Coffee, Java, Espresso, Mocha, Frappuccino, Cafe Latte.... These names of coffee no doubt produce a pleasing aroma to many. Coffee's ability to enhance mood, physical activity, and mental performance makes it a widely consumed beverage. Many popular coffee drinks boast over 500 mg of caffeine, yet caffeine's just one of the thousands of different substances contained in coffee.
Dr. John McDougall writes in his article, Quitting Is Better Than a Lifetime of Medications or Worse, that many of these substances "have powerful [adverse] pharmacological effects on the human body." Recent observational studies showing coffee having protective effects against certain types of cancer and diabetes however have also been seen. Dr. Joel Fuhrman addresses the outcomes of these studies by pointing out that most of the time, the participants in these studies are "eating the standard American diet and therefore starving for antioxidants and phytochemicals." He explains in further detail, saying, "The standard American diet so nutrient-poor that a significant portion of people's phytochemical intake comes from their morning coffee. It is doubtful that coffee would offer any additional protection on top of a nutrient dense diet - the responsible phytochemicals can be obtained from other plant foods and the diet would not be so lacking in antioxidants. The only reason coffee is beneficial is because of the severe deficiencies in the plant-derived phytochemicals in the diet of most Americans, and coffee at least supplies something." This would explain why coffee has been shown to offer some protection against disease, yet the protection is mostly for those who consume the typical American diet.
If you drink coffee, you may want to consider the following health consequences associated with this beverage:
Injurious Effects Associated With Coffee Consumption
- Unfiltered coffee can raise your cholesterol by 10%. Cafestol and kahweol are two cholesterol-raising substances that are found in coffee beans. These substances raise total cholesterol, as well as the "bad" LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides. "On average, cholesterol is increased by 10%; but very potent boiled coffee can raise total cholesterol by as much as 23%. Triglycerides may be increased by a similar amount. This 10% increase in cholesterol could boost your risk of death from heart disease by 20% to 30%. Decaffeination does not reduce the levels of cafestol and kahweol; you can expect similar raises (10%) in your cholesterol and triglycerides with decaf coffee, just as you would with unfiltered regular coffee." Fortunately, a paper filter effectively traps the cafestol and kahweol and reduces their potency; consequently, drip coffee is preferred to boiled, French press and espresso. Although a paper filter can trap these cholesterol-raising substances, coffee consumption influences other risk factors associated with heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure.
- "Coffee causes the blood vessels to constrict and the heart to beat stronger, resulting in an elevated blood pressure for most people. Within minutes of drinking this concoction of invigorating chemicals, the systolic blood pressure can rise 5 to 15 mmHg and the diastolic 5 to 10 mmHg. Decaffeinated coffee also increases blood pressure; therefore, ingredients found in the coffee bean other than caffeine also have pressure-raising effects. A population-wide cessation of the use of coffee would lead to a decrease in premature death from heart attacks by 14% and strokes by 20%."
- An astonishing 40% drop in blood flow to the brain (video also embedded below) was recorded and can be seen on MRI images. Caffeine blocks the chemical Adenosine in the brain that controls blood flow. This video also affirms how coffee constricts blood vessels, resulting in elevated blood pressure and heart rate. Consuming caffeinated beverages on a regular basis actually changes the physiological properties of the brain; it becomes dependent on the artificial stimulus.
- Coffee creates heartburn and acid reflux. "Coffee is upsetting to the stomach. Both regular and decaffeinated coffees cause indigestion by reducing the function of the lower esophageal sphincter – a valve that prevents the stomach acid from refluxing up into and burning the esophagus. Regular coffee and decaffeinated coffee both stimulate acid production in the stomach by similar amounts."
- "According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, women who have two or more cups of caffeinated coffee (or four cans of cola) per day were found to be twice as likely to develop endometriosis as other women."
- "Coffee will also decrease absorption of iron from foods."
- "According to a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, the amount of caffeine in just one cup of coffee could be enough to harden a person's arteries for several hours afterward. Hardened arteries put extra pressure on the heart and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke."
- "Chronic coffee consumption has a detrimental effect on aortic stiffness and wave reflections which may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. This study shows that coffee causes its ill effects by impairing the function of the arteries, which increases the risk that these blood channels supplying the heart muscle will be compromised, leading to a heart attack."
- "Dr. M. O'Rourke and colleagues at St. Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, Australia, presented data at the 22nd Congress of the European Society of Cardiology linking caffeine consumption with alterations in the aorta, the main artery supplying blood to the body. Their study showed that caffeine led to a loss of aortic elasticity and raised blood pressure. The elasticity of the aorta is linked to heart function and coronary blood flow."
- "In a Finnish study reported in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, Dr. Maarku Heliovaara of the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki and colleagues found that people who drank four or more cups of coffee each day had twice the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, compared with people who drank less coffee."
- "According to a report in the July 2000 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, women who drink more than four cups of brewed coffee a day—or consume a lot of caffeine from other sources, such as tea, cola, or cocoa—may be more than twice as likely to suffer incontinence from a weakened bladder muscle as women who consume less caffeine."
- "A study reported in the February 2002 issue of Diabetes Care, found that moderate consumption of caffeine reduced insulin sensitivity by 15 percent. The moderate consumption of caffeine caused a fivefold increase in epinephrine. Epinephrine increases the production of glucose in the liver and interferes with the ability of muscle and fat cells to use glucose.
- High-fat meals (that includes saturated fat) causes the body to produce inflammatory molecules that contribute to insulin resistance. Ingesting caffeine with these meals has been shown to have additional insulin desensitizing effects which causes weight gain and an increased risk for cancer. Those who consume a high-fat meal with caffeinated coffee and a sugary beverage increase their blood glucose by 65%.
- "Caffeine may increase symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease, a common but benign breast condition."
- Caffeine's diuretic effect causes calcium to be leached from bones and excreted in the urine which promotes osteoporosis.
- In addition to raising LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, coffee contributes to heart disease by raising raising homocysteine levels. "Furthermore, 17-year study of over 40,000 people found that those who drank more than 4 cups of coffee per day were at increased risk of death from any cause. Men under age 55 drinking this much coffee had a 56 percent increase in risk of death, and women more than doubled their risk."
- Drinking coffee can even interfere with weight-loss goals. "Those who drink caffeinated beverages are drawn to eat more often than necessary because they mistake caffeine withdrawal symptoms - such as shakiness, headaches, lightheadedness, etc. - for hunger. These detoxification symptoms are easily mistaken for hunger because eating temporarily suppresses them. It is impossible to get in touch with your body's true hunger signals if you are addicted to stimulants. Caffeine does not make it easier to control your appetite and food cravings, it makes it harder."
- "Decaffeinated coffee also has potentially harmful side effects. The chemical substances used to remove the caffeine may be hazardous. Drinking decaffeinated coffee is also associated with risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, possibly due to the caffeine-removing additives." More on rheumatoid arthritis and treating autoimmune conditions with diet can be seen here, here, and here.
- "Caffeine is a stimulant – it gives you a false sense of increased energy, allowing you to get by with an inadequate amount of sleep. In addition to quantity of sleep, caffeine also reduces the depth of sleep. Inadequate sleep promotes disease and premature aging, and can fuel overeating behaviors. Sleep deprivation also results in higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and interferes with glucose metabolism, leading to insulin resistance. This insulin resistance, and subsequent higher baseline glucose level, further promotes heart disease and other problems."
Dr. McDougall Offers Some Ways on How to Quit
"Coffee consumption causes physical dependence – you are addicted – making quitting difficult and painful. Headaches, fatigue, depression, and sleepiness can be expected when use is suddenly stopped. Withdrawal symptoms begin within 12 to 16 hours and peak at 24 to 48 hours. This process may last as long as one week."
"There are two ways to quit; first and best is to simply stop the coffee and suffer the withdrawal. Some of the symptoms, such as the headache, can be effectively relieved with common analgesics, such as aspirin or Tylenol. There are also immediate rewards, such as almost overnight relief of the indigestion and urinary frequency, which should keep you motivated."
"A less painful way to quit coffee is by substitution with another source of caffeine, such as black or green tea. Teas have fewer side effects (and maybe a few health benefits from their antioxidants and other phytochemicals), but they still offer a lift in the morning. Then, over time, you can reduce the dosage of caffeine by making your beverage weaker – eventually switching to a non-caffeinated, herbal tea."
Fasting has also shown to be very beneficial for those who want to overcome food addictions, including additions to stimulants such as coffee. Resources available for fasting can be seen here and here. Facilities such as TrueNorth Health Center offers a supportive live-in environment with physicians that specializes in water-only fasting.
Coffee has powerful addictive qualities. As demonstrated above, health conditions associated and worsened by coffee are numerous. These include "insomnia, anxiety, gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn), high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, certain heartbeat rhythm irregularities, nervous tremor, endometriosis, headaches, insulin resistance, iron deficiency, aortic stiffening and blood vessel hardening, rheumatoid arthritis, fibrocystic breast disease, weight gain, teeth-grinding, jaw-clenching, frequent urination, elevated eye pressure (glaucoma), diarrhea, osteoporosis and periodontal diseases." Additionally, coffee has been positively associated with a higher all-cause mortality in men especially deaths from cancer.
Dr. McDougall summarizes by saying, "If not for the side effects, this might be the ideal legal, mind-altering, drug. But, as with all drugs, there are prices to be paid." Dr. Joel Fuhrman says that "coffee is most like a drug, not a food. Like most drugs it may have some minor benefits, but its toxic effects and resultant risks overwhelm those minor advantages. Caffeine is a stimulant and a long and healthy life is most consistently achieved when we avoid stimulants and drugs and meet our nutritional needs with as little exposure to toxicity as possible."
The stimulating effects from coffee are highly addictive. Weaning yourself off of coffee will take time, effort, and some discomfort, but living an addiction-free life will greatly improve your overall health and pocketbook as well!
Dr. McDougall encourages his viewers to kick the habit in this 2-minute video regarding coffee.
Please watch this video to see how little caffeine it takes to change blood flow to your brain and beware of the statement at the end stating a few cups a day is not dangerous "but keep in mind, a little caffeine can do, a LOT".