According to the 2008 Coffee Statistics Report, coffee is the most common beverage worldwide. The U.S. imports more than $4 billion worth of coffee annually and Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day. Nearly 52% of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee daily. Coffee represents 75% of all the caffeine consumed in the U.S., the rest comes from soft drinks, tea, cocoa, and many prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Although coffee is one of the most heavily researched commodities with studies spanning decades, there is still much controversy surrounding its effects on health. Many studies show conflicting results and there is always a new study to discount the last one.
Science Of Caffeine
Caffeine is the most prevalently used legal stimulant in the world. It stimulates you, gives you energy or a “lift”, and it makes you more alert. To understand how caffeine affects your body, we have to look at the science of caffeine. When you take in caffeine, it triggers the secretion of stress hormones, similar to a fight-or-flight response when you have to deal with sudden danger. The following is how the body responses to an elevation of stress hormones:
- Pupils dilate to increase visual acuity.
- Bronchial airways dilate to increase availability of oxygen.
- Liver releases sugars and fats into the blood to fuel the survival effort.
- Muscle fibers contract, ready for sudden movement.
- Heart rate and blood pressure increase to supply fuel to muscles.
- Circulation reduced in digestive system to make more blood available to muscles.
- Small blood vessels in the extremities constrict to make more blood available to muscles.
In caveman days, such fight-or-flight response was designed for episodic stress events. In modern times, however, stress tends to be chronic, and most people typically consume caffeine at regular intervals during the day. When your body is in a constant state of “emergency alert”, the results can be devastating.
Harmful Effects Of Caffeine
- Caffeine can generate wild swings in blood sugar, causing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Symptoms include weakness, nervousness, sweating, heart palpitations, and jitters.
- Caffeine can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Caffeine can alter the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, leading to impaired digestion. It is associated with increased risk for ulcer, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Caffeine can lead to skin irritations.
- Caffeine can have a detrimental effect on the body’s calcium-phosphorus balance, which is associated with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis (porous bones).
- Caffeine can aggravate your PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and menopause symptoms.
- Caffeine can affect the quality of your sleep. The fact that you have built up a high tolerance for caffeine does not mean that your sleep quality has not been compromised. Caffeine can also worsen symptoms of insomnia, panic attacks, and anxiety disorders.
- Caffeine can increase the risk of miscarriage, birth defects such as cleft palate, and low birth weight among babies. Pregnant women should always avoid caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant drug that easily passes through the placenta to the developing fetus and is also transferred through breast milk.
- Last but not least, if you regularly take in more than 100 mg of caffeine (about half a cup of brewed coffee) a day, you are probably addicted to caffeine and are likely to experience some withdrawal symptoms such as headache, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and muscle stiffness.
Other Health Issues Associated With Coffee
- Coffee is usually a heavily sprayed crop, so every cup of non-organic coffee exposes you to a dose of toxic pesticides. Worse, many chemicals banned in the U.S. for their ultra toxicity are exported to South American countries. Some of these chemicals are known to be used in coffee plantations which export their coffee back to the U.S.
- If you are a Protein Metabolic Type, you won’t do well with caffeine. You should only consume decaffeinated coffee in small quantities.
- If you are going to drink decaffeinated coffee, make sure that it uses a non-chemical based method of decaffeination, such as the “Swiss Water Process”. Most coffee is chemically decaffeinated, even if it says “naturally decaffeinated” on the label.
- If you use a “drip” coffee maker, use non-bleached filters. The bright white ones are chlorine bleached and some of the chlorine will be extracted from the filter during the brewing process.
Health Benefits Of Coffee
Although coffee is associated with many health risks, research suggests that it also offers a number of health benefits, provided you drink at least two cups per day. Evidence indicates that coffee provides protective effects for the following diseases:
- Alcohol cirrhosis of the liver
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Colon cancer
- Type 2 diabetes
- Some types of headaches
- Parkinson’s disease
However, when you are drinking two cups of coffee daily, your body is already hooked to the regular stimulation of caffeine. It is after all, a personal choice to weigh the benefits of drinking coffee against its many negative health effects.
The Bottom Line
- Despite the many health claims, caffeine is still a stimulant drug. Regular dependence on caffeine to enhance performance stresses the body, the same way all other life stressors do.
- Tea is a good alternative as it has lower caffeine content. Tea also contains antioxidants (polyphenols) that help prevent cancer, heart disease, and stroke. White tea is the least processed and contains the most antioxidants, followed by green tea, and black tea. To cut down on the caffeine in black tea, steep it for less time or switch to green or white tea.
- Coffee is clearly not the healthiest liquid to drink (best choice is pure water) but if you do choose to drink coffee, buy the organic version as the crop is heavily sprayed with pesticides.
- The best decaffeination method is the “Swiss Water Process” which is completely chemical free.
- Only use non-bleached filters for brewing coffee.
- If you are pregnant, breast feeding, or have the following conditions, you should avoid caffeine altogether – digestive and bowel problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, gallstones, ulcers, anxiety or panic attacks, heart problems, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, insomnia, PMS, menopause, osteoporosis, and skin irritations.