By Rhiannon Lambert, Registered Nutritionist – One of our mega babe contributors to our ‘Little Black Book’ of Motivation. Scroll down to the end of this article to get your FREE copy.
Every day, so many of us rely on coffee for a wake-up boost. Depending on who you ask, it is often either a healthy drink or incredibly harmful. Coffee is actually quite the complex drink containing hundreds of compounds and its health effects are controversial. The active ingredient in coffee is of course Caffeine, which is a stimulant and the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance (chemical that changes brain function) in the world. Here, I delve into the good, the bad and why a little bit of something good, doesn’t mean that a whole lot is necessarily better, or even safe at all. But first, what exactly is Caffeine?
WHAT IS CAFFEINE?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant most commonly found in tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and coffee. It works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system helping you to stay alert.
Once consumed, caffeine is quickly absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream. It then travels to the liver and is broken down into compounds that can affect the function of various organs. However, the brain is most affected by Caffeine.
In a typical day levels of a neurotransmitter called Adenosine build up resulting in tiredness and eventually sleep. Caffeine exerts its effects quickly, it can take as little as 20 minutes to reach the bloodstream and less than one hour to reach full effectiveness.
Caffeine is naturally found in the seeds, nuts or leaves of certain plants such as cocoa. Natural sources are processed to produce caffeinated foods and drinks.
Espresso: 240–720mg | Coffee: 102–200mg | Energy drinks: 70–160mg | Brewed tea: 40–120mg | Soft drinks: 20–40mg | Decaffeinated coffee: 3–12mg | Chocolate milk: 2–7mg.
Here are 7 reasons why coffee may actually be healthy.
COFFEE CAN ENHANCE BRAIN FUNCTION
Caffeine is such an effective awakener because it’s first move in the brain is to block the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called Adenosine. Additionally, Caffeine increases neuronal firing in the brain and the release of other neurotransmitters like Dopamine and Norepinephrine. As a result, many studies demonstrate that Caffeine can improve mood, memory and general cognitive function.
COFFEE CAN BOOST METABOLISM
Caffeine has been seen to boost metabolism (calories burned) by 3-11% and even increase exercise performance by 11-12%. However, these effects are short-term and drinking coffee every day will build a tolerance to it with any metabolic effects minimised over time.
COFFEE MAY HELP PROTECT YOUR BRAIN
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease and a leading cause of dementia. Remarkably, regular coffee drinkers have up to a 65% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease which is caused by the death of dopamine-generating neurons in the brain. Coffee drinkers have a 32-60% lower risk of Parkinson’s disease.
COFFEE MAY LOWER RISK OF TYPE 2 DIABETES
Type 2 Diabetes is characterized by elevated blood sugars due to resistance to the effects of insulin. Interestingly, consuming caffeine appears to have a significantly reduced risk of developing this disease with some studies suggesting that coffee drinkers are up to 23-67% less likely to become diabetic.
COFFEE MAY LOWER RISK OF LIVER DISEASES
The liver is an incredibly important organ that has hundreds of different functions in the body. Liver damage results in it being replaced with scar tissue known as Cirrhosis. Coffee drinkers have up to an 84% lower risk of developing Cirrhosis. Liver cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death worldwide and coffee drinkers have up to a 40% lower risk of liver cancer.
COFFEE MAY LOWER RISK OF DEPRESSION
Depression is the world’s most common mental disorder and there is little doubt it leads to a significantly reduced quality of life. In one particular study over a 10 year period, those who regularly drank coffee had a 20% lower risk of becoming depressed. There is also a suggestion that people who drank 4 or more cups of coffee per day were 53% less likely to commit suicide.
COFFEE MAY INCREASE LIFE EXPECTANCY
Given that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of many common, deadly diseases its logical that coffee will help you live longer. Comparing nearly half a million participants aged 50+, people who drank coffee had a much lower risk of dying over the 13-year study period. At 5 cups per day, the study suggested men had a 12% reduced risk and women a 16% reduced risk.
It’s really important to know that many of the studies mentioned are observational which simply means they do not prove that it was specifically the coffee that caused any beneficial effects. On that note, it is only right to share the important negative aspects to coffee. There are a great many that suggest coffee can actually be detrimental to your health.
While there are fewer reasons why coffee may actually be detrimental to your health, it’s often argued these far outweigh any of potential benefits.
CAFFEINE CAN DISRUPT SLEEP
There is little doubt that coffee consumption interferes with sleep quantity and quality. It is proven to disrupt your sleep due to its diuretic effects (increased production of urine). Coffee consumed late in the evening effectively also resets the body clock by delaying a rise in the level of melatonin, our sleep hormone. If coffee reduces the quality of your sleep, try avoiding it later in the day such as after lunchtime.
CAFFEINE CAN CAUSE ANXIETY
Consuming too much Caffeine can lead to anxiety, heart palpitations and may even exacerbate panic attacks in some cases. If you are even remotely sensitive to Caffeine and tend to become over stimulated, then please stop drinking coffee to avoid any unnecessary heart health risk.
CAFFEINE CAN HARM AN UNBORN BABY
Because Caffeine crosses the placenta and increases maternal catecholamine levels, concerns have been raised about a potential relationship between caffeine exposure and the incidence of spontaneous miscarriage. Studies have also suggested an association between coffee drinkers and risk of low birth weight. It is for these reasons that those pregnant women shouldn’t consume coffee of any kind.
CAFFEINE CAN ENCOURAGE WEIGHT GAIN
Caffeine increases cortisol secretion in people at rest or undergoing mental stress. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and it’s known as a stress hormone because it’s released when your body senses stress. Elevated levels of cortisol can lead to overeating and weight gain. Over time, increased cortisol secretion can significantly impact your health. Women who carry excess weight around the middle respond to stress with a greater increase in cortisol. Those on restrictive diets will also see an increase cortisol even without caffeine, another reason why no restrictive diet proves a sustainable weight management solution.
CAFFEINE IS ADDICTIVE & CAN LEAD TO WITHDRAWAL
Caffeine is an addictive substance and drinking coffee regularly will see you become tolerant to it. It either stops working as it used to, or a larger dose is needed to get the same stimulant effects. Excessive caffeine intake will more than likely result in dependence or addiction which is dangerous. When people abstain from Caffeine, withdrawal symptoms like headache, tiredness and irritability will be seen and can last for a few days
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REGULAR AND DECAF COFFEE?
The way decaffeinated coffee is usually made, is by rinsing coffee beans with solvent chemicals. This process occurs repeatedly until most of the caffeine has been removed. It’s important to keep in mind that even decaffeinated coffee does contain caffeine, just much less than regular coffee. Even more importantly, not all of the health benefits of black coffee apply to decaffeinated coffee.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN DRINKING COFFEE
To maximise the beneficial health effects you get from drinking coffee, there are a few things to remember.
The most important is to not add anything unhealthy to it. This includes sugar and any sort of artificial sweetener. If you don’t drink black coffee, there are countless additives to dilute the bitter flavour and strength but some milky, sugary coffees can contain upwards of 500 calories particularly those Frappuccinos.
So, if you think you’re doing yourself a favour with these treats, the health detriments of the added calories, sugar and unhealthy fat will more than cancel out any magic associated with coffee.
SHOULD YOU BE DRINKING COFFEE?
Some people should definitely avoid coffee altogether. These people include pregnant women, those with anxiety issues, high blood pressure or insomnia.
If you don’t drink coffee at the moment, any supposed health benefits of drinking coffee are not compelling enough reasons to start drinking it. Ultimately, it’s hard to know for sure whether coffee causes any beneficial effects at all. The mere lifestyle associated with coffee consumption may be more influential on your health than coffee itself. Doctors aren’t convinced to prescribe coffee yet and I personally don’t believe it belongs in the same category as green and matcha tea. While these also contain caffeine, it is slowly released ensuring it energises without any overwhelming negative symptoms. Given it is the awakening experience that is why so many indulge in coffee every day, there are quite simply superior options available. However, if you do drink coffee, enjoy it, but I wouldn’t recommend taking it up if you don’t.
Registered with the Association for Nutrition (AFN), Rhiannon has obtained first class Bachelor (BSc) and Master’s (MSc) degrees in Nutrition & Health as well as a Diploma in Nutritional Interventions for Eating Disorders. Her qualified approach to nutrition and total dedication to her clients’ needs has seen Rhiannon work with some of the world’s most influential people.
Rhiannon’s book Re-Nourish: The Definitive Guide to Optimum Nutrition to available to pre-order now. For more information and to speak with Rhiannon, please visit Rhitriton.com or email info@Rhitrition.com and follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
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