How Coffee and Caffeine Affect Your Health
I’ve been meaning to write about coffee and caffeine for a while since it’s something that many people drink a lot of on a daily basis – 3.1 cups on average, to be precise. Coffee is delicious, soothing, and energizing. New cafés are springing up everywhere, and the alluring smell of coffee is difficult to ignore.
There’s also something so grounding and centering about the ritual of coffee, which is part of what makes it so attractive.
I’m not against coffee and caffeine at all, but what makes me concerned is when it causes disharmony in your body or mind. Plenty of research shows it can be good for you, but if your body clearly tells you it’s not healthy, it’s time to take a pause and think about whether coffee is your friend or not. When you drink coffee every day – even become dependent on it – it’s hard to take a step back and realize what’s happening. Coffee is a very powerful stimulant, and people often lose sight of how often they drink coffee, and how reliant they have become on it to function.
The Disguising Effects of Coffee and Caffeine
Coffee and caffeine have the ability to mask underlying fatigue. Your body may be crying out for sleep and rest in general, but if you’re on coffee, your body’s cry just goes unnoticed. That’s probably my biggest complaint with coffee and caffeine.
I often compare drinking coffee with going on a shopping spree with your credit card. You may not necessarily have any money in the bank, but the card allows you to buy whatever you want. Just as a credit card makes it possible to spend tomorrow’s earnings today, coffee allows us to spend tomorrow’s energy today.
In Chinese medicine, the kidney is the root energy and is acting as a reserve supply of energy. In Western medicine, energy is coming from the adrenals, right above the kidneys. Too much caffeine and too little rest deplete the kidney and adrenals of this reserve energy. But just like a credit card, eventually, you have to pay it off. In this case that means getting enough quality sleep and rest and taking care of yourself. Declaring bankruptcy is not an option – that would be the equivalent of major illness or an early grave.
Coffee is such a powerful and addictive stimulant that it can create cravings, irritability, and headaches when you don’t have it. Interestingly enough, I notice that this can also lead to other cravings like wanting to eat less healthy foods like sugar and bread. All of this can severely affect your mood and health.
Coffee and Internal Heat
Another area where I often see coffee negatively impacting people’s health is what we refer to in Chinese medicine as internal heat. Coffee can create internal heat; you may have noticed feeling hot after a cup of coffee. This internal heat can cause all kinds of health issues in the long-term, such as heartburn, hot flashes, frequent infections, insomnia, irritability, sweating, anxiety, and joint pain, to name a few.
If you have a warm constitution or suffer from any of these symptoms, coffee isn’t helping you. Drinking coffee in such a case is like pouring gasoline on that internal fire. Not good!
I’ve seen many people take a break from their daily coffee and then discover the profound negative effect their coffee and caffeine addiction has had on their mood or physical health. They had no idea of this effect until they stopped drinking coffee. I remember one patient in particular who took a break from coffee to see if it might help with her high blood pressure. When she had coffee again, it caused a severe reaction of dizziness and disorientation, and rapid heartbeat. She felt like she was having a panic attack! And this was something she used to drink every single day and thought it wasn’t affecting her negatively. Needless to say she has curbed her coffee intake dramatically.
Coffee and Caffeine Alternatives
If you want to take a break from coffee, you need to find alternatives, which aren’t so easy if you don’t know where to look. You’ll be surprised to know how many options – with caffeine or without – there are, and I’d like to share them with you. Personally, I love the taste and smell of coffee, but I don’t drink it very often because I find that it affects my mood, and makes me too wired, and I often struggle to focus.
There are lots of different types of tea: black tea, green tea, oolong tea, white tea, etc. My personal favorites, with caffeine, are puer tea and yerba mate. I find them very energizing, but in a more subtle, focused, and sustainable way. It doesn’t have the same super high and crash that I experience with coffee.
I also recently tried another plant from South America – similar to yerba mate – called guayusa. It contains caffeine, but it’s mild, and enjoyable and energizing. It’s very popular among indigenous Amazon tribes. Another alternative that I like is a mix called Herbal Coffee. This one is caffeine-free and is a blend of maca root, chicory root, and dandelion root. It can be suitable for people with internal heat since dandelion root helps to clear heat. I find that herbal teas work best for me on a daily basis. Drinking caffeine on a regular basis, even green tea, tends to cause energy and mood ups and downs for me.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the best alternative of all: a nap! When you’re tired and craving coffee, take a nap! Rest is what your body wants, and it often takes only a few minutes. Lie down, take some nice full deep breaths, close your eyes for a few moments, and rest. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll feel recharged!
Keeping Your Eye on Your Coffee Habits
If you drink a lot of coffee, I strongly recommend you take a break from it now and then while you try some of the alternatives out there. If you’re even more hardcore, you might try a total caffeine holiday for a little while. (BTW, this means chocolate too!) You will quickly see whether and how it affects your body and mood.
If you are sure that coffee and caffeine do not adversely affect your health (and you have verified this with a caffeine break) – you have a full bank account of good energy, you get all the rest needed, your mood is stable, and you don’t have any internal heat issues – then I’m all for it…in moderation of course!
You’re welcome to discuss your symptoms and possible alternatives with me. Leave a comment below to tell me about the effects coffee have on you, or if you have some other alternatives you’d like to share. I’m always looking to try new ones.