The Caffeine Debate

To drink coffee or to not drink coffee? We get this question daily. Probably because there’s a whole lot of conflicting information out there. Let us break down the facts for you. So grab a cup of coffee (spoiler alert) and let’s discuss…

The Benefits
The average person consuming a standard western diet (aka meat, sugar and processed foods) gets the majority of their antioxidants from coffee and not from fruits and vegetables. This means two things: 1. We NEED to start eating more fruits and vegetables and 2. Regardless, coffee is a decent source of antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent damage by free radicals to the cells of our body. This damage is believed to contribute to an increased risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.

Caffeine acts a stimulant by blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine (central nervous system depressant) and stimulating norepinephrine (increases alertness and arousal) and dopamine (pleasure hormone). This is believed to be why caffeine improves alertness and even mood. In fact, a large research study published in 2011 in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that risk for depression decreases with increased caffeinated coffee consumption and that this same reduction was not seen with decaffeinated coffee.

Lastly, several studies have shown an association between coffee consumption and a reduced risk for mortality as well as reduced risk for certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s (a 65% lower risk) and Parkinson’s Disease (a 32-65% lower risk).

The Negatives
Because caffeine is a stimulant, too much can disrupt sleep and cause temporary anxiety. This effect is highly variable among individuals and usually it takes some trial and error to determine at which level of coffee consumption this will occur for you.

Additionally, coffee can increase hormones like cortisol (the stress hormone). Chronic elevation of cortisol has been associated with increased weight gain, blood pressure and cholesterol. However, studies have shown that cortisol levels are more stable in coffee consumers who consume coffee on a regular basis suggesting that your body adapts to the cortisol-elevating effects of caffeine.

Cortisol isn’t the only hormone affected. A recent study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed an association between caffeinated beverage consumption (coffee, soda, and green tea) and a decrease in estrogen levels in Caucasian females and an increase in estrogen for Asian and African-American women. In this study, ovulation was not effected, but further research needs to be done to determine the reproductive effects of caffeine.

The Bottom Line
Thankfully, a cup of coffee per day is not going to harm you. In fact, it may even increase cognitive function and reduce depression (hooray). That being said, make sure you aren’t using coffee as a crutch for lack of sleep or a poor diet. A diet consisting of crap like sugar and processed foods will 100% lead to energy crashes, and yes this includes all of that added sugar in your Frappuccino – keep it simple. Finally, everyone metabolizes coffee at a different rate so listen to your body and if you find that a cup is making you jittery or anxious, try drinking less or switching to matcha green tea, which has just as many antioxidants yet less caffeine.

Photo Credit: Food52