Neither my wife nor Starbucks are likely to agree with this blog, but let’s face it: almost all of us love our coffee, which is the number one source of antioxidants in our diet – which actually makes me a little of sad.
A question I get often both at the clinic and whilst socialising is coffee good or bad for you?
In a recent animal study, researchers saw improvements in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and cholesterol when mice consumed coffee together with fat. (more about this combination below.) They also found coffee can help reduce gut permeability or the condition known as leaky gut.
On the benefits side, studies show coffee decreases the risk for type 2 diabetes, and cancer and improves mood and memory. It is also known to boost metabolism and sports performance.
On the disadvantage side, coffee can become highly addictive, altering stress hormones while at the same time making you feel stimulated and tired.
It’s easy to see why some people get confused. It feels like one day we see studies that support coffee and the next day we hear 10 other reasons why coffee should be avoided. Personally, I quite caffeinated drinks over 3 years ago. But I should clarify that I made this decision solely because caffeine is counterproductive to a nerve disorder I suffer from, called Essential Tremor. So, let’s uncover the truth about this fragrant drink that most of us can’t live without.
When are you better without?
Before making a hasty decision, keep in mind that these blurred lines aren’t completely about coffee itself. Who’s drinking it is also a factor (as in my own case). The way a person respond to coffee is often determined by their genetics which affect the way caffeine metabolises. Whereas for one person, a cup of mochaccino could have them climbing the walls, another person can have a triple espresso at dinner and dose off over their dessert.
To put it differently, everyone is different and we all experience coffee’s effects in a different way. However, when a patient complains about fatigue, restlessness and heart palpitations, it goes without saying that, in that situation, I recommended avoiding coffee or anything caffeinated (such as Red-Bull or Cola).
Similarly, if you suffer from adrenal fatigue, coffee is an absolute no-no. Some people might also be sensitive to coffee beans, meaning their bodies are intolerant to them and they create unpleasant symptoms. This is, however, easily checked with a Food Intolerance Test.
The ingredients in coffee can also interfere with normal metabolism of medications and liver detoxification, making it a bumpy ride for the liver to regulate its normal detoxification process. Another bad habit is when people sometimes replace food with coffee. It’s a bad idea to ignore your hunger because (amongst other reasons) eating regularly prevents dropping blood sugar levels. Always keep protein handy, such as a handful of nuts or seeds like almonds, pecans, walnuts or pumpkin seeds.
I have one patient who used to drink 12 cups of coffee a day yet kept on falling asleep at his desk. And mind you, it wasn’t because his job was boring. This guy could hardly function and couldn’t understand why he was always feeling so energy depleted. In this case we found that he wasn’t sleeping well at night due to all the caffeine in his system but he was too exhausted to realise what it was. His body wasn’t getting enough rest at the right time.
When we reduced his coffee intake, he started to sleep better at night, and stopped nodding-off at his desk whilst at work.
If any of the above sounds familiar, coffee probably isn’t for you.
Nonetheless, I recommend treating coffee like any other potential toxic trigger and stay off it for at least three weeks, especially if you’re addicted and can’t seem to function without it. A good indication for addiction is if you drink multiple cups a day or if you need coffee to get you going.
If you have tried to get off coffee and experienced withdrawal symptoms such as headaches from stopping coffee or feel like you can’t live without it, you are biologically addicted to it. This is also an indication that there’s a good chance that your stress hormones such as cortisol are out of balance and need resetting.
If you can handle it, remove coffee from your diet for three weeks and if you must add it back in slowly. Make sure to monitor how you feel once you reintroduce it. Pay specific attention to your energy levels, symptoms (like anxiety or jittery feelings) or digestion issues. In other words, keep tab on how you respond to coffee. You are your own best doctor here.
It’s perfectly fine if you realise coffee just does not cut it for you. Other healthy drinks include green tea or non-coffee-based lattes using reishi powder and other potent herbs.
How to kick the habit
The way that I recommend doing it is to switch from drinking multiple cups to just one cup and eventually half a cup. However, I personally went cold turkey and once I’ve made the decision to quite there was no looking back. You might also switch to green tea or herbal teas and warm lemon water.
As with any detox plan, drinking adequate amounts of water and getting plenty of rest is crucial. I also recommend regular exercise to even out energy levels. If you get restless and experiencing difficulty sleeping, take 250 to 500 mg of magnesium citrate before going to sleep.
My favourite detoxification rituals include a sauna, Heartmath meditation and stretching (some prefer yoga).
If you find you can occasionally tolerate coffee, avoid adding milk and sugar. These two culprits do more damage than the actual coffee. If you actually think about it, what’s often sold in places such as Starbucks or Costa is more of a dessert than a coffee. Some of these pack as much as 600 calories a hit.
Alternately, add fat to your coffee. Once people taste coffee blended with fat, they don’t miss milk at all. You’ve probably heard of Bulletproof® Coffee, which blends MCT oil and a bit of grass-fed butter or ghee with high-quality, organic coffee. If you are a vegan, try adding 1 tablespoon of cashew butter for the creamy texture. I’m sure that you’ll find that coffee blended with fat, can be delicious and will keep you satiated for hours, cut cravings and keeps your brain extremely sharp. You can also drink this before exercise for steady energy levels without coffee’s crash.