5 reasons (not) to drink coffee

coffee
photo by CoffeeGeek

I enjoy drinking several cups of coffee a day, but I never really knew whether I should or should not drink this stuff. Is it bad for me, or is it good for me? Does it really have an effect, or do I think it has an effect? I know the latter can be true, as one of my former colleagues once said to feel much more awake after drinking a decaf (without knowing).

So to put an end to ignorance, I did some research. And it contradicts a little. So for your enjoyment, 5 reasons to drink coffee, and 5 to don’t drink it.

5 reasons to drink coffee

  1. It heightens your senses
    Coffee has several effects on your awareness, your senses and your mental capabilities. Albeit on a short term only, there are no lasting effects. Coffee contains caffeine, but is also known to stimulate the production of cortisone and adrenaline. These are hormones that prepare your body for a fight or flight response.

    They make you very aware! But you can feel a little stressed out as well…

  2. It protects against diabetes
    Drinking coffee reduces the risk of getting diabetes mellitus type 2. This is the type where body tissues become resistant to insulin. Obesity, among a lot of other factors, is currently a major cause for diabetes type 2.

    Drinking coffee reduces the risk up to 50% (when ingested at 7 cups a day), but it has a linear effect. So even a single cup of coffee a day, effectively reduces this risk a little.
  3. It protects the brain
    It won’t make you smarter, but studies have shown that caffeine has a positive impact on protecting from brain diseases. In this study published by the Harvard School of Public Health a beneficial effect of caffeine was found for preventing Parkinson’s disease when consumed in moderate quantities, both for men and women. For women though, the effects needed more research (sorry…).

    But it doesn’t stop at Parkinson’s, there are also benefits for preventing Alzheimer and mild memory and thinking problems for older men (no women in the tests…sorry) in general. So for men: this might help!

  4. It contains antioxidants
    Antioxidants are your friends! In short, they prevent free radicals from causing cell damage. This cell damage is related to aging processes, but also to many forms of cancer. There also seem to be relations to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer, schizophrenia and other diseases of the brain.

    And antioxidants prevent those free radicals from doing their destructive work. A certain antioxidant, methylpyridinium, has been found to specifically prevent colon cancer. Ain’t that great?

  5. It makes and keeps you awake
    Coffee, or better caffeine, doesn’t take away the need for sleep. It just postpones it a little, by making sure you don’t feel you need to sleep. That’s tricky, because your body is still in need of sleep, but you’re fooling your mind into not feeling that sensation.

    But as long as you’re aware of this phenomenon, it can be very helpful at times. When you have to meet that deadline, or you have to drive that last half an hour to get home.

5 reasons not to drink coffee

  1. It is addictive
    Caffeine is a drug the body gets used to very quickly, this process is called tolerance adaptation. If taken in large enough quantities (900 – 1200mg a day) this can lead to a partial or full tolerance in as quick as one to three weeks. An average cup of coffee contains 135mg of caffeine, so that’s 7 to 9 cups a day for an extended period of time.

    When you stop ingesting caffeine, you get withdrawal symptoms. Among those symptoms are headaches, irritability and generally being unable to concentrate. These symptoms fade away fairly quickly too though. Usually within a couple of days. But most likely, you’ll have a new fix with a cup of coffee before that happens :)

  2. It disrupts sleeping patterns
    While this can be a benefit (see the section above), when taken to extremes coffee (or caffeine actually) can result in serious sleeping disorders. Two of them are linked directly to the caffeine, but there are more that have a correlation. They are classified as psychiatric disorders.
  3. It increases cholesterol
    OK, usually it doesn’t. But when the coffee is made using the French Press method, the coffee contains oils that increase LDL cholesterol levels (that’s the bad one). This method of coffee making is popular among coffee lovers, as it has an authentic feel about it. But it is also commonly used among people that don’t drink coffee, as it’s a cheap way of being able to make coffee for guests.
  4. It can cause headaches
    Caffeine can both treat headaches or cause them. If you consume caffeine in certain levels (around 500mg a day), you are prone to withdrawal effects when reducing the amount. One of those effects is a headache. Coffee usually is the main source for caffeine ingestion, but there are many other sources, like tea, chocolate, soft drinks and a lot of pain relieving medicine!

    The caffeine in those medicines, when used incorrectly or with too many other sources of caffeine, can lead to a phenomenon called rebound headaches. So if you suffer from headaches a lot, check your daily caffeine ingestion, you might take a tad too much.

  5. It maintains unfair trade agreements with farmers
    This may not be a health related issue, but an issue nevertheless. The raw material for coffee, the coffee beans, are mainly purchased from farmers in developing countries. Unfortunately there are a lot of small coffee farmers, selling to a limited group of companies buying coffee. And the prices and conditions they get are not very fair.

    Thankfully there is an alternative with products that have been licensed by a Fair Trade organization. Fair Trade (or Max Havelaar) is a certificate that ensures that the coffee farmers have been paid a fair price for their product. This has many benefits for society in the developing countries, and it will only cost you a couple of cents extra.

My conclusion

I’ll be drinking my cups of coffee, but I’ll limit them to 3 or 4 a day. That gives me most of the benefits and keeps me clear of the potential downsides. Oh, and I’m drinking Fair Trade coffee whenever possible.

For those of you thinking that Decaf is the answer to most of the downsides, well it might be. But the decaffeinating process has several variants, most of which use rather nasty chemicals. So you might want to know what process is used…

Posted in jelly beans on Mon 2007.11.26

{ 49 comments }

Mark Dowling November 27, 2007 at 00:03

Hi Lodewijk,

I only drink one cup of coffee a day… but I make damn sure it’s a good one. Double shot flat white, we call them in Aus. Keeps me buzzing for hours :-)

Roberta November 27, 2007 at 15:40

Coffee puts the system under the strain of metabolizing a deadly acid-forming drug, depositing its insoluble cellulose, which cements the wall of the liver, causing this vital organ to swell to twice its proper size. In addition, coffee is heavily sprayed. (Ninety-two pesticides are applied to its leaves.) Diuretic properties of caffeine cause potassium and other minerals to be flushed from the body.

All this fear went away when I quit, and it was a book that inspired me to do it called The Truth About Caffeine by Marina Kushner. There are five things I liked about this book:

1) It details–thoroughly–the ways in which caffeine may damage your health.

2) It reveals the damage that coffee does to the environment. Specifically, coffee was once grown in the shade, so that trees were left in place. Then sun coffee was introduced, allowing greater yields but contributing to the destruction of rain forests. I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere else.

3) It explains how best to go off coffee. This is important. If you try cold turkey, as most people probably do, the withdrawal symptoms will likely drive you right back to coffee.

4) Helped me find a great resource for the latest studies at CaffeineAwareness.org

5) Also, if you drink decaf you won’t want to miss this special free report on the dangers of decaf available at http://www.soyfee.com

Jwalant Natvarlal Soneji November 27, 2007 at 18:17

In India, the population drinking coffee is too small in percentages, also there are several other local beverages and drinks available; they are really very helpful to the body and inexpensive too.
Like:
1. sugar cane juice (my favorite)
2. butter milk
3. coconut water
4. Milk and its many products
5. water..
and many more.

Lodewijkvdb November 27, 2007 at 20:54

Roberta » Thanks for your comment highlighting the other side. It sure made me look into the matter again. I did not change my mind, but I learned a lot again!

The site caffeineawareness.org (which is by Marina Kushner, the author of the book you refer to) has some nice information, but it is strongly one-sided. It only focuses on the downsides of caffeine, and I feel blows it out of proportion. I took the risk test (don’t use kilograms in this test, they are converted wrong and come up with wrong results), and a single cup of coffee would start the caffeine addiction, which I can’t find any proof for anywhere else.

And maybe it’s just me, but I think there’s something fishy when the author of that book is the person behind Soyfee as well…maybe I’m overskeptical here, but there are definitely alarm bells going off.

I read about the sun coffee versus the shade coffee. As far as I have found sources, both options are prone to ecological problems among which deforestation. Sun coffee does require more pesticides, so I guess organic and fairtrade would be the way to go.

To be honest, I think soy is overhyped at the moment. The benefits of soy are pushed to the general public by natural food companies with a single-minded conviction much similar to that of producers of products on the other side of the spectrum. It all comes down to business, and health foods are such a big business now that I take the claims of producers of these foods with a big grain of salt.

Cultivating soybeans is also very hard, because there are so many diseases attacking this vegetable. Monsanto (don’t like those guys, so I’m not linking to them) prepared a genetically modified version of the soybean (“Roundup-Ready”) so it would be ready for one of their pesticides (“Roundup”). The majority of commercially available soy in the US (like 89% in 2006) is genetically modified AND pesticide has been used on them. I don’t like pesticides, but I strongly oppose genetic modification. I read that Soyfee is GM free, which is a good thing!

I couldn’t find anything about the acid-forming drug depositing insoluble cellulose to the wall of the liver. Caffeine metabolizes in three parts (84% paraxanthine, 12% theobromine and 4% theophilline), one of them, theobromine forms an acid in the liver, but as far as I can tell without major cementing going on (thankfully, because this substance comes in pure form in large quantities in chocolate). Theophylline (4% ) can be nasty one when combined with fatty meals (note: no cola at McDonalds) or alcohol (note: don’t go crazy on Irish coffee).

Anyway… a long answer, and I learned quite a lot more. But I’ll keep drinking it, but in moderation and not everyday.

Jwalant Natvarlal Soneji » I never tried sugar cane juice, that makes me curious. For the other options…I’ll stick to water I think. I can’t really digest milk very well.

For comparisons: in the Netherlands coffee is one of the most consumed beverages with 148 liters per person per year. Only the consumption of tap water is bigger… Tea comes in at around 100 liters per person, followed by softdrinks just below 100 liters.

Keith November 27, 2007 at 23:52

Great article…..many thanks!!

Jordan Pearce November 28, 2007 at 01:04

After 20 years of serious coffee drinking I recently switched to green tea. Coffee started tasting bland and I got bored.

Now I can drink as much green tea throughout the day without getting jittery. Matcha is the best because it is healthy and makes you alert.

My eyesight seemed to changed after I switched too which was really strange.

Bob October 2, 2012 at 10:50

Green tea has more caffine than coffee

David Bradley November 28, 2007 at 13:12

Fair Trade decaff for me. With milk, no sugar.

db

Jess November 28, 2007 at 15:25

After drinking coffee(5 to 10 cups daily) for more than 30 years I finally quit and have no regrets about it, in fact I feel a lot better and more energetic than before. I don’t have the jitters anymore, I can concentrate and focus better, no more dull pain in the stomach, etc. However, we cannot achieve a 100% caffeine free diet because many foods contain that substance like chocolate, softdrinks, energy drinks and even drugs.
As a substitute to coffee, I now drink green tea(which contains antioxidants just like coffee) but I remove about 80% of the caffeine content by decaffeinating it.

Great article! exploring both sides.

Jeniffer November 28, 2007 at 17:47

I like coffee, with milk, no sugar. However, I generally drink no more than two cups per day, or I find it interferes with my ability to get a good night’s sleep. As well, both of those cups of coffee have to be consumed before ten a.m., and not too close together. Too close together gets me feeling jumpy, and no one needs that. I have quit before, substituting decaf tea for awhile. But I keep going back to coffee.

swag November 28, 2007 at 21:40

I’m really not sure of the point of this “research”. Humans have been safely consuming coffee in moderation for over 500 years now. We have more epidemiological evidence on it than we have for everything we drink, save maybe for beer, wine, tea, and water. So why this is a safety concern now all of a sudden, after hundreds of years of data, I have no idea.

And everything proven safe is usually pretty safe in moderation and less so in excess. What isn’t? Even vitamins for that matter. So I’m not sure what new conclusions are there either.

Jim King April 12, 2012 at 16:55

Are you serious? We’ve been consuming a lot of things that bad for us for that long or far longer. That’s no argument for continuing to do something.

Lodewijkvdb November 28, 2007 at 21:55

I see your point Swag. Yet having a little knowledge about what you eat and drink can’t hurt in my opinion. Though there is one thing that has changed tremendously over the last 50 years or so: the methods of cultivating our foods. They have been very much industrialized and there has never been so much processing of foods as there is now. This goes for crops, grains, dairy and meat, so a little consciousness about food can’t hurt.

Also, I have a feeling that (especially in the Netherlands) we have a tendency to use stuff in excess. We are in the top 10 coffee drinkers in the world, with an average of 3 cups per person per day! If we like something, we go mono-diet and mainly use that stuff.

If I could sum up what I learned about food in one sentence, it would be:
Eat and drink with plenty of variety, in moderation and with little to moderate (industrial) processing.

Lodewijkvdb November 28, 2007 at 22:02

Jess » 5-10 cups! 30 years! Ack, that’s a lot… Good thing you cut down on that ongoing caffeine rush. I like green tea as well because it tastes good, and it has some health benefits (although not as much as they would like you to believe in the commercials). But how do you decaffeinate your tea? Or do you buy it caffeine free?

Jordan » Your eyesight changed? That sure is remarkable. I hope it was for the better!

swag November 29, 2007 at 04:40

I can see your point about the industrialization of foods. Clearly, something is going wrong the world over with our health relationship with food in general.

But the art and science of growing, selecting, roasting, and brewing coffee has remained relatively unchanged for centuries.

The thing is, you are clearly far from the only person who has asked this question about a health link with coffee. digg is littered with posts like this every week. Which begs a general societal question: why now? It was one thing when cell phones first came out and people all worried that they were going to give you brain cancer 15 years ago. But we still seem obsessed about coffee after hundreds of years.

I wonder if that obsession about whether its healthy or not is far more damaging to our lives than anything that comes out of a coffee pot. Some element of me believes people are turning into hypochondriacs, making themselves sick over “sweating the small stuff” in life while ignoring the tride and true health lessons over time: moderation, eating a healthy varied diet, exercising, get sleep, etc. We end up making rocket science out of platitudes for grade schoolers.

Jess November 29, 2007 at 17:07

There’s a simple way to decaf your tea right in your home. Put your tea leaves in a container then pour boiling water and let it steep for 30 to 45 seconds. Discard the water then pour boiling water again and let it steep as you normally would. This also applies with teabags.

They say that during the first steeping, approximately 80% of caffeine blends with the boiled water.

Lawrence Cheok | A Long Long Road December 1, 2007 at 09:48

Hi Lodewijkvdb,

You have nicely summarized the main points of our love-hate relationship with coffee. This applies to so many people.

Eventually, we still cannot conclusively conclude if we should give up coffee :(

Christine O'Kelly December 2, 2007 at 16:18

wow – coffee is a hot topic! I love it and drink 3-4 cups a day like you! I was VERY happy to see your 5 PROs about drinking coffee! Really, I just love to be super awake and alert. If there is something else that can get me to that state (legally and without negative repercussions :) ) then I’ll try that! Jordan suggests green tea – I think I’ll give that a try ~

Christine

Jess December 2, 2007 at 17:59

Christine,

Why not try meditation? It sure is legal and no negative repercussions. Read a discussion about it at:
http://neutral-izer.blogspot.com/2007/10/you-wake-up-early-in-morning-to-get.html

Christine O'Kelly December 2, 2007 at 18:19

Jess – an excellent point. Meditation is something that I know will be useful to me, but that I do not do on a regular and consistent basis. Thanks for th link!

Neena (NeenMachine) December 2, 2007 at 21:39

I love my coffee. But like anything else everything in moderation.

John Simpson December 8, 2007 at 18:26

Wew! I just got myself a cup of coffee before reading this (my first one of the day). I seriously thought you were going to tell me something in this post that was going to cause me to have to pour out the coffee and burn my coffee maker. Glad that was not the case. I like my 2-4 cups per day.

Jonathan Leger Success December 8, 2007 at 21:06

I certainly agree with the headache point. Any longer than 4 hours without a coffee and I have a pounding headache.
I better start weaning myself off it.

Chris Hughes December 9, 2007 at 20:21

Great article on the pros and cons.

My parents will sometimes make me coffee when they make theirs so it feels natural to just drink it because its there.

I’m sure if everyone just cut down to like 2 or 3 cups of coffee per day they would feel much better.

Swap it for water.

I’ve given you a thumbs up on StumbleUpon, I like your article.

Ryan December 12, 2007 at 19:59

I’m a sporadic morning coffee drinker. Some mornings I do, some I don’t. But rarely will I drink coffee when it’s not with breakfast.

One thought on the number 2 “Do” about diabetes. Seems that’s very dependent on what you’re putting in your coffee. If you’re running to Starbucks and adding whipped cream and a bunch of sugar it would likely negate any positive effect.

Which brings up another question. How big is an actual “cup” of coffee? I wonder how many people claim to drink 3-4 cups a day but are actually drinking 3-4 of the large cups.

dn December 21, 2007 at 04:59

when you drink lots and lots of coffee, can that make you stop growing or would it get you shorter?

Ed March 23, 2008 at 11:25

Hi Lodewijk,

I think caffeine’s a terrible drug. For me, just a few cups of my favourite white tea is enough to put me in a bad mood and destroy my creativity.

It makes my thinking very two-dimensional.

I quit for a few days and started to feel better but I’m going to have to wean myself off it slowly this time.

Kind regards,
Ed.

Iain Hamp April 19, 2008 at 04:26

I think I’m coming at the whole coffee thing from a different angle. I have, for around eighteen years, been battling a caffeine addiction of another sort – Diet Coke (and other caffeinated diet sodas). In the last few months, I successfully quit drinking them for the most part, switching to two cups of black coffee each day instead (and a bunch of water).

My main concern was actually weight related – I suspected the dehydration from all the caffeine in the soda (without drinking water to combat it) was causing me to retain a lot of fluid and actually keep weight on, and made my body work harder when I exercised because it didn’t have the right fluids. Once I made the switch to drinking plenty of water each day and only two cups of coffee at most, not only did I lose about ten pounds, but my energy level is up (and I’m getting better sleep).

Iain Hamp’s last blog post..Following Your Passions

Dana Seilhan April 24, 2008 at 18:30

To the commenter who mentioned coffee once being shade-grown, it still sometimes is. The term is not regulated, but there are coffee sellers who advertise their coffee as shade-grown. If you get fair-trade, and especially fair-trade organic, it is exponentially more likely to be shade-grown as well.

As for the cholesterol bit, I have reason to believe that the dangers of cholesterol are exaggerated. Cholesterol is actually a building block of the brain and cardiovascular system, so while an increase in LDL may indicate disease in either organ, it doesn’t necessarily cause it. And the big difference between LDL and HDL is that LDL is a particle that carries cholesterol to other organs besides your liver, while HDL transports cholesterol to your liver. Well, if some organ in your body needs cholesterol to maintain itself, of course LDL is necessary. If your heart and major vessels are damaged by something else, of course you are going to see an increase in LDL. But as far as I know the cholesterol=heart disease idea came from feeding animal food to rabbits, which of course are not going to respond well to that. I haven’t seen anything else to indicate that real research has been done on people, or at least research that wasn’t summarized with a heavy bias.

Triglycerides are tremendously important, though–if they’re high, you’re in trouble. Triglyceride comes from the process of converting excess sugar to lipids in order to store those lipids in your fat cells. Producing lots of it is a warning sign that you are developing insulin resistance.

Jury’s still out on how coffee affects diabetes risk, though. Some say caffeine increases insulin resistance. So IF coffee does have an overall positive effect on preventing type 2 diabetes, it’s not the caffeine doing it. I would hazard a guess that if someone weans themselves off caffeinated coffee and takes care to drink decaf that wasn’t produced with hazardous chemicals, they may increase coffee’s benefits against diabetes to some degree.

Oh, and for the commenter who mentioned coffee depleting potassium in the body, that may indeed be a problem, but coffee also contains a significant amount of magnesium, so it sort of balances out. Don’t drink too much coffee and make sure you eat your veggies, and you should be OK.

Dana Seilhans last blog post..Update

Ryan May 20, 2008 at 11:50

Nice Article. Definitely not going to give up cpffee anytime soon!

Great Article on how to make coffee. Just might try it someday. LOL

Here is another interesting piece of news. I just heard that Gevalia coffee company has a promotion now and is giving away 3 boxes of their coffee along with a coffee mug for just $3. Sounds like an interesting offer. Read about it at the site below.

http://finecoffees.wordpress.com/

Komodo Dragon May 31, 2008 at 17:02

haha, I dont drink coffee, personally i don’t like it. I do think the risks outweigh the good. I’ll stick with tea :P

Emy June 18, 2008 at 09:18

I didn’t know that drinking coffee can make your health good. I even refuse myself drinking a cup of coffee a day, limiting it to two cups per week. Now I’ll increase the number of cups and will do it with a great pleasure

Michael@ Awareness * Connection August 23, 2008 at 08:48

I don’t see my old comment here, so I’ll leave a new one. Lodewijk, thanks for clarifying the onesidedness of the reference cited.

All I can say is that with the pic on the front of your article, the reasons for drinking coffee seem REALLY convincing. I want a cup now, but as it’s about midnight, I’d better hold off till morning.

Michael@ Awareness * Connection’s last blog post..What Web 2.0 Says About Human Beings

axel g August 30, 2008 at 12:58

I suppose coffee has its place.

Some of us care a lot about physical health, others less.

Fair trade is another incentive to give it up…

Paunchiness September 24, 2008 at 00:41

I think the secret is moderation. I like all the good stuff and can deal with the bad that comes with it.

ClassyButCheap.com October 27, 2008 at 04:29

You forgot the number one reason why I shouldn’t be drinking coffee….the cost. My Starbucks addiction is very costly!

ClassyButCheap.com´s last blog post..Why do Pumpkins Cost so Much this year?

maxwell November 20, 2008 at 07:09

haha funny… I like this post.. huhu just realized I’m coffee addicted..

Don The Idea Guy February 6, 2009 at 14:23

Great article and nice job sharing both sides… Does coffee also make one feel ambivalent? ;)

Thought you might enjoy my article applying coffee brewing principles to creativity:
http://www.ideabarista.com/beabarista.htm

Gotta go before my coffee gets cold!
~D!

Don The Idea Guy´s last blog post..Backpack Coffee Dispenser

Joey Logano March 7, 2009 at 23:00

I gotta agree with the headaches.I often find myself getting them, which sucks to be honest :(

Lauren March 30, 2009 at 04:58

I just wanted to point out something about your 5th reason not to drink coffee. While I am very glad you included it, please do not make the assumption that fair trade coffee solves this issue. I know it is tempting to tell ourselves that by paying a dollar or two more for our coffee we are not contributing to the oppression in developing countries but this is not true. While fair trade is a nice idea, and it is preferable to free market coffee, there are still a lot of reforms that need to be made. For example, fair trade certification costs $2000. The average yearly income for a Guatemalan coffee farmer is $2000. Clearly this is a huge amount to ask. Another reason on that note, is that fair trade certification requires any organization to be democratically run. How many of the leading businesses in the US (or elsewhere really) are democratically run? Not many, because it is a very difficult system for business. That’s enough for now, just look into is please.

Rob Niosi May 11, 2010 at 13:45

Found your analysis of coffee to be the most useful I have seen. Thanks much.

Nichole June 18, 2010 at 05:10

Wow, thanks. I’m in the process of researching coffee to write a paper on how it affects hormones, but to no avail, I’m not finding many studies about it. Everything you listed as a pro, is everything I have come across myself, and as was mentioned in the comments, I too, read that book on the Truth about Caffeine… and gave up coffee for a year. I only drink one cup a day, if at all, and I really don’t feel any benefits from me- it’s just an addiction that I look forward to drinking a cup when I get up even though I know it’s going to make me sluggish for at least 5 hours. The reason I’m trying to find some real negatives about it is exactly because of the way it makes me feel. I can’t be the only one noticing it feels more detrimental to drink than beneficial. More studies need to be done on coffee. Anyway, great information!

mbeahuru chidi christian August 31, 2010 at 16:58

thank you for that nice and wondeful article on..it is balanced…now, what do you have to say about taking it cold?…thanks once again

jeff September 9, 2010 at 05:05

nothing beats a cup of coffee to perk you up in the morning.
peoria self storage

Quotes August 26, 2011 at 08:46

Amazing blog, plenty of interesting articles – I’m not lookin’ for anything more! Please, treat me as another lover of your site. All the best!

littlemissbroflovski February 1, 2012 at 20:11

i drink coffee lots of times and it didnt give me a head ache what a lot of leis

Jim King April 12, 2012 at 16:44

3-4 cups a day still seems like a lot.

ceec September 30, 2012 at 16:21

india seo

James Jr December 2, 2012 at 08:47

I’m a firm believer in that all things that come from the earth are good for you (in moderation) so I was pleased to read this page on coffee and caffeine consumption.

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