Black magic. Black medicine. Morning elixir.
If you had to give up either coffee or the internet for 2 weeks, which one would you choose? How about either coffee or sex for 2 weeks?
Yeah, that was me, too.
Warning: if you love coffee and can’t live without it, this article won’t sit well with you. And that’s OK. My job is to help you see the truth. In fact, if you find yourself dismissing and rejecting it, that could be called denial.
Because the change that we resist the most is the change we need the most.
I also want to share with you my own journey with coffee so you know that I’ve had my own share of denial, experimentation and surrender.
I’ve had a long and turbulent relationship with coffee and caffeine. When you start drinking coffee at the tender age of 15 because your mom drinks it 4 times a day and the house smells of the Italian roast all day long, you slide right into it and it becomes a part of you.
I’m serious about these beans. I did a barista course when living in Seattle and have therefore enquired a decent knowledge of roasting techniques, bean sourcing and brewing techniques. Seeing and smelling the black and thick-as-oil liquid pouring out of my Italian $1800-espresso maker is what used to make my mornings.
Going to a new place meant finding a [good] coffee place that understood what good espresso was (I dislike American watered-down coffee) so I can get my fix first thing in the morning. Beans and I were inseparable. BFF.
Coffee, Hashimoto’s and I
As a person with Hashimoto’s, I’ve come a long way. Diagnosed in 2008 with TPOab above 1000 and feeling terrible and helpless, I’ve managed to get them down to 66 by making significant diet changes (mainly repairing my gut), quitting stress and honoring my body’s need for sleep.
However, my progress hit a plateau. And then, I was found to have estrogen dominance and wonky cortisol levels. Me? After all those changes? I know you can relate how you just want to pull your hair out.
So I asked myself “what is the most difficult change I could make that I have been resisting all this time?”
And the answer was coffee.
“I’m only quitting coffee for two weeks, I can always go back to it” was a really good thing to say to myself as it didn’t make me feel like the umbilical cord between coffee and I was cut off forever.
It would require a new article to fully elaborate on my full health journey but for now, I will just share that coffee was a huge antagonist of my own healing path and the healing path of my clients.
I want to share with you what I have learned so you can be more educated and make the transition as well (if coffee is your antagonist.)
Taking steps to remove gluten, dairy or sugar from your diet can feel like a breeze compared to giving up coffee. However, as with anything that makes us feel that good, there is another side to your java fixation, and you need to know about it.
Benefits of coffee
Many reliable studies are often cited in confirming that coffee is full of antioxidants and polyphenols. However, these same antioxidants and polyphenols can also be found abundantly in many fruits and vegetables.
In addition, there are also a variety studies showing coffee’s role in the prevention of cancer, diabetes, depression, cirrhosis of the liver, gallstones, etc.
Beyond science, there is also the undeniable feeling of comfort in a morning routine, a stop at a favorite coffee shop, the smell, the buzz, and the energetic boost and mental clarity that come with a good cup of joe.
Everyone reacts differently
Is coffee bad for everybody? Not really. Each of us can have a different reaction to coffee. Some people get jittery and nervous, while others feel uplifted for hours. Many coffee drinkers report feeling good for the first two hours (mainly due to a dopamine spike), but eventually their energy and mental alertness will start dropping rapidly.
That was most certainly me – feeling delightful for a couple of hours and then slipping into depletion. The worse symptoms I discovered was that coffee made me very angry and moody hours after drinking it. My PMS got worse and most definitely the estrogen-to-progesterone balance was out – if you continue reading, you will know why that is so.
Coffee is metabolized in Phase I of the liver detoxification pathway, and some people have a harder time breaking it down – we call them “slow metabolizers.” This can either manifest immediately, presenting shaky and jittery feelings, or in a delayed fashion, such as poor sleep and digestive issues.
What is so worrisome about coffee?
If you are suffering from thyroid issues, Hashimoto’s, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, hot flashes or hormone-related conditions, it’s important to be fully aware of the “other side of coffee” and make an educated decision whether it is good for you.
Here are some of the lesser-known facts about coffee:
Increases blood sugar levels
According to this study, caffeine increases blood sugar levels. This is especially dangerous for people with hypoglycemia (or low sugar levels) who feel jittery, shaky, moody and unfocused when hungry. Blood sugar fluctuations cause cortisol spikes, which not only exhaust the adrenals, but also deregulate the immune system. This is highly undesirable for those of us with adrenal fatigue, Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease. Such cortisol spikes are also highly inflammatory (read more below).
Creates sugar and carbohydrate cravings
As the result of the above (increase in sugar levels), when our blood sugar levels come down, we need an emergency fix to bring them back up. This is why people who drink coffee at breakfast or indulge in sugary and processed breakfasts crave carbs and sugar by 11am or later in the day.
Contributes to acid reflux and damages gut lining
Coffee stimulates the release of gastrin, the main gastric hormone, which speeds up intestinal transit time. Coffee can also stimulate the release of bile (which is why some people run to the bathroom soon after drinking coffee) and digestive enzymes.
In a person with a healthy digestion, this is not a big deal. However, for people with autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s and Graves’, compromised digestion (such as IBS, or “leaky gut”), this can cause further digestive damage to the intestinal lining (source).
Exhausts the adrenals
Coffee stimulates the adrenals to release more cortisol, our stress hormone; this is partly why we experience a wonderful but temporary and unsustainable burst of energy.
What many of us don’t realize is that our tired adrenals are often the cause of unexplained weight gain, sleeping problems, feeling emotionally fragile, depression and fatigue. Drinking coffee while experiencing adrenal fatigue is only adding fuel to the fire.
People with Hashimoto’s should be extra careful as the adrenals and cortisol also modulate the immune system and Hashimoto’s is a condition in which the immune system is already out of whack.
Causes estrogen dominance = thyroid nodules, worse PMS and lumpy breasts
It’s well-established that coffee contributes to estrogen dominance (source), which can mean one of two things: we either have too much estrogen in relation to progesterone, or we have an imbalance in the estrogen metabolites (some are protective and some are dangerous).
PMS, lumpy breasts, heavy periods, cellulite and even breast cancer (which is an estrogenic cancer) can be symptoms of estrogen dominance.
Estrogen is especially problematic for people with thyroid conditions. High estrogen levels (also known as estrogen dominance) rise thyroid binding globulin, making less thyroid hormone available for the body.
Estrogen dominance is also often cited as the cause of thyroid nodules and even thyroid cancer development (medical reference here).
Gluten-cross reactive food
50% of people with gluten sensitivities also experience cross reactivity with other foods, including casein in milk products, corn, coffee, and almost all grains, because their protein structures are similar. Cyrex Labs provides a test for gluten cross-reactive foods (Array 4).
Many people report having a similar reaction to coffee as they do to gluten.
Impacts the conversion of T4 to T3 hormones
Coffee impacts the absorption of levothyroxine (the synthetic thyroid hormone); this is why thyroid patients need to take their hormone replacement pill at least an hour before drinking coffee.
The indirect but important point is that coffee contributes to estrogen dominance, cited above, and estrogen dominance inhibits T4 to T3 conversion.
Can cause miscarriages
This study showed that women who drink coffee during their pregnancy are at a higher risk of miscarriage. That’s scary. Why are our doctors not telling us this?!
Is highly inflammatory
Any functional or integrative doctor would say the majority of modern diseases are caused by inflammation – a smoldering and invisible fire found on a cellular level.
This study found that caffeine is a significant contributor to oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Chronic body pains and aches, fatigue, skin problems, diabetes and autoimmune conditions are just some of the conditions related to inflammation.
Can contribute to and even cause osteoporosis
It is well-known that coffee changes our body pH to a lower, and thus more acidic, level. A low pH (which means a more acidic body) can contribute to osteoporosis.
This study has confirmed that habitual coffee drinking among postmenopausal women was the leading cause of osteoporosis.
Can cause insomnia and poor sleep
This study showed that 400mg of “caffeine taken 6 hours before bedtime has important disruptive [sleep] effects.”
This, again, is dependent on the individual and his or her ability to metabolize caffeine. Some people experience deep and restful sleep whether or not they drink coffee, while others do not, even if they stop drinking anything caffeinated at noon.
How sensitive are you and how does coffee impact your sleep? You will only find out when you give up caffeinated drinks for 5 days – then your body will tell you!
What about decaf?
It’s a disputed area, but many health practitioners don’t suggest it for two reasons.
For one, many manufacturers use a chemical process to remove caffeine from the coffee beans. The result is less caffeine, but more chemicals.
Secondly, it is the caffeine in the coffee that has the health benefits we discussed above. Without it, you are left with little benefit.
The change we resist the most is often the change we need the most
Many people I works with have made extensive dietary changes and they will admit that coffee was the last and hardest thing to eliminate. Coffee is our ritual; it’s our best friend.
But is it really? It is often said that the change we resist the most is the change our body needs the most. Let your intuition be your guide.
Bottom line – what can you do?
You will only know how you really feel without coffee when you get off it for 3 to 5 days (and please don’t say it does not impact you until you try this experiment).
The first 2 days will be tough, but that tells you something important about this addictive substance, does it not?
Many women who have given up coffee and caffeine report better sleep within days, fewer hot flashes, less depression and anxiety, and many more other benefits over time.
What are some substitute options?
If you feel like you still need a slight kick, go for less-caffeinated options, such as green tea. Use the below infographic to guide you to make better choices, or download it here.