Coffee is polarizing - you either love it or hate it.
For some of you, coffee is simply not your cup of tea. Others are having a love affair with coffee - the bitter taste, the seductive aroma, the warmth, the creamy, sticky sweetness, the rush, the jolt, the clarity of mind, the kickstart to your morning ritual. It's pure bliss.
Just like people, scientists also have polarizing views. One day, we read coffee is going to save our health, and the next, research tells us to stay away.
So, who’s right?
It comes down to genetics and how much coffee a person regularly consumes. We all react in different ways.
Let's look at caffeine metabolism, its impact 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 whether or not coffee is right for you.
Coffee can contain anywhere 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 not all people metabolize caffeine at the same speed. In fact, caffeine metabolism can be up to 40x faster in some people than others.
About half of us are “slow” metabolizers. We have jitters, heart palpitations and feel "wired" for up to 9 hours after a cup of java. I fall into this group. The other half are "fast" metabolizers of caffeine (my husband). They receive immediate energy and increased alertness, and are back to normal a few hours later.
The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body
NOTE: Most studies look at caffeinated coffee, not decaf.
The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body also differ between people. This is partly due to metabolism, but it also relates to your body’s amazing ability to adapt (read: become more tolerant) to long-term caffeine use. Many people who just start drinking coffee feel the effects a lot more than people who have coffee every day.
Here’s a list of effects (that usually decrease with long-term use):
Stimulates the brain
Boosts energy and exercise performance
Increases the stress hormone cortisol
While some of these effects are good (albeit temporary), some are not. You need to consider your whole health picture to see if any of these effects will aggravate any pre-existing or underlying issues (i.e., adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism, constipation, insulin resistance, overactive metabolism, yeast overgrowth, parasites, IBS). It is also important to note that the impact of caffeine decreases over time.
So, if you're using caffeine to boost a run or workout, use it sparingly. If you consume coffee everyday, the impact on your performance dwindles.
And another tip: consuming coffee post workout can raise cortisol levels. Cortisol can store fat, so while it can be performance enhancing, it can undermine your weight loss goals.
Coffee and health risks
There are ample studies on the health effects of coffee, and whether coffee drinkers are more or less likely to develop certain conditions. The good news? Many of the health benefits exist even for decaf coffee because coffee contains more than caffeine. It is full of antioxidants and hundreds of other compounds.
Here's a quick summary of what coffee can lead to (both good and bad):
Caffeine addiction and withdrawal symptoms (e.g. a headache, fatigue, irritability)
Increased sleep disruption
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")
Mixed reviews on whether it lowers risks of cancer and heart disease
Please don’t assume regular coffee intake is the one thing that will help you overcome these risks. Coffee intake is just one of many, many factors that can affect your risks for these diseases and health conditions. Other key critical factors to managing health risks include eating a nutrient-rich whole foods diet, reducing stress, reducing exposure to environmental toxins, and getting enough sleep and exercise.
For the tea drinkers in the group, don’t despair. Tea also delivers the same results due to its high antioxidant content.
Should you drink coffee or not?
There are a few more things to consider when deciding whether or not 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
Children and teens
People with hormonal imbalances, IBS, candida or insulin resistance. You need to get these undercontrol first.
If none of these apply, I encourage you to monitor how your body reacts when you have coffee. Does it:
Give you the jitters?
Increase anxious feelings?
Affect your sleep?
Give you heart palpitations?
Affect your digestion (e.g. heartburn, diarrhea, etc.)?
Give you a reason to drink a lot of sugar and cream because you can’t stand the taste?
Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether these reactions are worth it to you. If you’re not sure, I recommend eliminating coffee for a while and being mindful of the difference. A good substitute is green tea. It is lower in caffeine and still delivers an incredible dose of antioxidants for your body and brain.