By Chere Di Boscio
I remember long ago, one of my first loves and I would wake up bleary eyed and messy haired after a crazy, fun, passionate night together and hit a place called Jet Fuel for brunch around, oh, 3pm. There, we’d indulge in the biggest, creamiest lattes around, refuel….and go out again that night.
Later, coffee kept me going throughout my mornings at my first job. A mug emblazoned with ‘Coffee Slut’, depicting a cartoon girl manically pouring java down her throat, was my desktop staple. I was that girl. I was that coffee slut. I’d do anything for a good brew; I wanted one several times a day: in the morning, at work, before the gym.
But as a teetotal vegan now, I thought that was my only real vice, so hey – why not indulge. It tastes great. It gives you a nice buzz. It has some apparent health qualities (in small doses). So when I embarked on a detox retreat that insisted guests drink no coffee for at least two weeks before arrival, I thought: no problem. I’ll stop with the coffee, but as soon as I’m outta that retreat, I’m downing a venti latte.
Oh, my friends. How things change.
First, let’s talk about the headache I got after two days without coffee. It wasn’t that kind of nagging irritation you get when people are too loud in a restaurant or something – it was more like the pounding, pummelling pain you’d feel if you went a round or two with Tyson. I was crying, people. And I’m not a cryer.
Thank god, the next morning it was gone. But there were other withdrawal symptoms that persisted for days: constipation, brain fog, and a lack of energy. I wasn’t sure what to sip on during the day – previously, I’d had around three large cups of coffee going. I sought out Barley Cup, Dandelion Tea, anything that tasted a bit like coffee. I was missing not only the rich, velvety taste, but also the buzzy energy the brew gave me. Especially before a workout.
The detox came and went, and afterwards, something very strange happened – the idea of coffee wasn’t only unappealing, it was repulsive. How is that even possible, you may wonder? Well – I just felt so damn good, so clean, coffee simply no longer interested me. I had started sleeping better; my moods and energy levels were much more stable; my tummy felt calmer, and best of all, I actually lost some weight! (I figure I cut out around 450 extra calories a day by nixing my 3 almond lattes).
The truth is, it’s not a bad idea at all to kick coffee, and just a few of the reasons why I quit coffee for good are below.
1. Getting More Nutrients
According to Health Ambition, waking up to a cup of Joe is a bad idea: it stimulates hydrochloric acid (HCI) production, but this should only be produced to digest meals. If your body has to make HCl more often thanks to ingesting regular cups of coffee, it may have difficulty producing enough to deal with a large meal. End result? You won’t be absorbing nutrients well.
Protein digestion in particular is affected by a lack of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and protein based foods can pass into the small intestine before being properly broken down. Undigested protein is associated in a variety of health problems, from bloating and gas to IBS, diverticulitis and even colon cancer.
In fact, the knock on effect of not digesting your food properly due to low hydrochloric acid in the stomach could be implicated in dozens of other health issues. Some experts go so far as to say almost all disease begins in the gut. Given this, you can see why it’s important to limit anything that interferes with its proper functioning.
2. Less Tummy Trouble
The various acids found in coffee beans can irritate your stomach and the lining of your small intestine, which is a serious problem for those suffering from ulcers, gastritis, IBS and Crohn’s disease. No wonder doctors generally advise patients with these conditions to avoid coffee completely.
The question is, could excessive coffee consumption contribute to these health issues in the first place?
Ulcers are believed to be caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacteria. However, the acidic effect coffee has on the stomach may contribute to providing the weakened stomach lining necessary for H. pylori to take hold initially.
This site states that drinking coffee can also irritate the lining of the small intestine, potentially leading to abdominal spasms, cramps and elimination problems, often alternating between constipation and diarrhea. This condition is known as irritable bowel syndrome, and more and more people are being diagnosed with it in recent years. Wonder why…?
3. Check Out of the Heartburn Hotel
Acid reflux and heartburn can be caused by coffee due to the way it relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter. This small muscle should remain tightly closed once you’ve eaten to prevent the contents of your stomach from coming back into the esophagus and burning its delicate lining with hydrochloric acid.
Caffeine is known to relax the esophageal sphincter – Coke and other high caffeine ‘energy drinks’ can also contribute to heartburn, but coffee is particularly problematic.
Even decaf regularly causes heartburn problems for some people, so some researchers think other compounds in coffee can also contribute to acid reflux problems.
4. Fewer Loo Breaks
Drinking coffee can stimulate peristalsis, the process in the digestive tract that makes us head for the bathroom. Some people use it deliberately as a laxative, but there’s a problem with this.
By stimulating peristalsis, coffee also appears to promote increased gastric emptying, whereby the stomach’s contents are quickly passed into the small intestines, often before the digesting food has been properly broken down. In this partially digested state, it makes it much more difficult for nutrients to be absorbed from your food, meaning your body is less nourished. It also increases the chances of irritation and inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract.
5. No Addictions
As I mentioned, I had been a regular coffee drinker for decades. I never would have said I was ‘addicted’ to coffee; I just liked it. But two days without drinking it was a kick in the pants – I had to confess I did indeed have an addiction, and even suffered withdrawal symptoms. Who wants to have to rely on something for their energy, even something that’s legal and easily available?
6. Better Mineral Absorption & Kidney Health
Since nutrients aren’t as well digested in coffee drinkers, they may have difficulty getting enough minerals in their diet, even if they eat mineral rich foods or take supplements. This is due to the way coffee affects iron absorption in your stomach, and particularly due to how your kidneys retain calcium, zinc, magnesium and other important minerals.
While all of these minerals are vital for good health, from a digestive standpoint, any interference with magnesium absorption is particularly worrying as it is necessary to maintain bowel regularity – and so many of us are already deficient in it.
If you are concerned that you might not be getting enough magnesium (and apparently around 70% of Americans don’t) then transdermal magnesium oil can be more effective than oral supplements, which usually have poor absorption rates. Research shows that vegan coffee drinkers should be especially aware that their B vitamin and iron levels may be super low even on supplements because coffee is interfering with this absorption, which could lead to anemia.
7. Lower Cancer Risk
Acrylamide is a potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substance that forms when coffee beans are roasted at high temperatures. The darker the roast, the higher the levels of acrylamide are likely to be. In fact, coffee has been shown to be one of the major sources of this dangerous chemical in American diets, due to not only acrylamide, but also the fact that coffee beans are one of the most heavily sprayed crops for pesticides.
8. Enhanced Hormone Health
Drinking lots of coffee will promote the release of the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These chemicals increase your body’s heart rate, blood pressure and tension levels – the old ‘fight or flight’ response – and many of us feel this in our bodies as ‘energy’. Maybe coffee pushes you to get to the gym, but longer-term the health implications of this kind of ongoing stress are significant.
Turning on the stress hormones with a cup of coffee when you’re eating also interferes with the digestive process. When you’re in ‘fight or flight’ mode, your body will divert its resources to being ready for a potential threat and digestion suffers as a result.
Finally, the caffeine in coffee is known to interfere with GABA metabolism. Gamma-aminobutyric acid is a neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood and stress levels. It should also have a calming effect on the gastrointestinal tract. Your mood and your digestive system are surprisingly interrelated. Unfortunately, coffee can negatively affect both of them.
9. Easier Detoxing
Because women’s bodies have more fat than men’s, and because our bodies store some toxins in fatty tissues, it takes us more time to detoxify than men. We tend to store more toxins than they do, and are more sensitive to environmental toxins. Compounds in coffee count as some of those toxins, and without them, our bodies are better able to deal with the myriad other nasties we need to cope with each day.
10. Sayonara, Cellulite
Caffeine impedes the circulation of nutrients to the skin, and as a diuretic, it contributes to water retention. For these reasons, it’s believed to be a cause of cellulite, though ironically, in anti-cellulite creams, caffeine works subdermally to help the appearance of orange-peel skin. The fact that we add sugar, cream, milk and other ‘treats’ to coffee also means it often helps you gain weight, which of course, is also related to cellulite.
In small, occasional doses, there are undoubtedly some benefits to coffee drinking. It can improve alertness and long term it may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, gallstones, kidney stones and liver cirrhosis for heavy drinkers. Plus, good-quality ground coffee is a source of antioxidants like chlorogenic acid that may help with weight loss and Green Coffee Bean Extract, particularly high in this antioxidant, are the latest popular supplement for body fat reduction.
But if you’ve made it reading this far, you’ll have realised that the benefits of cutting out coffee may outweigh the benefits of drinking more of it. And if you’ve ever experienced any of the digestive problems above, have chronic anemia or vitamin deficiency, suffer from insomnia, anxiety or simply the jitters, maybe it’s time to quit coffee.
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