Coffee: Friend or Enemy?

17 Jul, 2012

Coffee: Friend or Enemy?It seems there is a lot of confusion around coffee. Is it good for us or bad for us and how much is okay?

The truth is, different health experts will tell you different things. Obviously, this makes it difficult to assess whether it is good or bad for us, but we have compiled some opinions so you can decide for yourself: Is coffee our friend or enemy?

What a Naturopath might say:

Freshly brewed coffee (not instant) contains antioxidant phytochemicals that may help protect the body from cancer and heart disease. Because coffee stimulates the central nervous system and metabolism it can help to improve concentration, reduce the feeling of fatigue and speed up fat metabolism. Used in moderation coffee can provide antioxidants, improve alertness and assist in weight loss.

However, coffee is a diuretic and in being so it depletes us of our water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and the B vitamins, especially vitamin B5 – our anti-stress vitamin. It also affects the mineral status of the body by reducing Zinc, Magnesium, Potassium and Calcium levels in the body. It also prevents the absorption of iron which is especially problematic if you are anemic or suffering any blood deficiency problems.

In addition, coffee is an acid forming substance which can cause inflammation in the tissues of the body aggravating inflammatory conditions like arthritis and gout, and can also contribute to inflammation in the gut contributing to IBS.

What Chinese Medicine has to say:

From a Chinese medicine point of view, coffee tends to have a direct impact on the liver. It is a ‘hot’ herb, and as such, moves energy -often upwards. In higher doses it can scatter our energy and with long term use, it will be depleting for our liver yin and our adrenal reserves. What does that really mean? It means that for those of us feeling stagnant, it can temporarily joggle things about and make us feel like we have more energy but it’s a cheap trick, because it actually ends up depleting our deeper resources of energy. It draws on our Kidney energy (adrenal glands) of which we only have a limited supply, so with chronic and heavy use, it can end up draining our body and diminishing our vitality.

Basically for us healthy humans, it is okay in moderation and as a treat. But it should best be avoided for those of us who tend to have poor circulation of energy (or liver qi stagnation, with symptoms including PMT, moodiness, depression, anxiety, sleep problems) or have been diagnosed by our Chinese doctor with yin deficiency (yin gets depleted with overwork, lack of sleep and extra stress).

The other thing to watch out for, is that using coffee can shadow other things that are going on – fatigue, tiredness, lethargy, and even depression. It can be a pretty strong stimulant that we crave and self-medicate with when we feel like we just don’t have the energy (or ‘qi’) to get through the day. When we step over our body’s signals of tiredness, we tap into our adrenal reserves and deplete ourselves in a way that impacts greatly on our longevity. The longer we avoid listening to our bodies cues, the further away from well-being we step.

What a Massage Therapist might say:

There is a strong correlation between back pain and the lack of adequate water intake (dehydration). Coffee is a diuretic meaning that it sucks water out of the body tissues. When the tissues aren’t well-hydrated they become more fibrous, less elastic and stiff, and blood and lymph fluid flow becomes stagnate. This means that the cells of the body are not replenished optimally if people don’t counteract coffee’s diuretic effect by drinking more water, and coffee intake is something to consider if you suffer from body pain.

Lastly, coffee is a stimulant. A lot of us depend on our morning coffee to get us going and energised for the day. Increased caffeine intake from coffee can over-stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which controls our fight/flight response. If this part of the nervous system is constantly stimulated it can contribute to increased tension and tightness in the body. So if you suffer from neck and shoulder tension have you considered how much coffee you are consuming? This may play a part in stress-related tension headaches, neck pain and increase symptoms in people who suffer from anxiety.

All in all, it’s important to take a holistic view of coffee and weigh up the pros and cons. It’s also important to remember that coffee is often grown and processed with chemicals and pesticides, so if you are to drink coffee, we always recommend it be organic. From a physical perspective, coffee is a stimulant and regular consumption of coffee even as little as 2 cups a day can initiate symptoms such as nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, heart disease, stomach problems and moodiness.

It might be worth experimenting for yourself – before you have your morning coffee close your eyes for moment and notice how your body feels, notice your breathing and your heartbeat then do the same after you have your coffee – is your breathing different? How about your heartbeat? Experiment with withdrawing coffee from your daily routine and see if, by the end of the week or fortnight it results in more energy or better sleep, better concentration and less moodiness. Try it for yourself and then decide how you want to feel.

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