Does Your Coffee Own You?

Surely it would be the drug of choice in 2019? Perhaps it even overtakes alcohol in its insistent addicting and tasty qualities and is cheekier in hiding it’s adverse effects on us. I am not about to tell you not to drink coffee, but instead see if we can look honestly at our daily drink and see if it is affecting our abiIity to stay calm and productive? We drink it because it tastes so good, and we are trying to “do it all”… but what happens when it actually is having the opposite influence?

I will put it out there straight. I LOVE a good coffee. 

I live in Bondi. Perhaps some of the best coffees you can get are in my suburb. And you can get any form you want. Whatever milk, from any organic nut, from any supplier, with a plethora of natural sweeteners, served in the prettiest of ceramic handmade mugs. I love it. 

Since I was an adult I have gone in and out of drinking it. From instant types while working though Asia, to Italian expressos while working in Europe, soy lattes ¾ full and then straight long blacks.  

 Coffee is intertwined in our culture today. 

But so is its partner in crime. Anxiety… and some other side effects we may not be aware of. These are why I dip in and out, sometimes refraining for years at a time. 

 As a naturopath firstly we recognise that not everyone is built the same. We come from different ancestors, who have varied detoxing and digestive systems – literally different genes to break down caffein, and are adapted to a range of foods. We are also born with different consitutions, even when we have the same parents sometimes! Two people can have the same cup of coffee and have two totally different responses – mind and body. 

One person may feel a sense of focus and enjoyment and nothing much else changes. When the caffeine hit wears off, there is no big drop in energy and it’s no biggie. For the other person they may feel like someone injected cocaine into their eyeballs. They get the sweats, diarrhea, the shakes, pulsing heart rate and anxiety bordering on a full-blown panic attack.

It sounds extreme but some people really are sensitive to caffeine and it does not make them unusual. Normally those who have this reaction don’t even try to drink coffee – it’s obvious it’s not for them and a big enough response to not have them feel tempted. But what I see has happened is that there is a whole bunch of us…. hundreds of millions globally – and perhaps the majority of coffee obsessed Sydney-siders,  who fit between these two people. These of us may instead experience low-grade side-effects, that are not so obvious that they may be coming from our daily addiction to the delicious black drink. 

Anything we have daily is something we want to be mindful of. I’m all about the beauty of ritual, and that wonderful comfortable feeling of a daily drink or activity that brings us joy. Yet it becomes very easy to be a habit that may not be helping us out if we don’t stay present and recognise when we are doing something every day– just because that’s “what we do” that isn’t supporting us long-term. 

When it comes to coffee here are some things to keep in mind

When do you drink it?

If it is first thing in the morning – literally the first thing that ‘breaks your fast’, you are hitting an empty tummy with a drink that is very acidic. If you suffer from reflux, studies show coffee worsens it. If we start to rely on the coffee first thing, it also will sabotage your circadian rhythm. We have an internal clock, which is the bodies way of regulating your energy levels so you feel awake in the day and sleepy at night! This internal clock, the hormones your body produces naturally at different times, also affect your stress hormones – therefore your moods.  

When you wake up your body releases a hormone called cortisol making you feel alert and energized but research has shown that consuming coffee actually decreases your cortisol levels because the body starts relying on the stimulant instead, meaning you will start to wake up sleepier and sleepier. This affects the morning but also the whole cycle! 

coffee in bed

Perhaps consider if you could you rather eat something first and have your coffee later on? 

If you are drinking coffee at 3pm in that very typical blood-sugar low period, I recommend looking at changing your diet a little. If you get that low in that dip, which so many people do, little tricks are to eat a more protein-based lunch. For example make sure you have some legumes or nuts and seeds with your salad or sandwich. 

Instead of reaching for the 3pm coffee, can you swap it for a super smoothie, with a good quality plant-based protein powder, or a handful of nuts, seeds and a piece of fruit? It will take a few days, but you will notice you get a steadier sense of energy lift rather than an erratic one. And slowly slowly, you will find your body’s natural energy levels will stop dipping at that time! 

How do you sleep at night? How do you feel when you wake up? 

From many people I have worked with, what is regular feedback is without the coffee they feel more stable and centred. They have less highs and lows. This is because, as I mentioned, the caffeine in coffee affects our own rhythms of hormone production that controls literally our moods and energy levels! Having coffee when you are exhausted here and there is super helpful, or when you really are going to enjoy it. Having it every daycan interfere with sleep cycles, by either reducing the quality of your sleep, reducing REM deep restorative sleep, or the amount you sleep.

Caffeine has a six-hour half-life, which means it takes a full twenty-four hours to work its way out of your system. When you have a cup at 8am, you’ll still have 25% of the caffeine in your body at eight pm and anything you drink after noon will still be at 50% strength at bedtime. 

If you wake up tired, or are not getting a good quality sleep, can you try giving the coffees a miss for a month and see if this helps? 


Are you pregnant, trying to get pregnant or breast feeding? 

 Studies show that pregnant women have slower caffeine metabolism, with 1.5 to 3.5 times longer half-life needed to eliminate caffeine, compared to non-pregnant woman. Caffeine has been detected in the amniotic fluid, umbilical cord, urine, and plasma of fetuses, because it is transmitted across the placenta and due to immaturity of the baby’s liver, necessary for caffeine metabolism, there can be adverse effects for the unborn baby. 

While not conclusive, studies do show a correlation with caffeine consumption and miscarriage. Due to these studies, I personally think play it safe. Have a tea instead. Less is more. 

If you are breast-feeding it can be hard, because I know you have a young baby and may be bloody exhausted. To the point that you have never felt this tired before, you did not even realise it was possible to have tired bones. Oh but it is…. 

So you may be relying on your coffee to get you through that period. How can I take that away. I hear you. I was so tired with my second child, that I CAN NOT even remember if I drank coffee! I think I did anything I could… But it if you are that tired, it is worth noting that if your baby is not sleeping and you are breastfeeding, that the caffeine is transferred to them, and they cannot break it down as easily as an adult liver. We know caffeine can affect our adult sleep cycles… this is no different to the baby. 

Way it up. If you are going to jump off a bridge without the coffee… have the coffee. But maybe, just maybe, you not having the coffee will help the baby sleep more… .that is only something you can try and test. 


How is your digestive system? 

 I mentioned coffee worsens reflux, this is the same for most digestive disturbances. If you have issues with malabsorption, IBS or Chron’s, then coffee is going to be harsh on your gut lining, and you are better off having a soothing herbal tea. 


How many coffees are you drinking per day? 

There is a difference between a coffee and five coffees. If you are someone who is drinking more than one, I would recommend dropping it back down to one for a month and seeing how you feel. If you want to see what is behind our daily habits, stopping them is a great way to do it! 

Multiple coffees is going to be heading you towards adrenal fatigue in the future. Often people who drink lots of coffees per day is because they have “lots they need to get done”…. Then it will be even more important to have energy long term and not hit a wall – which will happen if we only rely on adrenaline for stimulation like when we use coffee for our battery! 


Do you need something to “take the edge off” at night? 

Coffee is a stimulant. Yes. But do you need a relaxant as a counter balance to it? So many people fall into this trap, that we need a drink of wine at the end of the day, because we have been so stimulated! Again, I am not saying a drink is bad, but if you “need” it, then you may be in the cycle… if you break one habit, you are more likely to break the other! 


Do you feel irritable or anxious? 

Coffee gets hormones including cortiosol,  adrenaline and norepinephrine to be released. It is these hormones that are involved in the body’s “fight or flight” response — useful if you’re in an emergency situation, but not so much if you’re just sitting in the office or hanging around the kids! This response is what can cause coffee drinkers to experience irritability, agitation, and anxiety. Caffiene also elevates blood sugar and insulin which can create imbalances in the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and GABA, which has a negative impact on our moods! 

Feeling stressed or irritable might be harder for you to connect with just a simple coffee – you may really have some stressful things you are dealing with in life. But like anything in life, it is not what is happening but your perception of it… With more adrenaline in your system, the more aggravated or tense your situation will feel. If you feel anxious, the first thing I recommend is to stop drinking coffee. It seems simple but can be life changing for those of us who are sensitive. 


Do you have that lower belly fat you can’t get rid of? 

Not only does excess cortisol, increase appetite and cravings, but it also causes a loss of memory, muscle mass, libido, and bone density. Stress causes abdominal fat – even in people who are otherwise thin. Hundreds of studies have established the link between high cortisol and more belly fat, as well as increased storage of abdominal fat. 

If you are otherwise fit, but have that annoying tire going on, try giving up the coffee and establishing some stress relieving practises into your life and see what happens.

The difference between tea, coffee and soft drinks?

Coffee has the highest amount of caffeine in it, on average there is 100 ml per cup compared to 20-30 ml in green tea, and 30 ml in coke. Keep in mind energy drinks are also very high in caffeine and all other sorts of artificial flavours and so please don’t swap to them thinking its better! (AND if you have a child drinking them, please please please rethink this!)


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Some other health tips when regarding coffee is to know that the half-life of caffeine is shorterin smokers than non-smokers, while the half-life of caffeine is doubled in women taking oral contraceptives and HRT.

The liver detoxifies caffeine using the CYP1A2 enzyme system, which is also responsible for initial metabolism of estrogen during Phase I clearance by the liver. This is one reason caffeine is likely metabolized more slowly in women taking oral contraceptives or postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy.

Coffee inhibits the absorption of iron and zinc key minerals involved with the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine and energy levels, it also decrease amounts of circulating B-vitamins, also needed for energy levels and immune system. So keep in mind, you get a boost of energy but longterm, or more than one a day can have the opposite result! 

As always, I don’t want to give advice to tell someone not do something. Can we become conscious around our daily drink? Is it something we can choose, rather than it choose us? 

 Personally, I am better with all or nothing. It becomes VERY easy for me to fall in love – get addicted to coffee. I lived for a year in the sweetest street that had a gorgeous coffee shop on the corner. All the neighbours and kids had a ritual of going there in the mornings with their takeaway cups and getting their fix. 

Thank god we moved. Some people are better reducing it, or changing the time they have it, or just having them every now and then instead of daily. 

 I operate better without it because I am more steady, centred and present. All aspects I really care about. When I adjust someone in my yoga class, I want to hold this space for them, not one that is a little jittery. When my son chucks a tantrum (less frequent now) I want to respond with firmness but calm, not snap. I want to get the most nutrients out of my food! 

 Work out what is important to you. If you are all or nothing or less is more… if you need to tweak when and how you have it. 

Get clear with your coffee so it doesn’t own you.