The Coffee Quandary: Good, Bad, Healthy, Unhealthy?

Updated: Nov 4

Conflicting health claims and warnings about coffee can be confusing and frustrating. I'm here to help guide you through understanding whether or not coffee is right for you.

As the weather turns colder and the days get shorter, a strong cup of joe becomes a staple in morning routines. Regardless of whether you're a long time consumer or a coffee newbie, it's important to be aware of how caffeine affects you.


Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance and is often considered a drug of abuse.

If you're an HH follower, you know I'm not a fan of generalized health claims pushed out by the media or industry. Our bodies are just too unique and individual for generalities, which cause consumer confusion and frustration. So, I'm here to help guide you through understanding whether or not coffee is right for you.


First, let's understand how that cup of joe affects your body.


How caffeine works


Caffeine absorption is quite rapid. Since it's fat soluble, the brain and tissues have quick access to the stimulant which influences the nervous system, so your brain may feel more alert. However, it's also a vasoconstrictor, which increases blood pressure by narrowing your blood vessels, so you may also feel anxious or shortness of breath.


Caffeine is metabolized in the liver. It acts as a diuretic and can also act as a laxative. It's detectable in the blood within 15 minutes of consuming, and reaches its peak levels one hour after consumption. It can take up to 12 hours to clear from your system, depending on your metabolism (specifically, enzyme CYP1A2). People with a specific variation of the gene PDSS2 process caffeine more slowly than others. Therefore, some people will need less coffee for the same stimulant effects.


Health Claims

Coffee is a superfood, rich in antioxidants.

Antioxidants


Not all coffee beans, brands, and roasts are equal. Coffee can be the richest source of antioxidants in the American diet, if the beans are organic and properly harvested, roasted and brewed. For example, coffee brewed from roasted arabica beans contain up to 22 mmol of antioxidants, compared to 4 mmol of antioxidants in kale. But, remember, these health benefits depend greatly on the quality of the bean and the way it's processed.


Energy


Because coffee is a stimulant, it has the short-term capacity to increase mental focus and endorphins. Caffeine's weight loss claims are mainly purported because of its short-lived epinephrine inducing effects. One cup of coffee has the ability to increase thermogenesis and increase fat oxidation, but this is temporary.


Caffeine consumption has also been shown to impact physical performance when consumed 15 to 60 minutes before exercise. Caffeine increases the absorption of glucose from the digestive tract into the bloodstream, so it can also be helpful in workout recovery.


Health Criticisms


Coffee contains toxic carcinogens like acrylamide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that occur during the roasting process.

Carcinogens


Acrylamides and PAHs occur when coffee beans are roasted. Typically, they're highly concentrated early in the roasting process and then begin to decline, so as a rule of thumb, dark roasts contain fewer acrylamides than light roasts, and arabica beans contain fewer than robusta. Additionally, if you're not drinking organic coffee, you're also getting a mouthful of toxic chemical pesticides (coffee beans are heavily sprayed with over 300 synthetic pesticides), mold, mycotoxins and dangerous acidity levels.


Absorption of vitamins


Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning, it flushes water out of your system- leading to an increase in urination. As a result, water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C, and B-vitamins can be depleted due to this fluid loss. Coffee has also been shown to interfere with iron absorption, if taken within an hour of each other.


Research also demonstrates that the higher the level of caffeine intake, the more it interferes with vitamin D absorption, and the expression of vitamin D receptors in osteoblasts (the cells responsible for producing bone), which can create problems for those with (or at risk of) osteoporosis. To make bone matters worse, caffeine can also interfere with the absorption of calcium according to a study published by Osteoporosis International.


Mental Health


The intensity of physiological response to caffeine varies greatly between people. Some people are prone to feeling anxious or depressed - which indicates a sensitivity to caffeine. This can risk your mental health, adrenal gland health, or cause other mental disturbances.


Caffeinism is a clinical syndrome characterized by anxiety, depression, palpitations, recurring headaches, and irritability.

An interesting study published by the University of Minnesota observed healthy college students and found that the more coffee that students drank the worse they performed academically, and the higher they ranked on the depression scale. Coffee has also been shown to increase restlessness, anxiety, and exacerbate sleep disorders, which all disrupt mental health.


So what does this mean for you?


Whether or not caffeine is right for you brews down to these considerations:

  • Acid-base load: Since coffee is acidic, it can exacerbate acidosis, acid reflux, and GI issues. Strive to consume a diet that's 80% alkaline and 20% acidic to achieve optimal health. To help determine your pH level, read more about the acidosis symptoms to look out for.

  • Addiction: Do you have to have coffee? Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance and is often considered a drug of abuse. Ensure you're not reliant on it by sporadically abstaining to test your dependency.

  • Dehydration: Caffeine can increase your risk of dehydration and reduced digestive function, as it acts as a diuretic. So, remember to drink more water than usual and consume more water-soluble vitamins throughout the day.

  • Diabetes: Caffeine increases the absorption of glucose from the digestive tract into the bloodstream, so while it can be helpful in workout recovery, it can cause adverse reactions in diabetics or those consuming the standard American diet.

  • Diet: Be sure to consume a nutrient-dense diet that lacks processed, refined sugars. Focus on consuming whole foods, primarily vegetables, to ensure you're absorbing all the nutrients you need. The combination of caffeine with refined sugars has been shown to have worse health impacts than either of them consumed independently (step away from the donut)! When caffeine and sugar are combined, the risk of depression escalates exponentially! So, if you are going to indulge in coffee, it's important to consume a nutrient-dense diet.

  • Gut health: Make sure you're not relying on coffee for its laxative effects. You're better off building a healthy gut microbiome with high-quality probiotics to achieve regularity and optimal health.

  • High blood pressure: Caffeine consumption increases blood pressure. In those who have preexisting hypertension, studies have shown a permanent increase in blood pressure, so if you are hypertensive, it is best to avoid caffeine altogether.

  • Mental health: Ensure you're not consuming coffee with a preexisting contraindication such as anxiety, depression, or insomnia. Those with psychological disorders should avoid coffee altogether, as even the small amount in decaf has been shown to be enough to have adverse affects.

  • Osteoporosis: If you have or are at risk for bone mineral density issues, like osteoporosis, it's best to avoid coffee due to its calcium and vitamin D blocking effects.

  • Pregnancy: If you're pregnant, consuming even 10 oz of coffee can double your risk of miscarriage. While some say there is a safe amount of caffeine that can be consumed, I recommend avoiding it altogether. Try raspberry leaf, ginger, or pregnancy tea instead.

  • Stress: If you are under a great deal of stress, (not sleeping well, tired), your adrenal glands are already being exhausted. Do not overwhelm them further with caffeine, or you may end up with burnout or adrenal dysfunction.

  • Quality: Only drink high-quality organic coffee, like Purity Coffee. Avoid consumption of conventional coffee that contain pesticides and GMOs. Look for organic, fair-trade coffee for the cleanest most ethical beans.


Takeaways and recommendations


Due to my history of caffeine addiction, I only consume coffee intermittently as to not let my inner caffeine demon control me, but when I do indulge, I drink Purity Coffee. It's third-party tested for yeast, mold, pesticides, lead, cadmium, copper, acrylamide, PAHs, and acidity. And unlike other companies, they share their lab results. This gives me peace of mind and I know when I'm drinking my warm cup of stimulation, I'm not risking my health!


The smokeless roasting process that Purity uses means that dangerous PAHs are avoided while minimizing the level of acrylamides. When third party tested against 46 of the most popular coffee brands, including BulletProof, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Seattle's Best, and Peak Performance, Purity was found to be 65% higher in antioxidants, on average, than all the other coffee brands that were tested. Not only did Purity rank the highest in antioxidant levels, they also tested to be free of mold and mycotoxins.


As with anything, the quality of your coffee matters!


For you, the healthiest solution may be to swap out your coffee for natural foods rich in nutrients. If coffee isn't right for you, I recommend trying Daily Harvest's caffeine-free lattes. While my favorite is the Chaga and Chocolate, they also offer Ginger and Turmeric, or Matcha Lemongrass.


SAVE $25 off your first order of Daily Harvest, by using promo code holisticheckler at checkout!


Sources:


Acheson, K. J., Zahorska-Markiewicz, B., Pittet, P., Anantharaman, K., & Jéquier, E. (1980). Caffeine and coffee: their influence on metabolic rate and substrate utilization in normal weight and obese individuals. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 33(5), 989–997. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/33.5.989


Chou, T. Wake up and smell the cofee: cafeeine, cofee, and the medical consequences. West J Med. 1992.


Gilliland, K., Bullock, W. Caffeine: a potential drug of abuse. Adv Alcohol Substance Abuse 1984.


Nehlig A. (1999). Are we dependent upon coffee and caffeine? A review on human and animal data. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 23(4), 563–576. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0149-7634(98)00050-5


Sung, E. S., Choi, C. K., Kim, N. R., Kim, S. A., & Shin, M. H. (2018). Association of Coffee and Tea with Ferritin: Data from the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (IV and V). Chonnam medical journal, 54(3), 178–183.

https://doi.org/10.4068/cmj.2018.54.3.178


Ulvik, A., Vollset, S. E., Hoff, G., & Ueland, P. M. (2008). Coffee consumption and circulating B-vitamins in healthy middle-aged men and women. Clinical chemistry, 54(9), 1489–1496. https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2008.103465


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