Coffee. How much? Is it healthy? Is it bad for you? Where did it come from?
Wow that’s a confusing topic for many people these days especially when you’ve had numerous articles in the media saying different things.
In this blog I’ll lay down the main facts about coffee and caffeine. Positive and negative so that you can make an informed decision on your own intake and discover the potential warning signs of excessive use, caffeine sensitivity and adrenal fatigue.
Coffee originated in Ethiopia, has a white blossom that smells like jasmine and a red, cherry-like fruit. Back then, the leaves of the so-called “magical fruit” were boiled in water and the resulting concoction was thought to have medicinal properties. There is a legendary story of Kaldi, the 9th-century Ethiopian goatherd who discovered coffee when he noticed how excited his goats became after eating the beans from a coffee plant, did not appear in writing until 1671 and is probably apocryphal.
By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. Some people reacted to this new beverage with suspicion or fear, calling it the “bitter invention of Satan.” The local clergy condemned coffee when it came to Venice in 1615.
Mainly because of its stimulant properties by the late 1800s, coffee had become a worldwide commodity, and entrepreneurs began looking for new ways to profit from the popular beverage.
“Empty fire” Native American quote about coffee.
Let’s start with 5 potential benefits:
1. Coffee may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Researchers found that the participants who increased their coffee intake by more than one cup a day (on average, an increase of 1.69 cups per day) over a 4-year period had an 11% lower type 2 diabetes risk over the subsequent 4 years, compared with people who did not change their intake.
2. Researchers in the U.S. carried out a study that assessed the link between coffee consumption and Parkinson’s disease risk. The authors of the study concluded that “higher coffee and caffeine intake is associated with a significantly lower incidence of Parkinson’s disease”.
3. Italian researchers found that coffee consumption lowers the risk of liver cancer by about 40%. In addition, some of the results suggest that if you drink three cups a day, the risks are reduced by more than 50%.
4. Coffee consumption can lower the incidence of cirrhosis of the liver for alcohol drinkers by 22%, according to a study at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, California, USA.
5. In some studies coffee consumption has shown that it may decrease the risk of a heart attack by a significant percentage (varying reports on this).
Well, on the surface, it may show a clear cut bunch of reasons to drink as much coffee as possible eh? There is a flip side to the potential benefits and they can seriously affect your health…
Top 5 potential health risks of coffee:
1. Adrenal exhaustion. Each time you drink a cup of coffee, neurons send messages to your pituitary gland which in turn alerts your adrenals to pump out adrenaline and cortisol. In short; caffeine instantly puts you into fight or flight mode. If you’re drinking several cups a day, it’s likely your whole nervous system is on constant red alert without you even knowing it. Adrenal exhaustion is a complex condition with multi factorial reasons why it can happen. Because of the potentially huge impact caffeine has on the glands, this could contribute.
2. Increased blood pressure. In a recent study, people with hypertension were given 250 mg of caffeine (about 2 coffees) and the data revealed that their blood pressure was elevated for about 2-3 hours after the caffeine. Dangerous for certain people.
3. Heart attacks. A study conducted by Dr. Lucio Mos found that young adults who were diagnosed with mild hypertension had 4 times the risk of having a heart attack if they consumed the amount of caffeine equivalent to 4 cups of coffee.
4. Insomnia. Various studies are now linking caffeine intake with insomnia, especially to those more sensitive to it. Caffeine generally stays within your system for 12 hours and can still affect your adrenal stimulation during this time. Not great for high quality sleep!
5. Stomach issues. Coffee drunk on an empty stomach (often recommended by fitness professionals not knowing any better) can cause discomfort, indigestion and even stomach ulcers because it can help the Helicobacter pylori proliferate (check out Meri Rafetto’s work on this).
“The Israeli army and some special forces units around the world ban coffee use”
Your genes matter!
Lighter skinned fairer haired people generally have a greater reaction to caffeine, which also means they need less of it. Darker people quite often can drink more with less negative effects. For more depth here… Caffeine is metabolised by the liver using the enzyme CYP1A2. The ability to produce this enzyme is regulated by the CYP1A2 gene. Slight changes in the DNA sequence of this gene determine how efficiently a person can metabolise caffeine and thus eliminate it from the body.
Some people genetically produce very little of this enzyme while others produce a large amount. The majority of humans are somewhere in the middle.
The AHR gene also plays a role in caffeine sensitivity in that it regulates the turning on and off of the CYP1A2 gene. 10% of the population are rapid caffeine metabolisers and thus not very caffeine sensitive.
The third genetic link to caffeine sensitivity involves the type of adenosine receptors a person has in his/her brain. Those lacking the correct adenosine receptors in their brain are unresponsive to the awakening effects of caffeine because the caffeine molecule cannot properly bind to the receptors.
- Hypersensitive to Caffeine
These people react to very small amounts of caffeine. Even at amounts less than 100 mg, people who are hypersensitive to caffeine can experience overdose symptoms such as insomnia, jitters, and an increased heartbeat.
For these people, it can take as much as twice as long for caffeine to be metabolised.
- Normal Sensitivity to Caffeine
People who show normal sensitivity to caffeine can usually have 200-400 mg of caffeine daily without any adverse reactions. These people have no trouble sleeping as long as the caffeine is consumed early enough in the day.
The majority of humans fall under this category and this group is what the recommended daily safe dose of caffeine has been established for.
- Hyposensitive to Caffeine
About 10% of the human population are hyposensitive to caffeine. They process caffeine so efficiently that these people report taking large doses ( >500 mg) without much effect at all. Those hyposensitive can also consume caffeine shortly before bedtime and still get a good night’s sleep.
These people are more prone to consuming large doses of caffeine in order to get the desired effects.
My personal experience and guidelines with coffee…
Coffee has been a love affair on and off with me for the past 7 years, less so in the last 2 years. From the espresso to the almond milk latte, I like the kick it gives me, the taste and the comforting feeling it gives me (all programming).
Why do I get such a kick? Well I’m one of the people that after an espresso can do anything times 10 of what I could before. From workouts to work load, I explode. This is because I am one of the above individuals that produce less of the enzyme CYP1A. The caffeine stays in my body longer than some others and that gives me an enormous kick. The problem with this, is that prolonged use can cause many of the above issues, from burn out to a form of ‘come down’ after consuming.
Learning how to control consumption for positive results has enormously benefitted my life and I feel much better for it. To do this I actually banned myself for a year from it to get out of the addictive cycle. Now I only use when absolutely needed… A late night with a high work load the next day, when the waves are bigger than expected on a surf trip, a long international flight with more travel in between etc. But I don’t rely on it day to day to get going.
My advice to you:
“One man’s medicine is another man’s poison”.
Almost everything has a use for specific moments in life. Coffee I believe is one of them. At the end of the day it contains a highly addictive drug, caffeine. My advice is to become more empowered and self aware with your choices when having coffee. If you’re waking up and feel fine, why have an adrenal stimulant? If you’re waking up and feeling exhausted, ask why you feel tired, you may need to find the cause of this before your regular cup of coffee makes it worse but if it’s because of something obvious like a crying baby all night, sure you may need it. It’s when (like anything) it becomes a habit for habits sake that it can become an issue for the future. Think of the long game here with health.
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Enjoy your beverages! 🙂