I do a lot of things in my life to maintain my health. I eat organic vegetables, I exercise, I sleep 7-8 hours at night, because doing these things is good for me. Whether I should or should not drink coffee is something I haven’t yet figured out.
Certainly the research showing coffee’s benefits is widely available. It is a source of antioxidants, (for those who eat no fruits or vegetables it may be the only source), it provides cognitive stimulation by releasing a flurry of neurotransmitters, and it increases metabolism.
Best of all, though, it tastes great and is a hot, comforting beverage. What’s not to like?
Twenty-six years ago, as a first year naturopathic student, we learned about the downside of coffee. We were taught about it’s addictive qualities, how it was a “band-aid” for an over stressed, poorly rested society. Coffee, we were told, is hard on the liver, and not part of a healthy diet.
Up to that point, I didn’t drink coffee anyway, and when I started my practice a few years later, it was easy to preach the evils of coffee and tell everyone, without exception, to stop drinking it. Heads would nod as I talked about quitting dairy, and gluten, and sugar, but then a look of incredulity would cross their faces. “What, give up my coffee? Even the first cup in the morning?” I am sure I lost a few patients as a result of this advice.
Fast forward to about 2014 when coffee suddenly became healthy. Dave Asprey had founded his “Bullet Proof” coffee empire and drinking a cup of joe was the new “healthy” trend. I started paying more attention to the studies validating the physical and mental benefits of coffee.
Around the same time, on reaching my middle years, I became interested in natural ways to slow down aging. Turns out a lot of our so called aging problems are actually from decades of nutritional deficiencies. Plants and herbs can have wonderful effects on our brain and body. Coffee entered the scene as as something that could help ward off Alzheimer’s disease and have a positive effect on other chronic diseases.
It was exciting research, and as coffee is readily available, and a huge part of Canadian culture, I figured I might as well reap the benefits. As some of you know from following my Facebook page, I started to drink coffee, found I liked it, and then, likely due to not keeping the amount of caffeine consistent from day to day, developed headaches. My fling with coffee lasted a couple of weeks and then it was over. The headaches scared me and I quit drinking coffee until last year.
In the summer of 2018 with a cross-country move pending, I introduced coffee again. One cup each morning. Seemed to go well, I stayed alert, wasn’t anxious, looked forward to my cup each day. Over time, though, I was aware my sleep was more intermittent at night, that I wasn’t feeling as rested when I woke and wondered if the coffee, even just that one cup in the morning, was interfering.
So now, yet again, I am off coffee. My fifth day “on the wagon”, and I woke up out of sorts and a bit sad this morning. Yes, it is February and the weather has been pretty wintry lately. However, I think it is the absence of my morning coffee that is having the most effect on my mood.
Where do I go from here with coffee? This love/hate relationship I have. I feel good when I drink it, but the boost is temporary and at the cost of a decent night’s sleep. It creates calmness and peace, opens my mind to inspiration and aids my fluidity of thought. In addition to the sleep issues it creates a dependency with withdrawal effects of fatigue and depression.
I don’t have all the answers yet. If you see me as a patient I may well tell you to give up dairy and gluten and sugar, but when it comes to your coffee I will hesitate. “Does it interfere with your sleep?”, “Do you have heart palpitations?” “Are you currently dealing with anxiety or depression?” If you answer “Yes”, then my response is, “Don’t drink coffee”. If you answer “No”, then I will tell you one to two cups a day is likely OK. Some people do have a genetic issue in clearing caffeine, but one to two normal size cups of coffee should keep the clearance threshold low enough even with that gene SNP. Oh, and keep it organic, since it’s a heavily sprayed crop.
The question remains, “Is it healthier or not healthier to drink coffee?” This naturopathic doctor doesn’t know. My answer is if it “creats joy”, keep it, if it doesn’t – throw it out.