Caffeine.. one addiction I just can’t seem to shake! I know I’m not alone as this study reported that 85% of Americans drink at least one caffeinated beverage per day. Experts say that caffeine is good for your health. Certainly, there are many health benefits of caffeine that have been proven by science. But there are also negative side effects of caffeine as with any drug. But is caffeine bad for you? Should you give up your daily cup of joe? In this article I highlight some of the down sides of caffeine so that you can make your own mind up!
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a stimulant which is found is coffee, tea and chocolate. It acts on your central nervous system to reduce feelings of tiredness. The chemical blocks receptors for the neurotransmitter adenosine, which is responsible for making you feel sleepy. This means that it makes you more alert and helps you to stay awake! Caffeine acts on your brain and is known as a psychoactive drug. It’s definitely the drug of choice in modern society! Usually, drinking caffeine (in moderation) is associated with positive feelings as well as productivity and focus.
Why is caffeine bad for you?
It’s a strong statement to say that caffeine is bad for you. However, there are several ways that it affects both our hormonal and overall health in a negative way.
Caffeine works by stimulating the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This can make us feel good in the moment as we feel energised, motivated and happier and it can also boost our physical and mental performance. But we’re not designed to live with our nervous system in this stressed state. Even if we don’t feel stressed as such that “pumped up” feeling that we are addicted to is stressful for our bodies. Caffeine can also speed up our thoughts, making our minds race and can lead to anxiety and keep us stuck in a loop of worry and negative thoughts, especially if we are already in a stressful situation or have an over-active inner critic.
2. Affect on sleep
Whether we like it or not, caffeine does affect our quality of sleep. For most people, stopping drinking coffee around midday is enough time for your body to process the caffeine before you go to bed. But for some people even drinking coffe in the morning can impact their sleep many hours later. Depending on how sensitive you are, you might notice that caffeine causes you to go to bed later wake up during the night, or maybe your sleep feels less refreshing.
If you have been consuming caffeine daily for many years, you might not even notice the effect it is having on your sleep. If you are struggling with insomnia or fatigue, try going caffeine free for a week or two, if this feels impossible it’s probably a sign that it could be just what you need!
3. Blood sugar regulation
One of the effects of caffeine stimulating the adrenal glands is a spike in blood sugar. It causes stored glycogen from our muscles to be converted to glucose and pumped into the blood for us to use as energy. Coffee is known for it’s appetite suppressing effects and is often used by dieters to curb cravings. It works in the moment but often leads to increased hunger and cravings later in the day.
Especially if we consume caffeine on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, this can cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a crash an hour or 2 later when we crave.. guess what.. more caffeine and/or sugar. This results in a blood sugar rollercoaster which can leave us feeling exhausted and wrecked by the end of the day. Often when people try to quit drinking coffee they notice more cravings for sugary foods and this is why!
4. Digestion and absorption
As well as affecting our cravings, coffee can also impact the way we absorb nutrients. For example, caffeine has been shown to reduce absorption of vitamin D and calcium. Both nutrients which are necessary for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. It is also not recommended to consume tea or coffee within an hour of taking an iron supplement as caffeine reduces absorption of this key mineral for energy and vitality.
Women are more likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia because we lose blood each month during our period. This study concluded that those who drink coffee regularly are even more at risk. And if that wasn’t enough, as caffeine is a diuretic (it causes you to pee more), it can lead to flushing out water soluble nutrients such as vitamins B and C as well as causing dehydration.
5. Masculine energy
The balance of masculine and feminine energy is important for all humans but especially women who are trying to balance their hormones. I will write a whole post on this topic but for now I’ll summarise by saying that masculine energy is the “doing” associated with productivity, activity, busyness and logical thinking. Conversely, feminine energy is the “being” associated with creativity, softness, surrender and going with the flow. In today’s Western world we so often focused on productivity and work is at the centre of our lives. It’s very normal for us to get up, get ready, have our coffee and start work.
I think of caffeine as a way to get myself to do things I don’t feel like doing. Such as working when I’m tired and need to rest or doing a boring task when really I want to do something fun or creative. In this sense coffee and caffeine can be used as a way for us to suppress our bodies needs. It keeps us in our masculine energy rather than taking the rest and relaxation we need.
How to consume caffeine in a healthy way
One of the first things I recommend to my health coaching clients is to cut down on caffeine if they are drinking a lot. Ideally, I’d suggest anyone with hormonal imbalance or fatigue to go completely caffeine-free but I totally understand this isn’t always realistic. So I generally suggest to stick to 1 cup of coffee a day (and I don’t mean huge Starbucks size coffee, just a normal cup).
That being said, coffee and caffeine can also be a source of pleasure and a social activity. Right now I am living in Greece and the culture revolves around coffee. And I am British so I can help but love a good cup of tea and a chat. If you can’t imagine giving up coffee and tea, try to wait least 30 minutes after a meal rather than drinking it on an empty stomach or with food as this will help to minimise the impacts on stress hormones, blood sugar and nutrient absorption.
But for those healing from insomnia, fatigue or hormonal imbalance I recommend choosing decaf. At least most of the time and not becoming reliant on that boost from caffeine to get through the day. As well as decaf coffee and and black tea, lower caffeine alternatives include:
- Green tea (also lots of anti-oxidants)
- Cacao/cocoa (still stimulating but easier on the adrenals)
- Herbal teas (mostly caffeine free)
- Chicory coffee (caffeine free coffee alternative)
Conclusion, is caffeine bad for you?
My opinion is that for most people caffeine is ok in moderation. Personally, I go through periods of giving it up and feeling great then after a bad night or two of sleep I am tempted to go back. However these days I am happy with drinking one cup of coffee per day. I also like to mix it up with green tea, cacao and herbal teas. As someone who has struggled a lot with sleep it is really not a good idea to be drinking coffee. But the love affair continues…
Over to you…
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