The ritual of drinking coffee is one I very much enjoy and a constant battle I face as I would like to quit coffee altogether. You could say that I wrote this article as a way to prove to myself that a coffee a day is ok for our health… which is the most I would ever have. And while I do advise my patients that there are no long term issues if sticking to 1 coffee a day, for some people they will do much better off without it. I advise no coffee to anyone suffering from stress or anxiety, for people with liver issues and for anyone either wanting to fall pregnant or trying to conceive. However for me its more of a mental game- I hate the thought of being ‘addicted’ to coffee and feeling as thought I need it in the mornings to get up and going.
The social aspect of being able to enjoy a coffee with friends, or take a break from your desk means that coffee is widely consumed. It gives us energy and clarity. It helps us through the day and keeps us focused. In fact, there are countless studies that prove coffee is useful for mental and physical performance and may even improve some aspects of health. But like any ‘drug’, it is addictive and has negative qualities. Caffeine appears to have a greater effect on men than on women and the effects start just 10 minutes after it is consumed. Its half life is 30 minutes, meaning that it will reach maximum absorption (and effects) at this time. The simple fact that it affects the way that we feel so quickly it what makes it so addictive. So is it good for us or not?
- Coffee contains antioxidants that can protect us from diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia
- Caffeine can improve mental clarity, performance and energy
- It can improve physical performance and may be useful before a training session to improve muscle output
- 2 cups before exercise can reduce muscle pain
- A substance in coffee has been found to lower the risk of prostate cancer in men. Men who drink 1-3 cups a day reduced their prostate cancer risk by 30%. This is thought to be due to its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Coffee can reduce the risk of diabetes- it is unclear at this stage if this is due to the caffeine or another component in the coffee.
- Coffee lowers the link of strokes in women
- Higher coffee intake is associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease.
- It appears in many studies that coffee drinkers have a lower level of cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. This may again be due to an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect, however I question the findings- these studies rarely look into the diet or exercise levels or take into account family history.
- Coffee is a stimulant
- Caffeine is addictive
- It WILL effects sleep. It is well researched that even just 1 coffee daily in the mornings will affect sleep quality, increase the time taken to get to sleep and reduces REM (deep) sleep. You may notice that you dream less after a day with coffee- this is due to less REM sleep.
- Can promote anxiety and increase the stress response in those predisposed or already under high stress
- It can promote heartburn
- Caffeine places extra stress on the livers detoxification ability. As it is processed so quickly, it places a fast and hard stress on the liver the filter the caffeine as quickly as possible
- Caffeine will affect bone health as it increases calcium excretion from the body. It also reduces calcium absorption which can both increase the risk of osteoporosis
- Drinking coffee with a meal will inhibit the absorption of iron, therefore affecting the production of new red blood cells and oxygen transport around the body
- Caffeine can increase blood pressure
- It is a diuretic and causes dehydration. For every cup of coffee you drink you will be losing the equivalent of 1 glass of water.
- Consumption can affect both sperm health and egg health, therefore affecting fertility. It can adversely affect the way sperm move forwards and reduce fertility in women. In fact, just 1 coffee a day has been researched to be enough to imbalance sex hormones impacting sperm health. It also disturbs the uterine lining preventing implantation of a fertilized egg, leading to early miscarriage.
- Intake during pregnancy has been linked to spontaneous abortion and chromosomal abnormalities.
Decaffeination is the process of removing caffeine. The raw beans will be soaked in water to dissolve the caffeine. The caffeine will then be extracted with either a chemical solvent and the beans are re-soaked in the decaffeinated water to reabsorb the flavour that was lost in the initial soaking. The solvents used are methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. These are solvents mainly used in glues, paints and nail polish removers. Other methods are better and involve soaking the beans in highly compressed carbon dioxide or the ‘swiss water method’ where it is extracted through a carbon filter. These are much safer, however it is hard to know which method the local coffee shop is using in your decaf coffee. And not all caffeine is removed, with a coffee drinker who has 5-10 cups of decaf coffee a day having an equivalent dose of 1-2 cups of regular coffee. While this can be a good way to reduce the effects of too much caffeine and still enjoy the ritual of having a coffee, I question whether it is necessarily a safer option. Look for water filtered decaf coffee rather than one that has been filtered using chemicals. You will find these in health food stores.
The moral of the story?
The issue of whether or not coffee is bad for you boils down to the question of balance. Moderation is the key! Any substance used in excess will have ill effects. Drinking too much coffee can make you feel anxious and edgy and WILL affect your stress levels. It can lead to poor concentration, is dehydrating and will effect sleep. However, having a maximum of 1 coffee a day may in fact have some benefits. Avoid drinking it after 12pm and always follow with a glass of water to reduce the risk of dehydration. Always avoid coffee is under stress, suffering anxiety, suffering liver problems, if you are pregnant or if you are trying to conceive.