Recently I was featured on Food Matters, a health and wellness website filled the articles and documentaries from some of the world’s top health experts. Read below to find out what I had to say about caffeine…
Coffee has a cult following worldwide, photos of lattes fill Instagram every Sunday morning, and coffee dates are the basis of most friendly catch-ups — but it is time to get real about the effect caffeine has on your health.
Many clients sit down and tell me that they absolutely can not get out of the door in the morning unless they have had a coffee, or that there is no way that they can stay awake in their mid-morning meeting unless they have had their daily triple shot. Then there are others that tell me they don’t drink any coffee but have two diet energy drinks and a bar of dark chocolate each day, they tell me that because it’s a diet drink or dark chocolate it must be healthy, right?
Too many people are surviving on caffeine, rather than thriving with out it. Caffeine is a stimulant, found in coffee, energy drinks, tea, soft drinks and chocolate. It is the most commonly used drug in the world. One of the main concerns of consuming coffee regularly is the effect it has on sleep. Caffeine binds to the adenosine receptors in the brain, thus preventing adenosine from causing the chemical cascade that tells the brain to initiate sleep or rest. It takes the body 5-6 hours to process caffeine and excrete it from the body; however, trans-fats, the contraceptive pill, medication, and poor liver healthy can increase this clearance time — extending the amount of time caffeine remains circulating in the blood stream.
When caffeine is present in the blood stream it is nearly impossible for the brain to produce melatonin – our sleep hormone. The consumption of caffeinated products is one of the main reasons people struggle to fall asleep early enough to get enough sleep before they have to wake up again. If a person is having a morning coffee, a mid-afternoon coffee, and then some dark chocolate after dinner, they are topping up the caffeine in their body every few hours — this means that come bed time their blood caffeine level will still be too high, making sleep difficult.
Try removing caffeine for 4 weeks and notice the difference it makes to your ability to fall asleep and quality of sleep, it may surprise you. The blocking of adenosine receptors in the brain also causes the brain to become ‘excited’. This results in a jittery, anxious feeling in people. Some people experience a feeling of not being able to get their breath past their heart. For a lot of people simply removing caffeine resolves this problem.
Caffeine also causes the release of adrenaline, which is our ‘fight or flight’ hormone, it is produced when the body believes we are in danger. Adrenaline causes glucose to be released from the muscles and into the bloodstream, which triggers the production of insulin — one of our main fat storage hormones. Frequent caffeine induced insulin production is a concern for anyone who has weight and/or blood sugar control issues.
Caffeine also triggers the release of cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands, it is labeled the ‘stress hormone.’ Cortisol levels naturally increases at different times of the day, for example — in the morning levels increase to help us wake up. Cortisol also increases when the body is under stress or experiencing a stressful event. This is a protective mechanism by the body to help it handle the stress. However, caffeine and our busy lifestyles increase cortisol levels unnaturally. Long-term elevated stress levels can lead to weight gain, diabetes, digestive issues, and poor immune function. If cortisol is high for too long it can eventually lead to adrenal fatigue, or what is known as ‘burnout’.
If you are struggling to function without having a coffee this is a sign that your adrenal glands might not be producing enough cortisol themselves, so removing stimulants from your diet and looking into getting some help from a qualified practitioner would be advised.
Caffeine needs to be detoxified by the liver, however, the liver is also busy detoxifying many other substances. Caffeine, trans fats, alcohol, nicotine, food additives, and pesticides all need to be processed by the liver and are often prioritised over the hormones and cholesterol that the liver also needs to detoxify. When this happens unhealthy levels of hormones or cholesterol can build up in the blood. An overloaded liver almost always plays a part in high cholesterol levels and sex hormone-related problems such as; hormonal acne, painful periods, PMS, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Caffeine also reduces the absorption of iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and some B vitamins. While this isn’t a big problem if you only consume caffeine every so often, it is a problem if you have a daily coffee habit. Iron deficiency affects energy levels and healing while long-term calcium and potassium malabsorption leads to thinning and easily fractured bones. Low magnesium is responsible for poor muscle function and recovery — often you will notice cramps if this is a problem. If you consume caffeine make sure to take any supplements and hour away from the caffeine.
If you are suffering from hormonal issues, poor sleep, anxiety or fatigue it is time to consider the amount of caffeine in your diet. Try removing caffeine for 4 weeks and see how this makes a difference to your health. Coffee and black tea can be replaced with herbal tea, green juice, or water flavoured with mint, berries or cinnamon, and ensure that cacao or chocolate is consumed early in the day in small amounts.