Monday, November 24, 2008

Our love hate relationship with coffee

As a non coffee drinker, I’m yet to understand what all the fuss is about. Sure, the smell of freshly ground coffee beans is up there with pan fired garlic and Estée Lauder’s Pleasures, but the taste of coffee is never something I’ve enjoyed. Regardless, coffee has become a part of life and has crept into our culture at an alarming rate. Apart from the quick pick me up it provides, most of us are probably unaware of the effects caffeine has on our health.

Caffeine is a stimulant that, in theory, fits in well with our fast paced lives. Providing an instant energy burst, it allows the body to push through those times when we’d really rather not. Wether your poison is a latte, a cup of tea, soft drink or energy drink, the energy burst you experience occurs because of caffeine’s ability to quickly raise blood sugar levels. Just as quickly as these levels rise, so they drop, leaving us feeling tired, hungry, irritable and wanting more. The quickest way to fix this is to have another coffee or to just give in to those all consuming sugar cravings. Not ideal for keeping weight gain and insulin resistance at bay!

The stimulating effects of coffee do not go unnoticed by the adrenal glands. Mood and behavioural changes are spurred on by the release of cortisol, which continues to rise until the effects of caffeine have worn off. Your adrenals can only take so much and can reach a point of over-stimulation, leading to adrenal burnout. This can leave you feeling powerless and out of control. It puts you on a slippery downhill slope to the development of mood changes, ill health & weight gain since it affects so many different areas of your health.

Some other potential effects of caffeine include:
  • Insomnia and disruption of sleep patterns
  • Tremors, nervousness, restlessness and irritability
  • Headaches
  • Elevated fatty acid levels in the blood
  • Elevation of blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels
  • Irregular heartbeats and palpitations
  • Increased gastric acid production & aggravation of peptic ulcers
  • Increased symptoms of PMS
  • Higher risk of a low-birth-weight child
  • Increased urinary calcium losses

There is quite a lot of conflicting evidence on the pros and cons of caffeine consumption, but based on what we do know, minimal consumption is the best way to play it safe. As an addictive substance, caffeine can be difficult to give up. Cut your caffeine consumption down slowly to reduce the likelihood of your body going into Detox mode. This can leave you feeling anxious, irritable and fatigued with a blinding headache during the first few days of abstinence. Replace one cup of coffee with herbal tea or decaf until you can go without completely. You’ll no longer be running on empty and will be enjoying a greater level of health as a result.