by Judith G. Cobb, MH, CI, NCP
This article is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. It is meant for educational purposes only. Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health, and Nature’s Sunshine Products accept no responsibility for results you get, whether good or bad, from using this information. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.
Note: More information about the products mentioned can be found at the end of the article.
So many people love a good cup of joe. That is obvious by the number of coffee shops – be they international chains or ‘mom and pop’ shops – that have cropped up in the last ten years. According to the International Coffee Organization, about 143.9 million 60 kg bags of java are consumed worldwide every year.1 Some people are very particular about their coffee – don’t mess with it on threat of death!
Now, I’ve never really understood the love affair with coffee. I was raised in a non-coffee-drinking home. I remember going to my grandma’s and grandpa’s house for weeklong visits when I was a little girl. They were coffee drinkers. They had an old aluminum perc on the back burner of the gas stove. In the morning I would wake up to the smell of coffee wafting up the stairs to the guest room, and I would nearly gag. I still don’t like the smell of coffee – but I’m betting many of you do. And I’ll bet many of you enjoy the taste of it, too.
Coffee and caffeine are not necessarily synonymous. There is decaf coffee, and you can buy caffeine in so many forms it’s enough to boggle the mind. We’re going to look at caffeine and coffee. What you do with this information is up to you. At the end, though, I’ll tell you some stories.
There is much controversy about caffeine of late. Some research is saying it’s good for you. Studies with athletes are showing it enhances endurance2 and reduces the post-workout inflammatory response3 (which may be good or bad – after all, that inflammation is taking nutrients to stressed tissues to help them repair. This is a temporary and acute situation.) While these studies may be true, we need to stop dissecting the subject, looking for the little bits of good, and look at it as a whole to see the picture clearly. I think you may see that when all the details are examined, the tiny bit of good that caffeine offers is not worth the trade-off. Read on!
Caffeine, available in forms as widely variable as coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, over-the-counter medications, and prescriptions, is one of the most widely used and completely legal drugs in the world. As a drug, it is habit forming and produces physical and mental changes in all who use it. It can linger in the body for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours.4
Specific symptoms caused by caffeine4,5 include nervous tremors, nervousness, anxiety, and problems sleeping. Prolonged use can eventually lead to persistent insomnia and a general lack of energy. Livestrong.com reports that caffeine intake is also linked to dehydration, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, peptic ulcers, depression, anxiety, headaches, and addiction.6
Caffeine in the stomach constricts blood vessels (it does this all over the body), and in high enough doses, can induce vomiting. Excess stomach acid and rebound acidity can also be caffeine induced. Can you imagine the problems this could create in someone prone to stomach ulcers?
Effect on minerals
Calcium and iron assimilation are inhibited by caffeine. With the huge concern over osteoporosis, it makes sense that the diet should be the first line of defence, and the omission of coffee/caffeinated beverages/foods from the diet is an excellent place to start. More on calcium and osteoporosis later.
Effect on the body
Caffeine is a stimulant. It temporarily raises blood sugar by inducing insulin resistance for up to six hours. Insulin resistance is a primary cause of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and increased LDL and VLDL cholesterol and triglycerides.7 When the blood sugar eventually crashes, it leaves one feeling lethargic and foggy. This is known as hypoglycaemia. Interestingly though, researchers are now saying that caffeine may help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.
PMS and lumpy breasts (polycystic breasts) are made worse with caffeine intake. Coffee contains xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are hormone-like substances that can behave as extremely strong hormones in the body. Hence, the xenoestrogens in coffee work on estrogen receptor sites in the body and have a much stronger impact than the estrogens the body makes on its own.8
Memory can be affected by caffeine. A study done at the University of North Carolina9 found that as little as one cup of coffee, consumed prior to a learning experience, reduced the short term recall of the information that was supposed to be learned. (Maybe coffee and last minute cramming for exams shouldn’t go hand-in-hand.) Caffeine has also been shown to alter the strength of the mind when working with numbers: People fed artificially caffeinated beverages in a double blind study were asked to do ‘arithmetic number processing’ questions. They had significantly more errors than their non-caffeinated counterparts.
Quitting all caffeine ‘cold-turkey’ is obviously the way to do it. As many people know, it is easier to fight an addiction by quitting all at once rather than in dribs and drabs. The headache that most people get is a common symptom that accompanies withdrawal, and it usually lasts only a few days. (It may be controlled by using homeopathic preparations and/or herbs.)
Effect on vitamins
Vitamins are sensitive things, in many cases. Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is destroyed by caffeine. This vitamin is necessary for a healthy immune system and the conversion of carbohydrates into energy in the nervous system and in muscles. A deficiency of this vitamin can show up as reduced mental alertness; irritability; memory loss; confusion; depression; fatigue; loss of appetite; heart irregularities; numbness, tingling, or weakness in the extremities; tenderness in the calves; and burning sensations in the feet. There are more serious symptoms, too, including heart failure, degeneration of the nerve endings, and death.10
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is another vitamin that is very sensitive to caffeine. Pantothenic acid’s roles in the body include immune support, metabolism of protein, fats, and carbohydrates, antibody production, adrenal gland support (stress coping and anti-inflammatory actions) and nervous system maintenance. Symptoms of low B5 are decreased resistance to disease, depression, irritability, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, lack of coordination, weakness, malaise, insomnia, tremors, sweating, muscle soreness, irregular heart rhythms, and dermatitis.11
While B5 is important for adrenal function, and caffeine destroys B5, caffeine also acts as a harsh adrenal gland stimulant, putting you into an artificially created ‘fight or flight’ response. Do this often enough and you can end up with adrenal fatigue.
Caffeine in coffee
When we combine the effects of caffeine on the adrenals with the effects of the coffee acids (more on this in a bit), we can really create a mess. I worked with a female client in her late 30s. She had battled eczema/psoriasis skin conditions since childhood. Her career is quite demanding – and so caused a bit of strain on her adrenals. She made lots of excellent dietary changes, eliminating foods that caused obvious symptoms in her gut and on her skin, and saw some decent results. I was pretty sure we could get better results, but she was still drinking one cup of coffee per day. I challenged her to give it up for just 10 days. She really didn’t want to, so I left it at that. A while later I got an email from her saying she had found a fabulous gluten-free coffee substitute and had given up coffee altogether. The result? Her skin was almost 100% clear and healthy! The combination of weak adrenals that were being further stressed by caffeine and the acid from the coffee was enough to tip the scales for her.
Caffeine can really mess with your thyroid glands, revving your metabolism in unnatural ways. Even if your thyroid is under functioning, this kind of stimulation is not healthy or supportive. Now, here’s a real kicker. A study done on iodine deficient rats (not sure how relevant it is to humans) who were given caffeine had a higher incidence of developing thyroid cancer.12
Some companies sell caffeine-loaded energy drinks as ‘health beverages’, saying that because their caffeine comes from a herb, or their drink has vitamins added, their drinks are healthier and safer to use. Hogwash! Caffeine is caffeine is caffeine. The source and the added frills don’t matter one little bit.
Having said that, I will go on record as admitting to using Nature’s Sunshine’s Solstic Energy when I’m doing a long, hard workout or a race that will be at least 90 minutes duration. I don’t get the caffeine jitters from it but it does help me finish with less fatigue.
Comparison of Caffeine-Containing Substances13, 14, 15
|Item||serving size||mg caffeine|
|Cocoa & Hot chocolate||8 oz||15|
|Coffee, Brewed||5 oz||85-200|
|Coffee, Instant||5 oz||60|
|Coffee, suisse mocha||5 oz||30|
|Tea, black||5 oz||45|
|Tea, green||5 oz||30|
|Cola beverages||12 oz||36-60|
|Red Bull||250 ml||80|
|Solstic from Nature's Sunshine||500 ml||60|
|cold preparations||1 tablet||30|
|no doz||1 tablet||100|
It is interesting to note that caffeine in prescription medications carries several warnings. Many people consume far more caffeine in their diets than is safe, considering the contra-indications.
From webmd.com: “Who should not take caffeine? Check with your physician if you have any of the following conditions: High Blood Pressure, Recent Heart Attack, Disease of Inadequate Blood Flow to the Heart Muscle, Abnormal Heart Rhythm, Ulcer from Stomach Acid, Inflamed Colon and Small Intestine with Some Tissue Death, Severe Liver Disease, Seizures, Chronic Trouble Sleeping, Moderate to Severe Kidney Impairment.”16
Caffeine consumption has also been linked to worsening of anxiety disorders and depressive symptoms.17
As listed in the 1995 edition of Complete Guide to Prescription and Non-prescription Drugs, regarding caffeine:18
* Over age 60: Adverse reactions and side effects may be more frequent and severe than in younger persons.
* Pregnancy: Risk to unborn child outweighs drug benefits. Don’t use.
* Breast-feeding: Drug passes into milk. Avoid drug or discontinue nursing until you finish medicine.
* Infants & children: Not recommended.
* Prolonged use: Stomach ulcers.
* Discontinuing: Will cause withdrawal symptoms of headache, irritability, drowsiness. (Note: This is a symptom of being addicted!)
* Other: May produce or aggravate fibrocystic disease of the breast in women.
Considering these side effects, it really makes sense that no one, regardless of age, should use caffeine-bearing foods or beverages on any kind of a regular basis.
Beyond the bad news about caffeine, we should really take a look at coffee.
Coffee shows a few benefits. Studies19 show it may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. There are also some powerful anti-oxidants in coffee. Apparently, the best chance of reaping these benefits comes from organic coffee taken black. Add sugar or cream or creamers (have you checked out what’s in your creamer?) and you pretty much destroy any benefit the coffee might have offered.
Really, though, after you read what coffee does in the body, you will be armed to decide whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.
European scientists have pinpointed several components in coffee, including but not limited to caffeine, that lead to stomach ache and heartburn.20
Many years ago a female client brought her husband, an engineer of some kind, in to see me. He was pretty sure I was a quack, but he came to appease her. At first he said he had no health concerns. As we chatted it came out that he had amazing and debilitating heart burn. It was also revealed that he drank about 4 cups of coffee per day. Appealing to the science in his brain, I asked him to do an experiment – to cut out all of the coffee. He was reluctant. I suggested that if he cut it out for 10 days he would see clear and definable changes; then he could decide if it was worth going back to drinking coffee again or not. He came back in, willingly, for a one-month report and shared with me that his heartburn was totally gone. He was impressed and wondered how I, a person with no medical degree, could know what the cause of his problem was, and then asked if I could help him with some other ‘little’ problems he had not mentioned previously.
Dr Christian Northrup reports21 that high-acid-forming foods, such as coffee, increase the acid level of the blood, causing the body to draw calcium out of the bones to bring the pH back in line. This can lead to osteoporosis. Because coffee is a diuretic, Northrup has often described drinking coffee as ‘peeing your bones out one cup at a time’.
On this acid concept – a lovely female client in her mid-40s had been coming to me for some time. She had slipped back into the habit of having just one cup of coffee every morning. On this particular visit she commented that her hip hurt nearly every day when she was getting out of bed. She also commented on some achiness and stiffness in some of her finger joints. I playfully nagged her about the coffee and challenged her to a 10-day no-coffee trial. When she came back the next month she was playfully cranky with me. She said her hip felt great within just a couple of days – but now she understood that, as much as she enjoyed her cup of coffee every morning, it was a calculated risk, and she was calculating that she just shouldn’t drink it anymore.
So, if you ask me for my opinion, I’d have to say cut it out. Do you have to quit 100%? Yes, some of you will need to because if you try to have just one cup on Sunday mornings it will eventually become one cup every morning (again). Additionally, coffee may not do a lot of damage quickly. It’s kind of like having a small pebble in your shoe. It’s just little and it’s not really doing much damage, but are you going to leave it there for very long? Not likely! You don’t want to risk getting a blister from it.
Quitting all caffeine ‘cold-turkey’ is obviously the way to do it. As many people know, it is easier to fight an addiction by quitting all at once rather than in dribs and drabs. The headache that most people get is a common symptom that accompanies withdrawal, and it usually lasts only a few days. It may be controlled by using homeopathic preparations and/or herbs. It may help to simply substitute another warm cup of something – herbal tea, hot lemon water, broth – to give yourself permission to sit down and relax for a few minutes.
If you have concerns about your health, or just don’t know where to begin making improvements, please contact me, Judith Cobb, to book an appointment. Skype, phone, webinar, and face-to-face appointments are available. I also invite you to Like us on Facebook (Cobblestone Health Ltd) and to visit my other websites:
10Griffith, H. Winter. Complete Guide to Prescription and Non-prescription Drugs. The Body Press, New York, 1994.
17http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml?rf=53414; http://www.members.tripod.com/~phobiagroup/; http://www.dualdiagnosis.org/resource/patient-assessments/anxiety-disorders/;
18Griffith, H. Winter. Complete Guide to Prescription and Non-prescription Drugs. The Body Press, New York, 1994.
21Your Diet, Your Health (video), 1999 Heitz/Wilson, Inc. Chicago, Illinois.
Berger, Stuart. What Your Doctor Didn’t Learn in Medical School. Avon Books, New York, 1988.
Cumming, Candy. Sex and Your Diet. Leisure Press, Champaign, Illinois, 1986.
Diehl, Hans and Ludington, Aileen. Caffeine Can Have You Running on Overdrive. Alive Magazine, issue #115, p. 15.
Fox, Arnold and Fox, Barry. Immune for Life. Prima Publishing & Communications, Rocklin, California, 1990.
Griffith, H. Winter. Complete Guide to Prescription and Non-prescription Drugs. The Body Press, New York, 1994.
Michaud, Ellen and Wild, Russell. Boost your Brain Power. Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, 1991
Copyright © 2015 by Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health Ltd. All rights reserved. Please respect the time it takes to write and publish articles. If you will link to this article and give proper attribution, you are encouraged to quote sections (though not the entire article).