We looooove coffee, right? And if you talk to the right people, you will hear that caffeine is very good for you. It has, in fact, been shown to improve cognitive performance, mood and alertness and protect against age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimers Dementia – which sounds pretty amazing right? Well, it is! For most people, it really is. What we forget sometimes when exciting research comes out touting the benefits of our favourite hot beverage is that the world is complex and that individuals (that’s you!) have individual reactions and often these are not accounted for in clinical trial results. There are a few things that will affect the way that your body responds to caffeine and it is important to keep these in mind whether to order your daily triple shot or not.
- Time of day – if you drink your coffee first thing in the morning, chances are that most of the caffeine will be out of your system by the time you want to go to bed and your sleep will not be ill affected. If you have your second latte at 3 pm to get you through the afternoon – you may find yourself twiddling your thumbs at 10 pm when you want to sleep or tossing and turning throughout the night. Note: the 3 pm slump is a sign that your adrenal glands might be a little tired or that you suffer from low blood sugar – both are things your naturopath can help you with.
- Your unique metabolism – there are fancy tests you can do to determine how your body metabolises caffeine, but there are some simple tests you can do at home (or in the café) too. If you get anxiety, palpitations, sweaty palms, diarrhoea or insomnia, there is a good chance that your body has a stronger than usual response to caffeine or clears caffeine more slowly than other people’s and you may need to take it easy on the coffees and drink them in the first half of the day. Caffeine is a strong stimulant and if you are prone to anxiety or are a highly-strung person, it might not be the best morning treat for you.
- What else is in your coffee aside from caffeine? Coffee is not just made up of caffeine and (almond) milk. The coffee bean contains a complex array of substances that will affect the way the caffeine works in your body. Coffee can also contain a high level of mould and many non-organic coffee beans will also contain pesticide residues. Again, doing some home sleuthing and paying close attention to how you feel after coffee from certain coffee shops will give you an idea of which bean is best for you. I suggest finding a coffee shop or two that serve organic coffee that doesn’t make you feel horrible and sticking with these.
- Whether you have eaten or not. If you have food in your belly, you will absorb the caffeine more slowly than if you grab a coffee before breakfast. For many people who experience blood sugar issues (those of you who get ‘hangry’ will know what I’m talking about), a coffee will exacerbate low blood sugar and make you feel extra hungry and extra jittery as your body kicks in the stress response to help deal with the low blood sugar. It’s best to have something substantial in your belly before heading to your favourite café.
- What else you put in your coffee. Having your coffee with milk or a milk alternative will often be a little gentler on your gut and your nervous system than if you order a long black. This is because the fat and the protein in these ‘milks’ will slow down the absorption of caffeine. Also, consider how much extra sugar or sugar alternative you add to your coffee. Not that these will necessarily make you feel very different, but can have a profound impact on your health. If you are adding 2 sugars to your coffee and you have 3 coffees per day, that’s a total of 6 teaspoons of sugar every day. Which is a lot! Consider slowly cutting back, your body will adjust as you reduce your sugar intake and soon you will only need a sprinkle. If you use artificial sweeteners, then I suggest you consider switching back to the original sugar. Studies show that artificially sweetened drinks are associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer and are not recommended for regular intake.
Gemma Martin, a naturopath with over 10 years experience in natural therapies and is experienced in treating all kinds of conditions – from the simple to very complex.
To make an appointment with a naturopath at Brisbane Natural Health, call us on 07 3367 0337.