You wake up exhausted after having gone to bed way later than you had planned. You drag your ass out of bed, force your eyes open with toothpicks and stumble down into the kitchen to brew that cup of pure energy that is going to be cursing through your blood in a matter of minutes. As you make your way back upstairs to get dressed the aroma of your fancy European coffee follows you up the stairs.
You rush around getting ready because you are late, overly excited to get your hands onto that freshly brewed cup of hot coffee. You pour yourself a mug, grab a breakfast you plan to eat later and speed to the highway where you will curse at the long line of cars and agonizing commute that lies ahead, grateful for that comforting mug of steaming coffee in your hand. Sound familiar?
You may think that cup o’ joe is going to improve your alertness, provide you with a boost of energy, extra antioxidants, protect against Parkinson’s and possibly dementia, enhance your memory, improve your performance, reduce muscle soreness and pain, and make your exercise seem easier, and you are right, but did you know that for some people it could be downright toxic? In fact, too much caffeine can actually kill you.
Caffeine has a half-life of four to six hours, which is how long it takes for your body to eliminate one half of the caffeine and for the effects to begin to wear off. While it remains in your system, it disturbs your adrenal glands and causes anxiety, nervousness, crankiness and, if consumed late in the day, insomnia. Plus, it can irritate at your stomach lining and lead to ulcers, indigestion and heart burn, especially when ingested on an empty stomach. Caffeine also causes our stomach to empty prematurely, sending undigested food down our digestive tract which can cause indigestion, gas and diarrhea.
Furthermore, caffeine stimulates our nervous system, and can have a negative effect on our adrenal glands, which then release surges of adrenaline into our bloodstream, which also increase our cortisol levels, and our production of dopamine, the ‘feel good’ hormone. Unfortunately when we become dependant upon caffeine to function or when we drink it like it’s water, it can lead to chronic stress, weight gain (especially around the belly) and moodiness – and no one wants that.
Plus, once the dopamine wears off, we start to feel low again. Unfortunately it is this dopamine release that contributes to our dependency upon caffeine and increases our addiction. Yes, caffeine is addictive – as you well know if you have ever tried to give it up – and the withdrawal symptoms (headaches, irritation and moodiness being the most common) associated with it can be quite severe.
Caffeine also inhibits the absorption of numerous vitamins and minerals, which can cause nutrient deficiencies and which another reason why caffeine is worse for some of us, than for others. First off, if you already have a vitamin or mineral deficiency or associated syndrome (like low iron, anemia, hypocalcemia, osteoarthritis, low folate, a B12 deficiency, a zinc deficiency, scurvy or rickets), you are not doing yourself any favours drowning your cells in caffeine.
You see, caffeine inhibits the absorption of calcium (causing it to be excreted in the urine), inhibits vitamin D receptors (which limit the amount that can be absorbed and which also affects calcium absorption), interferes with the body’s absorption of iron (by up to 80%), increases the excretion of the minerals magnesium, potassium, sodium and phosphate and possibly also reduce the absorption of manganese, zinc and copper. It also prevents us from sleeping and from entering deep sleep cycles, which can affect our immune system and our alertness the next day. So drinking a daily cup of coffee may not be so good for us after all…
However, genetics play a huge role in determining whether your body can handle caffeine or not. Some of us possess a gene that can break down caffeine quickly. These individuals are the lucky ones and can actually benefit from a 6-8-ounce cup of coffee a day (or more) because their systems quickly process (filter out) the caffeine, while retaining the benefit of the antioxidants present in coffee.
But then there are people like me, whose systems have a hard time breaking down caffeine and so it lingers in our bodies, wrecking havoc on our systems for far too long, where, in addition to all the effects listed above, it can even lead to high blood pressure and the increased possibility of a heart attack. So how do you know which gene you have? Well, you can get tested by a genetic lab, through a lab like 23andme, Rocky Mountain Medical Labs, Nutrigenomix, DNA Fit, or Life Genetics, or you can take the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach.
So far, we’ve figured out that if you have trouble absorbing nutrients or have any nutrient deficiencies, have a tendency to be anxious, feel cranky throughout the day, have a hormone imbalance, have blood sugar issues, have trouble sleeping, are trying to lose weight, or are a slow caffeine metabolizer, then drinking coffee may not be the best choice for you. But don’t worry, I won’t leave you high and dry – here are some tips to help make the transition off caffeine easier for you.
First, you can try upgrading – switch your coffee for a lower-caffeine beverage or a caffeine-free substitute. For many people it’s the comfort of having a warm beverage in the morning rather than the actual caffeine that they will miss. My favourite substitutes are (in order of most caffeine to least caffeine) black tea, Chai tea, matcha green tea, Dandy Blend, or even just hot water and lemon. My absolute favourite is Dandy Blend because its made out of natural herbs and roots and yet tastes just like caffeine and is full of vitamins and minerals that have natural detoxifying benefits for your liver.
Second, I recommend increasing your water intake so that you are less likely to have withdrawal symptoms. To figure out how much water you should be drinking, simply divide your bodyweight by half, then divide it again by 8 to figure out how glasses of water to drink each day.
Third, start to take a high quality multivitamin and mineral supplement, which will start to rebuild the vitamin and mineral deficiencies you may have accumulated from years of coffee drinking. Two of my favourite therapeutic multivitamin / mineral supplements are Douglas Labs Ultra Preventative X or Thorne Research’s Multivitamin Elite AM/PM.
Finally, if you absolutely, definitely, un-negotiably refuse to give up your morning coffee, at least make sure you don’t drink it on an empty stomach. This will at least act as a bit of a buffer and will allow you to absorb the nutrients from your breakfast, decrease some of the acidity and provide your body with a chance to stabilize your blood sugar and energy levels.
Remember, when we drink caffeine on a regular basis, our bodies get used to it and the effects we crave – that boost of energy and increased performance, actually diminish. Instead of making caffeine a daily habit, reserve it for those special occasions when you really need a boost in performance – like before an athletic event, or when you need better memory recall like before a big presentation. If you do decide to give up caffeine, I’d love to know how you did, so please leave a comment below. Good luck!