Is Coffee Bad For You?
Coffee is delicious, it helps us focus and it’s an important part of many people’s life. But just how healthy is coffee? Should we be concerned about having a few cups per day?
Positive Side Effects
Millions of people drink coffee. One survey estimates 83% of Americans drink it daily (1).
Many people consider coffee neutral. Not so bad and not so good. But what surprises many is that coffee is generally regarded as the number one source of antioxidants for the average person.
Coffee has also been linked to a longer life. The more the better up until 4-5 cups.
I’m not saying to drink more to live longer. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Nevertheless, this is an interesting association.
Coffee Is Full Of Antioxidants
An antioxidant inhibits oxidation. Our brains are extremely susceptible to oxidation. Fruits and vegetables tend to be high in antioxidants and is one of many reasons they are healthy.
Coffee has high levels of antioxidants (2).
Some sources suggest coffee has a lot of polyphenol antioxidants, even when compared to green tea, red wine and cacao (3).
Due to increased circulation and stimulation of the liver, some research has suggested coffee may be protective against liver damage via alcohol (4).
Increased Brain Power
This is why most of us drink coffee. It helps me write these posts and film all the videos for The Stoic Body. Just being honest.
Out of all benefits, aside from athletic performance, the cognitive benefits of coffee have been extensively documented.
One study actually found that coffee, but not necessarily caffeine had positive effects on the brain (5). Researchers came to the conclusion that this may be due to the other active compounds found in coffee. My guess is the antioxidants.
Caffeine specifically works on adenosine receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) and other peripheral tissues. When adenosine is blocked, the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine increase.
A study concluded that caffeine in a dose up to around 300 mg (2 cups of coffee) or 4mg kg-1 increased a wide range of tasks requiring the use of cognitive functions with little to no side-effects (7).
Increased Physical Performance
The same study which examined caffeine and cognitive effects also found that consumption 1 hour prior to exercise can increase physical performance.
They found an association between consumption of caffeine and an increased ability in strength based training, endurance, high intensity, speed power and even agility. And so it’s quite clear caffeine truly makes a difference (8).
An ergogenic aid is something which helps energy use and efficiency, caffeine being a prime example.
An interesting fact is that the equivalent of 5-6 cups of coffee (12 μg/l of urine) was actually banned at the Olympics until 2004 (12).
There’s a rumour that coffee “boosts your metabolism”. This is true. The caffeine, theobromine and chlorogenic acid are the substances responsible for the metabolic increase.
Chlorogenic acid has been shown to decrease the rate carbohydrates are absorbed (14).
Regardless of the benefits, coffee still has some very real risks and has some negative effects worth exploring.
Negative Side Effects
It’s clear coffee has upsides, but there are clear downsides too. There are many people which have made it clear cutting coffee out of their lives improved their mood and paradoxically their energy. So what’s the deal with coffee?
Cortisol, Adrenal Fatigue
Our bodies are all different. Your genetics play a role in how your body reacts to caffeine.
However, there are some similarities when people have had too much caffeine. An overdose of coffee can induce anxiety, jitters, an uncomfortably fast heart rate and this isn’t a pleasant experience.
I’m sure this has happened to you at least once if you’re reading up to this point.
When you consume coffee your adrenal glands secrete cortisol, the steroid hormone commonly associated with stress. Cortisol is released as a response to stress, which caffeine in many ways is to the body.
Cortisol isn’t all bad, but excessive amounts can cause problems ranging from weight gain to depression.
In no way does this mean you should completely abstain from coffee. My point is that if you are particularly prone to stress, then coffee, or large quantities of it may not be a good idea.
If you struggle to reduce the amount you drink a good tip is to simply drink the coffee slower so that it doesn’t hit your bloodstream as rapidly.
Furthermore, if you suffer from anxiety and you can’t understand why Stoicism, meditation or exercise isn’t helping, then consider eliminating or reducing your coffee intake.
Caffeine, Insomnia And Sleep Patterns
Many of us have a deficiency in magnesium. A great source of magnesium is dark green vegetables. Caffeine can cause nutrients to be expelled from the body, which is key for the brain (20).
If you drink coffee at 3 pm and you sleep at 10 pm, you’re going to have a harder time sleeping than you would if you were to only drink coffee before 12. This is because the half-life (the time for half the caffeine to exit your blood) lasts for around 5-6 hours. Before 12 is a good rule of thumb.
Coffee can also disturb your sleep patterns and the ratio of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) to REM (rapid-eye movement) cycles of sleep (21).
What this means is that even though you may be sleeping the same number of hours, your sleep cycles may be disturbed.
It’s more important to sleep a solid 6 hours rather than 8 hours with no quality.
Dependence And Tolerance
Because coffee may be used as a coping mechanism for either stress, to get more work done, or even for workouts it’s not that hard to become dependant on coffee to function.
Now, this isn’t all bad since the negative effects of a moderate consumption of coffee aren’t all that bad. But any sort of dependence has a downside and it’s something we should all avoid.
Not being able to function without a source of external stimulation is a sign you’re weaker than you should be.
It’s not the coffee itself which is the problem, but rather it’s your relationship to it or any other pleasure for that matter.
The positive effects of coffee:
Coffee is full of antioxidants, it can increase your cognitive performance as well as your physical performance.
Some studies suggest a strong correlation between coffee consumption and length of life as well as a decreased rate of debilitating cognitive disorders.
The negative effects of coffee:
include increased cortisol, adrenal fatigue potential insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns.
Coffee can become a dependence as it is arguably addictive. This can lead to a tolerance.
Overall coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle, but depending on who you are too much can lead to issues.
It’s important to monitor how much you’re consuming and the deeper reason why you’re doing that.