Coffee: The Pro's & Con's

There is a absolute tonne of mixed information floating around about coffee. Is it good, is it bad? In fact, it's one of the top questions I'm asked. The answer, I believe, is that it's different for everyone. Some people do perfectly well, great even, on coffee & some people just don't. Today I'm talking about the pro's & con's of coffee consumptions & how to figure whether you & coffee actually get along. 


The Coffee Challenge


Okay, so how do you know if coffee is right for you. It's simple really. Your body will absolutely tell you, the trick is understanding the hints it's throwing at you & being willing to listen to them. 

Here's my little test......after having a standard coffee (1-2 shots), observe how you feel, really check in with yourself & notice any changes. Are your hands shaking, do you feel jittery or anxious, do you feel hot & sweaty, do you feel alert & energised, do you feel fatigued & start yawning, do you feel good or not so good, do you have insomnia & trouble getting to/staying asleep? It should become pretty obvious if you body tolerates the caffeine well. 

It's important to point out here too that quality is essential! This includes the type of milk added to your daily brew, if you choose to add it. If you are drinking something Every. Single. Day. it should be the best quality you can afford. Just no instant coffee please. 


The Positives

1. Mental Clarity & Focus 

The belief that coffee increases mental performance, clarity, memory & focus, is a point that has been following coffee around for yonks. Thankfully there is some validity to these points. I mean you won't turn into Bradley Cooper from Limitless after your morning espresso but there is enough evidence to support the suggestion that habitual coffee consumption can have positive effects on certain areas of cognitive function including verbal memory, reaction time, long-term memory, focus & attention span & even physical performance. Unfortunately high-order executive thinking is not improved so if you relying on coffee to improve decision-making, emotional discernment & making more complex judgements you might be disappointment. 

These positive affects are also dose dependent. Meaning intake of up to 300mg (approx. 1 small coffee with 2 shots) of caffeine will likely improve arousal, more than this will generally result in hyper-arousal & that uncomfortable jittery feeling. According to research also how you respond to caffeine is very dependent on your level of arousal (how awake or how energetic you feel) prior to the hit of caffeine. Large doses of caffeine given to individuals that were fatigue and/or sleep deprived improved their overall performance by elevating arousal. However large doses of caffeine given to individuals who were well rested & not fatigued actually reduced their performance because it lead to a state of over-arousal. Its a case by case, day by day decision really. Perhaps intuitive coffee drinking should become a thing!


2. Antioxidant* & Anti-Radical* Activity

Coffee is, in fact, a very rich source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are so important for long-term health because they assists in neutralising free radical formation & oxidative stress in the body to mitigate both cellular and tissue damage. Damage which essentially promotes premature ageing of our bodies, internally & externally. Antioxidant compounds found in coffee include polyphenols (compounds also found in berries, red wine & cacao), caffeine (yes, it's technically an antioxidant), tocopherols & chlorogenic acid. Antioxidants work hard to ensure you body isn't overrun with oxidative stress & can therefore spend more energy on functioning optimally.

When talking antioxidants, the quality of the coffee really is key here. Aim to drink organic if possible & real coffee NOT instant. Research is suggested that daily coffee consumption provides a significant portion of daily antioxidant intake & may even contains almost the same total antioxidant capacity as green tea. 

*Antioxidant = inhibits the process of oxidation
*Anti-radical = ability to react with free radicals


3. The Ritual / Routine

As human beings we are creatures of habit. This can be extrapolated as either a good or bad thing. Personally I think routine is a fantastic thing, it helps get your body into a rhythm, something especially important in this world of chaos. I think the ritual of making or buying a beautiful cup of coffee in the morning is actually really comforting & positive. It's a time in the morning that is all yours (hopefully to sit down & enjoy), to think about & plan your day. If coffee is your me time in the morning then this undeniably sacred & powerful. 


The Negatives

1. Stimulating & Anxiety Provoking

For many of us coffee is just way too stimulating. If you are one of those people that after the conducting 'The Coffee Challenge', felt jittery, anxious, sweaty & uncomfortable then please stop drinking coffee, it most likely isn't doing you or your adrenals any favours. When sleep becomes effected you especially need to put down that cup of jo. Sleep is sacred & should be protected at all costs. It just isn't worth the short lived buzz. 

Caffeine naturally increases the bodies production of stress hormone & it's this increase in cortisol & epinephrine which initiates the stress-related symptoms including increased heart rate, blood pressure & sweating. Caffeine also inhibits GABA, our major calming neurotransmitter, you can think of GABA like Valium. These effects especially impact individuals with anxiety, as both GABA & cortisol are already imbalanced, making symptoms of anxiety much worse. 

On the contrary though, research has suggested very small doses of caffeine may in fact improve hedonic tone & reduce anxiety, whilst high doses increase nervous tension jitteriness & anxiety. Perhaps a half strength is the way to go? 


2. Inability to get to sleep

Adenosine is a neurotransmitter, alongside melatonin, which is responsible for making us feel tired & sleepy, they are an essential component of the circadian rhythm. Caffeine blocks adenosine by attaching itself to the adenosine receptors, inhibiting our natural adenosine attaching first, tricking our body in order to keep us awake.  Stopping caffeine consumption at around lunch or early afternoon can ensure you have plenty of adenosine to help you get to sleep naturally. Some individuals also are also much slower to clear caffeine from their bodies, meaning it hangs around a heck of a lot longer & impacts our ability to get enough shut eye. 

If you are one of those lucky people who can drink coffee 5 minutes before bed & fall straight asleep. Good for you!


3. Reliance on caffeine

One (or maybe two) cups of coffee a day tends to be fine for most people but when you find yourself reaching for (& needing) coffee number 3, 4, 5, 6.....then that could be a sign of an underlying issue. Are you relying on coffee for energy & to keep you awake because you are really fatigued? Are you relying of coffee to keep you awake because you're having difficulty sleeping? When we use coffee as a coping method we often mask & ignore an underlying issue which needs to be addressed.

These might include:

  • nutrient deficiencies | iron & b12 deficiencies are common with fatigue
  • chronic stress | long-term stress seriously depletes the body 
  • hypothyroidism | that intense grogginess & inability to wake up in the morning might be a clue of under-active thyroid function
  • poor blood sugar regulation | unstable blood sugar will give you big waves of energy....what goes up must come down
  • adrenal fatigue
  • insomnia..... just to name to few. 

A lot of people also rely on coffee for bowel stimulation in the know to do a number 2. Which isn't necessarily a huge problem except when you find yourself not having coffee & not able to move your bowels. Hmmm...



Wanna Learn More....Have a Read! Antioxidant & Antiradical activity of coffee 2013 A review of caffeine's effects cognitive, physical & occupational performance 2016 Caffeine and adenosine 2010