There are a few hot button topics I come across as I blog about nutrition and health: protein, carbs, use of sunscreens (or the lack thereof), birth control, etc. One of the VERY hot issues that comes up often, especially because it is declared a forbidden substance in the Boot Camps I conduct, is caffeine. Yep, you read it right–it is FORBIDDEN!
A few weeks ago I was doing a spur of the moment giveaway on Facebook (I do those often, by the way, and if you are not on my Facebook page, you are missing out) and asked readers what things they are happy they had given up or overcome to improve their health. Several mentioned coffee. I am ecstatic about any progress a person makes toward better health, so I congratulated and applauded everyone who was willing to share their victory or their struggles. There was one reader, however, from whom I had never heard before, who made a statement that signaled only one thing to me–there is an ADDICT in our midst! She stated, and I am paraphrasing from memory: “The studies have shown that coffee is not harmful, but rather beneficial.” “Oh, my,” I thought, “Houston, we have a problem!” So, gently I typed in a response, already knowing what her comeback would be. Needless to say, she was up in arms, hail and thunderbolts… She actually accused me of having a “vested interest” in getting people off caffeine, although I am still trying to figure out what that might be. However, I do have an interest in seeing as many as possible healthy. Ever since the encounter we have always referred to her as the “coffee girl”.
image source: www.myfrugalfitness.com
“So, why is coffee so bad for us, Elena?” you ask. After all, drinking coffee became almost a status thing. We no longer want to drop by a gas station for the 90 cent cup offering, but rush to a Starbucks for a “designer” cup of coffee (still sold in a paper or plastic cup, by the way, same as you would find it at a gas station), willing to spend our retirement and kids’s college fund on getting the next hit. We even came to approve young kids, barely teenagers, drinking coffee. After all, they need a “boost of energy” and coffee is “better than using drugs”. Or is it?
image source: gazettelive.co.uk
There are many reasons why we should avoid caffeine, but I will give you a couple. If you read my free report you know the negative impact of acidic foods and substances on your body. Acidic foods (think animal foods and byproducts, junk and processed foods as well as alcohol, coffee and caffeine products) bring our body’s PH levels down. The body, however, has to maintain alkalinity to survive. To fight the acidic impact of these foods, the body uses its mineral storage, primarily calcium, to buffer the acidity. Calcium is extracted from our bones, it buffers acidity, bringing the body back into its alkaline state, however, at the end of the process the used calcium cannot be reabsorbed back into our bones, so the body dumps this precious mineral with urine… leaving our bones deficient, making us prone to all bone related diseases, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, etc. , not to mention that acidic conditions are a prime requirement for diseases such as cancers to thrive in.
Another reason to get off caffeine containing products is that they are simply addictive. Don’t believe me? Come to my boot camp. You will be required to get off coffee and anything with caffeine in it. If you take in at least 1 cup of coffee a day, or drink soda pops, what you will notice the very first day is onset of headaches, flu like symptoms, moodiness, fatigue, etc.–all real withdrawal symptoms similar to that of other drugs. A question then begs to be answered: how can something, supposedly so harmless and beneficial for us, takes such a toll on the body and leaves horrible detox/withdrawal symptoms? If you quit eating carrots for a day, I would bet, you will have no such symptoms… Just think about it!
But for the naysayers and the addicts, I know that logic is not a sufficient source to be convinced of a simple truth, and the longing for one more “hit” will trump any common sense, so there is a need for scientific evidence. Not only since the “coffee girl” encounter, but for a while now, I have been wanting to write a well researched post on the topic, with all the references you can handle; however having an infant on my hands makes it a more challenging task. Thankfully you already met Tandi and know that she is like my nutrition twin and I can trust her research and opinion as I trust my own. I asked her if she could write a paper on the topic and she graceully agreed. When she sent me her paper and I read it and felt there is nothing I wanted to add to it–you will see in a moment why. However, there were a lot of hot moments when I wanted to slap her a high five… but since she is a few states away, I underlined or highlighted those moments with a bold font.
Please enjoy the article and share your thoughts under the post. Let’s talk about Caffeine Side Effects.
Tandi Hartle received her Bachelors degree in Natural Health Science from theUniversityofNatural Medicineand then went on to get a certificate in plant-based nutrition fromCornellUniversity. Tandi has also received certificates in Nutritional Herbology, Aromatherapy, and Raw Culinary Arts. She is the author of “America’s Health Crisis” and her work has been published in Natural News. She is a highly sought after lecturer and speaker and has presented for Utah Valley University, New Mexico Midwives Association, Balance Wellness Center, and Vitality Natural Foods. Her research is focused on how plant based foods affect the physiological aspects of healing.
Coffee and Caffeine–Debunking the Myths
Before I even begin to get into the research on coffee and caffeine in general I want to emphatically express one important rule of thumb about health information. Be very careful about the nutrition and health information you get on the internet or from any media source. Unfortunately there are many companies and organizations that sponsor research of their products to counteract the negative legitimate research. For example, a meta-analysis was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stating that saturated fat was good for you and not associated with heart disease. This went viral on the internet and I was getting all kinds of questions about it, so I looked up the study and low and behold what did I find?… it had been supported by the National Dairy Council! Even research published in respected journals can be advertising masquerading as research so be very careful about what you believe. As the saying goes, don’t believe everything you hear.
I am going to present you with sound evidence of the dangers and health risks of consuming coffee, green tea, black tea and caffeinated beverages. I also want to make it clear that as I did my research I found many studies that were supported by National Coffee Consortiums and other industry organizations so please understand many articles supporting coffee drinkers in their addictions are not necessarily accurate or without conflict of interest. One last warning before we delve into the research, I have a strong concern that some research touting benefits or lack of harm from coffee or caffeine may have been conducted by users of these very drugs, that is something we cannot find out in the authors notes and affiliations and so I highly question ANY research or articles touting the benefits as the authors are most likely addicts along with the rest of the population. Hang on to your hats because this is going to be a wild ride.
What about the Anti-Oxidant Claims of Green and Black Teas and even Coffee?
People love to hear good news about their bad habits. Researchers can literally conduct research to come to any conclusion they want as long as they set up the study correctly. As a nation of caffeine drug addicts it is no wonder we even conduct this kind of ridiculous research. News and media outlets love to report good news about bad habits and food addiction as it gets listeners and readership which equals profits. For example, the media loves to report that chocolate has antioxidants therefore eat all you want of it. They just fail to mention the fact that in order to be palatable it is processed, mixed with refined oils and sugar, but never mind that, it has antioxidants!
What are the most potent sources of antioxidants in our diet? Fruits and vegetables and to a lesser extent whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. This is where antioxidants SHOULD come from, from the food you eat every single day! We have absolutely NO dietary need for coffee or any other form of caffeinated teas and the fact that they have antioxidants in them does not make them a health food.
We tend to lean toward a reductionist view of nutrition, milk has calcium so it is good for me, meat equals protein so that must be good, coffee and tea have antioxidants so that means they are healthy. The fact is, none of these foods are good for you regardless of whether they have some nutrient or ‘healthy’ compound in them. The important factor in determining truly healthy food is its overall health impact and nutritional profile, not just isolated compounds and nutrients it may contain.
image source: www.thefix.com
Coffee Inhibits the Absorption of Critical Nutrients
Coffee consumption can increase the risk of iron deficiency anemia by significantly inhibiting the absorption of iron, as well as many other vitamins and minerals. Not only does it interfere with absorption, it also increases urinary excretion of minerals as well.
Coffee consumption dramatically inhibits the absorption of iron and can contribute to iron deficiency if regularly consumed with meals or just before a meal. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical nutrition found 1 cup of coffee decreased iron absorption from a high iron meal by 39% and tea, this includes green and black teas, decreased iron absorption by 64%.1
According to the Iron Disorders Institute coffee can decrease iron absorption up to 60% depending on the type of coffee, food eaten and other factors.2
According to Live Science any substance including coffee, tea, and caffeinated beverages can inhibit the absorption of vitamins and minerals as well as increase excretion of them from the body thereby affecting your nutritional status.3
Before we even get into coffee or caffeinated beverages role in damaging health we already see that those who are regular coffee drinkers will have significantly greater risk of developing nutritional deficiencies and imbalances. These deficiencies and imbalances can contribute to a host of illnesses and exacerbate symptoms of chronic disease. The fact that coffee interferes with absorption of nutrients should, in my opinion, be enough to say, it isn’t healthy, don’t drink it. However, I understand the power of addiction and so we will continue on with the damaging effects of these beverages.
Not only does coffee itself have an effect on absorption of nutrients, caffeine can affect renal handling of minerals. In one study researchers found that reabsorption of calcium and magnesium decreased significantly after consumption of a caffeinated beverage as opposed to a non-caffeinated beverage. Researchers concluded that the effect of caffeine caused urinary loss of calcium and magnesium by reducing the kidneys ability to induce reabsorption of these minerals.4
Caffeine is a diuretic and therefore chronic consumption of caffeine can lead to dehydration and imbalances in electrolyte minerals in the body. According to the American Heart Association caffeine can affect the kidneys increasing urine excretion and can lead to dehydration.5
Both coffee and caffeine have significant effects on nutrient absorption and excretion and therefore can be considered a risk factor in dehydration, nutritional imbalances and deficiencies over time.
Coffee Consumption can Impair Insulin Sensitivity and Glucose Balance in the Blood
Coffee in and of itself does not cause diabetes, however, it does have dramatic negative effects on blood sugar metabolism and can contribute to blood sugar imbalances in the body. Any individual who has a health challenge involving blood sugar problems should not consume coffee, including women with PCOS, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, or insulin resistance.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the consumption of caffeinated coffee significantly impaired blood glucose management and insulin sensitivity after both a high glycemic index meal and a low glycemic index meal. After consumption of even a low GI meal drinking caffeinated coffee reduced insulin sensitivity by 29%!6
Some conflicting evidence has been seen as far as blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity in various studies. Unfortunately, as an author states in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition these studies showing coffee’s beneficial effects on blood glucose and insulin sensitivity have NOT been seen in human trials.7 So yes, there is conflicting information, however, when we look at the human trials we see very clearly that coffee does not have beneficial effects on blood glucose or insulin sensitivity in humans. The flaws in several of these studies on the benefits of coffee only showed beneficial effects of coffee on reduced risk of diabetes ‘IF’ the patients lost weight! We all know that weight loss itself causes increased insulin sensitivity and decreased risk of diabetes so the coffee in this study was not the factor in decreasing the risk. This twisting of information is where the conflicting information generates from, the fact remains, coffee is not a healthy substance.
Coffee, Inflammation, and Cardiovascular Disease
Again we see conflicting information in regard to coffee consumption and heart disease in some studies, whereas in others we see definite risks. The problem with most studies is that coffee consumption is studied as only a part of an overall larger study and in this case researchers cannot isolate coffee consumption from all other dietary factors known to contribute to cardiovascular disease. We have a whole population that consume a diet that largely contributes to heart disease, therefore coffee in itself is not going to even make the long list of risk factors for cardiovascular disease when studied under these circumstances. However, if we look at studies where coffee consumption alone is studied in correlation with its specific impact on certain risk factors for heart disease we definitely see that coffee does play a role in increasing our risk of cardiovascular disease.
image source: itisscience.files.wordpress.com
A study published in the AJCN found a relation between moderate and high consumption of coffee and increased inflammation in the body. When coffee drinkers were compared with non-coffee drinkers researchers found 30% higher C-reactive protein levels in coffee drinkers as opposed to non-drinkers, as well as 28% higher tumor necrosis factor and 3% higher white blood cell count. Researchers stated that the results of the study remained significant even when adjusted with other factors including smoking, BMI and other factors that may have affected the outcome. In the conclusion researchers stated that these effects of coffee on the body could have an effect on disease processes caused by inflammation in the body which would include cardiovascular disease.8
Coffee consumption causes a rise in homocysteine levels within hours of consumption. This is significant because high homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, researchers have been unable to identify which compound in coffee that exerts this effect, caffeine contributed slightly but was not identified as the main compound causing this effect. Here we see that coffee, not caffeine was identified to increase a specific risk factor for heart disease, therefore even decaffeinated coffee contributes to rises in homocysteine levels within hours of consumption.9
As if the increases in homocysteine levels and inflammation levels are not bad enough, coffee consumption has also been found to increase aortic stiffness which can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Aortic stiffness can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack and other serious health conditions.10
Coffee has Negative Effects on Hormonal Balance
Women with PCOS may want to take caution with consuming coffee, especially decaffeinated coffee as studies have found increases in testosterone levels in premenopausal women consuming both caffeine and coffee. Decaffeinated coffee consumption in this study had a lowering effect on DHEA levels as well which could be beneficial if levels were elevated but in the case where the body is struggling to produce enough it could be very detrimental. Even in cases where DHEA is too high there are other safer methods of reducing elevated levels without the use of coffee.11
The significance of coffee lowering DHEA levels is that DHEA is involved in hormone regulation, helps keep blood pressure lower, proper growth of brain cells, decreases formation of blood clots, assists in the repair of tissue, and many other beneficial actions. Lowering DHEA levels can, in fact, impact balance of other hormones including estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.12
Infertility is just another negative impact regular coffee consumption can contribute to. A study conducted on nearly 2000 women in Connecticut found women consuming 1 cup of coffee per day infertility was 55% higher, 100% higher for 1 1/2 cups per day and 176% higher in women consuming over 3 cups of coffee per day. The hormonal effects of coffee or caffeine are not fully understood however, the indication that coffee can have an effect on fertility should be taken seriously.13
Studies have shown that caffeine consumption has a dramatic effect on thyroid stimulating hormone and thyroid hormones. A study published in Pharmacology found that TSH levels were depressed between 1 and 6 hours after injection of caffeine, decreases were also seen in thyroid hormones in the following hours. Caffeine was not the only chemical that had this effect, theophylline and theobromine, had similar effects. Theophylline and theobromine are found in coffee, green and black tea.14
Coffee has been shown in several studies to have damaging effect on thyroid function and hormones by lowering thyroid hormones as well as causing excretion of the stress hormone cortisol which interferes with the thyroid as well. It is important that individuals who have lower functioning thyroid, or are on thyroid medication cut out caffeine and coffee from the diet to avoid coffee’s interaction with absorption of thyroid medication as well as its damaging effects on the thyroid in general.15,16
Coffee and Caffeine Elevate Stress Hormones
It is well known that elevated cortisol levels can increase cravings for sugar and increase appetite which can lead to weight gain, it can counteract insulin and acts as a diuretic among many other negative health effects. Studies have found that coffee and caffeine can cause chronically elevated levels of cortisol and other stress hormones.
image source: purebodybalance.files.wordpress.com
Caffeine is a xanthine derivative that acts physiologically by stimulating the central nervous system. Its stimulation effects cause an increased heart rate, voluntary muscle contraction, diruesis, and increases gastric acid secretion among many other effects.
The effects of constant stimulation of the central nervous system from chronic coffee consumption have not been well studied but should be quite obvious. Taking any stimulant in an effort to ‘wake up’ the body results in chronic overstimulation of the systems involved in producing this unnatural stimulation and eventually increased doses may be needed to exert the same effect to the point where the body can run into chronic states of fatigue.
Many reports on the ‘benefits’ of caffeine consumption tout its ability to increase alertness and energy. The problem with this are the physiological effects that are required for this stimulation. Caffeine does not and cannot give you energy! Calories are required to give the body energy through providing fuel for the body, the main source of this energy is carbohydrates. Caffeine is a drug, a stimulant that produces a sensation of energy through stimulation of the body’s stress hormones not by actually giving true energy to the body. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system through blocking adenosine which is a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect in the body. Once this has occurred the adrenal glands are then stimulated to release adrenaline which causes an increase in heart rate, glucose release into the blood stream, muscles tighten, pupils dilate and you feel energized. The problem with this is that the adrenals are constantly being called upon to release adrenaline into the body which can be taxing to the system.
Individuals who regularly consume caffeine or coffee begin to experience less refreshing sleep, increased anxiety, fluctuations in energy, afternoon fatigue and a host of other signs that the body is being over stimulated and exhausted as a result.
It can be difficult to find research exposing the dangers of coffee consumption and one reason for this is a society so addicted to this drug, no one wants to admit or find any result in a study pointing to the dangers of taking this drug. However, if we dig a little deeper and look directly into the effects of excess stress and release of stress hormones, which also causes the release of adrenaline or epinephrine we start to see the damaging effects that caffeine can have.
According to the Mayo Clinic: “The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Digestive problems
- Memory impairment
- Worsening of skin conditions, such as eczema17
One thing we must understand here is that caffeine causes a much stronger stimulation of the stress hormones than simple, day to day stresses and therefore could potentially exacerbate these consequences.
Studies have shown that sustained hyperadrenalemia can reduce exercise performance and cause marked increases in blood lactate concentrations during exercise. Some studies have looked at the benefits on immediate caffeine consumption on exercise performance and found benefits, the problem with this is chronic hyperadernalemia can actually have deleterious effects over time.18-26
Increased Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis with Decaffeinated Coffee Consumption
Studies have shown that the amount of coffee consumed was directly, proportionally related to positive rheumatoid factor. Researchers concluded after adjusting for other factors that coffee consumption was a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis by contributing to the production of rheumatoid factor. In another study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism found that decaffeinated coffee intake was “independently and positively” associated with rheumatoid arthritis onset.27
image source: vitalityforlife.com/
These are not the only studies finding an association between coffee consumption whether caffeinated or not to rheumatoid arthritis. In several summaries and conclusions in these articles researchers called for more in depth research into the mechanisms in which this occurs as well as further study into other forms of arthritis and a connection with coffee consumption. This connection to rheumatoid arthritis does not stop with coffee, it is also associated with tea consumption.28
Despite conflicting evidence of the role coffee may play in diabetes, heart disease, or any other health problems the fact that it causes severe withdrawal symptoms should tip you off that this is not a healthy substance and is very addictive. John’s Hopkins University published information on a study conducted on the addictive nature of coffee as well as withdrawal from the drug, yes I said DRUG.
The latest research has shown that when an individual who consumed coffee regularly misses their morning jolt, symptoms of withdrawal can include: headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, flu-like symptoms, nausea and muscle pain. I find it interesting that if you look up the symptoms of illicit drug withdrawal you find: difficulty concentrating, headaches, depression, irritability, nausea etc… Of course these more powerful drugs can cause even more severe symptoms but the reality is coffee is a stimulant, a drug that is very addicting. Anything that causes addiction and withdrawal symptoms in the body is not healthy.29
Addicts Tend to Rationalize Risks of their Addiction
It is very common for an addict to be very protective of the substance of their addiction, downplaying risks associated with their drug of choice. It does not matter what your drug of choice is, addiction is never healthy. Even something as benign as food can become a health hazard when addiction fuels the drive to consume unhealthy foods or even ‘healthy’ foods in excess.
image source: http://www.whale.to
There is a raging argument about whether or not coffee is healthy or not. This debate is largely waged because researchers, doctors, scientists, our whole population is addicted to this drug and therefore very few people are willing to face the facts about coffee and caffeine. You can’t have a population of drug addicts conduct research on the substance they are addicted to(!), we all know what the results of that study would be. It is as silly as having a cocaine addict conduct research on the damaging effects of cocaine. I’m sure we could find some positive effects of cocaine if we looked hard enough, but that isn’t the point.
Coffee, tea and caffeine are not healthy, they contain many toxic compounds and have significant negative health effects on the body. Just the fact that it causes significant withdrawal symptoms should be a HUGE clue that this is an addictive, health damaging drug.
I know this is not a popular opinion, and honestly, I am not in the business of coddling addicts, I am in the business of helping people regain their health and coffee, tea and caffeine are not a part of a healthy diet… period.
- Lamberts, S.W., van den Beld, A.W. and van der Lely, A.J. 1997. The endocrinology of aging. Science.278(5337):419-24.
- Hatah (1990) This study referenced by-Drs. Larry Dulgosz, Michael B. Brachs Yale University School of Medicine Epidemiologic Reviews Vol. 14, pg. 83, 1992
- Cessation of Caffeine Consumption. The New England Journal of Medicine. 16(327): 1109-14 Robertson, D., Frolich, J.C., Carr, R.K., Watson, J.T., Hollifield, J.W., Shand, D.G. and J.A. Oates. 1978.
- Effects of caffeine on plasma renin activity, catecholamines and blood pressure. New England Journal of Medicine. 298(4):181-6.
- 63 Lane, J.D., Adcock, R.A., Williams, R.B. and C.M. Kuhn. 1990. Caffeine effects on cardiovascular and
- Neuroendocrine responses to acute psychosocial stress and their relationship to level of habitual caffeine consumption. Psychosomatic Medicine. 52(3):320-36.
- 64 Lane, J.D. 1994. Neuroendrocine Responses to Caffeine in the Work Environment. Psychosomatic Medicine.
- 65 Kerr, D., Sherwin, R.S., Pavalkis, F., Fayad, P.B., Sikorski, L., Rife, F., Tamborlane, W.V. and During, M.J.
- 1993. Effect of caffeine on the recognition of and responses to hypoglycemia in humans. Annals of Internal Medicine. 119(8):799-804.
I hope that you now have all the right reasons to quit the poison that might be taking your health and life very slowly, no matter how well packaged and advertised it comes (in 2010 Starbucks spent– $97.6 million on advertising [source]). Next time you want a real energy boost, cleanse your system (come to my Boot Camp, if you need help), and take a shot of a green smoothie first thing in the morning. You will be amazed how long you will feel energized and rejuvinated without any adverse symptoms.