & PMS
There is considerable evidence that caffeine consumption is strongly related to the presence and severity of PMS. The effect of caffeine is particularly significant in the psychological symptoms associated with PMS (anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and depression). Depression has been
clinically linked to the combination of caffeine and refined sugar which is worse than either alone.
In conclusion, if you are a caffeine drinker, try to keep your intake to less than 1 cup per day of coffee or tea. Opt for espresso rather than drip coffee due to its lower caffeine content.
Decaffeinated coffee still has caffeine, thus it has physiological effects even if they are not felt. Energy drinks are often loaded with harmful sugars, additives and preservatives so avoid completely. Remember that beverages with caffeine do not count as your intake for fluids each day and that you must replace the amount you drink with water. If you are a person of habit, switch to herbal teas, hot water with lemon, or herbal coffee replacements for a hot wake-up call. Your body will thank you.
For support with caffeine cessation, call Dr. Birr at Origins Natural Medicine.
Dr. Alicia McCubbins is a naturopathic physician who strives to educate, motivate and inspire. Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions so that we may collectively grow through knowledge.