Coffee is one of those things you either love or hate. You know if you like the taste or not (or if it’s just a reason to drink sugar and cream) and you know how it makes you feel. I love the smell of coffee and can see why coffee lovers crave it first thing in the morning, but the last time I tried just 2 sips I was close to heading to the hospital…more on that later. In either case, I promise to stay objective here.
The news and crazy headlines aren’t helping as one day they say coffee is great, and the next day you should avoid it! There is actual science behind why different people react differently to it. It's a matter of your genetics and how much coffee you're used to drinking.
To be clear, much about the coffee debate is about the caffeine. Coffee contains between 50-400 mg of caffeine/cup, averaging around 100 mg/cup. Coffee is one of the most popular ways to consume this stimulant. But a cup of coffee contains a lot of things over and above the caffeine. Not just water, but antioxidants (fighting the bad guys in your body), and hundreds of other compounds. These are the reasons why drinking a cup of coffee is not the same as taking a caffeine pill. Also decaffeinated coffee has a lot less caffeine; but, it still contains some.
Let's look at caffeine metabolism, its effects on the mind and body, and whether coffee drinkers have higher or lower risks of disease. Then I’ll give you some things to consider when deciding if coffee is for you or not.
Not all people metabolize caffeine at the same speed. How fast you metabolize caffeine will impact how you’re affected by it. In fact, caffeine metabolism can be up to 40x faster in some people than others.
About half of us are “slow” metabolizers of caffeine. We can get jitters, heart palpitations, and feel "wired" for up to 9 hours after having a coffee. That’s me. I remember working a nightshift when traveling overseas. I barely could keep my eyes open so decided to pour maybe 2oz of coffee in a cup, adding the same amount of water on top of it knowing that my body would react fast. But I had no idea that within a few minutes my heart was about to jump out of my chest. It felt awful and I haven’t touched a sip of coffee since then. The other half of us are "fast" metabolizers of caffeine. They get energy and increased alertness and are back to normal within a few hours.
This is part of the reason those headlines contradict each other so much - because we’re all different, something that all JOYVIAL health coaches are very thoughtful of when working with you.
The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body
NOTE: Most studies look at caffeinated coffee, not decaf.
As mentioned the effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body differ between people; this is partly from the metabolism I mentioned. But it also has to do with your body’s amazing ability to adapt to long-term caffeine use. Many people who start drinking coffee feel the effects a lot more than people who have coffee every day.
Here’s a list of these effects (that usually decrease with long-term use):
Stimulates the brain
Boosts energy and exercise performance
Increases your stress hormone cortisol
So, while some of these effects are good and some aren’t, you need to see how they affect you and decide if it’s worth it or not.
Coffee and health risks
There are a ton of studies on the health effects of coffee, and whether coffee drinkers are more or less likely to get certain conditions. Here’s a quick summary of what coffee can lead to:
Lower risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
Lower risk of certain liver diseases
Lower risk of death (“all cause mortality")
Can provide asthma relief
Caffeine addiction and withdrawal symptoms (e.g. a headache, fatigue, irritability)
Increased sleep disruption
Cardiovascular problems, as caffeine raises your blood pressure
Increased stress, as caffeine increases the stress hormones in your body
Gastrointestinal problems (abdominal pain, diarrhea, etc)
Reduced nutrition absorption
Accelerated aging, due to decline in vital hormones
IMPORTANT: What’s super-important to note here is that coffee intake is just one of many, many factors that can affect your risks for these diseases. Please never think regular coffee intake is the one thing that can help you overcome these risks or is solely responsible for these problems. You are health-conscious and know that eating a nutrient-rich whole foods diet, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep and exercise are all critical things to consider for your disease risk. It’s not just about the coffee.
Should you drink coffee or not?
There are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should drink coffee. No one food or drink will make or break your long-term health.
Caffeinated coffee is not recommended for:
People with arrhythmias (e.g. irregular heartbeat)
People who often feel anxious
People who have trouble sleeping
People who are pregnant
If none of these apply, then monitor how your body reacts when drinking coffee. Does it:
Give you the jitters?
Increase anxious feelings?
Affect your sleep?
Give you heart palpitations?
Affect your digestion (e.g. heartburn, etc.)?
Give you a reason to drink a lot of sugar and cream?
Really take time to observe your body, right as you drink coffee, 15 minutes later and a couple of hours later. Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether symptoms are worth it to you. If you’re not sure, I recommend eliminating it for a couple of weeks to see if you feel different. If you get cranky, irritable, or get headaches, you know it’s a sign to give coffee a break.