As a long time consumer of coffee (easily 12 or more cups per day at one point), and one that thoroughly enjoys the ritual of stopping by the organic coffee shops, along with the taste of a quality organic brew (but not the side effects that go with it), I have some experience to draw from in making the following comments.
There has been a large amount of published research lately trying to demonstrate the numerous health benefits of coffee. While the majority of these studies are funded by the coffee industry itself, leaving big questions about the authenticity of their claims, it is quite possible that some health benefits are actually derived from the regular use of coffee, and I will explain how this can be.
Yet, along with those benefits come a number of unpleasant side effects. Some are obvious to the many that have had to reduce their consumption down to one cup per day or less; and some are not so obvious because they are not readily observable, being hidden in the deeper recesses of the body, or the side effects are not recognized as being associated to coffee intake.
In this article you will find a link to the MRI's that reveal the immediate effects of coffee on the brain. You will also see the images of SPECT Scans revealing effects on the brain from long term use.
Side effects to coffee consumption is increased dramatically when sugar, or pasteurized milk/cream, butter, or alcohol are added to the equation, and even more so if a pastry is consumed with it as well. Yes, sadly this is also true if all the ingredients are certified organic. I will further explain each of these as well.
I understand that such indulgences are high on many people’s list of favorite past times, my own included at one point, but to preserve my health, modifications have had to be made.
Several decades of trial and error have helped me to dissect the coffee habit rituals to the nth degree and discuss their upsides and downsides with some precision.
Subtopics in this article:
But first, a Reason to Question Some of the Recent Research Findings
Carcinogens in Coffee
Coffee's Antioxidant Content and It's Bitter Taste
The Real Reason Coffee Possesses Health Benefits
Bitter Herbs and Bile Production
Three Ways Bile Fluids Improve Health
The Problem with Undigested Oils/Fats and Simple Sugars in the Bloodstream
Bitter Herbs & Digestive Spices
The Body's Own Digestive Enzymes
The Truth About Coffee's "Other" Effects on the Human Body – Coffee Side Effects
How to Minimize the Harmful Effects of a Coffee Indulgence While Still Gaining from its Benefits
Clay in My Coffee???
The Greatest Detriments to Drinking Coffee
This is your brain on Coffee
More Side Effects of Coffee Excess
Kidney Jing Essence
How to Gain Even Greater Health Benefits Without Coffee
How to Restore Lost Kidney Jing
How to Get Off of Coffee without the Typical Headaches and Lethargy
How to Restore Depleted Systems and Build Energy Reserves Naturally
When a body is nourished properly, such benefits may include:
Exercise and Qi Gong
Dr. Mercola first broke the news, and now many others are writing articles about the health benefits of coffee (when consumed within several strict parameters): Studies on the Health Benefits of Coffee
An unknown quantity of coffee related studies have been funded by companies that have a vested interest in the outcome (like Kraft, Nestle', and other businesses, or countries intent on protecting their coffee/tea trade). Thus, every study performed needs to be scrutinized according to who funded the study and why.
In this article you will find reference to research funded by Nestle' and to Kraft Foods Global's "coffee and wellness group" that funded research into coffee's antioxidant benefits.
Interestingly, the same researchers have also discovered two carcinogens in coffee, 4-methylimidazole and acrylamide, and one suspected carcinogen, acrylamide (2-propenamide) that forms peaks at some point in the roasting process before decreasing significantly. They are still looking for ways to reduce these obvious dangers in the coffee bean without sacrificing taste.
This funding/findings association in the research industry (for that is what it is, an industry reliant on funding from special interest groups) is a common denominator in most all research categories. This is particularly true of the olive oil industry, other seed oils (like canola oil), the meat & dairy industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the tea industry, along with many others.
Who would be the most willing to pay the big bucks for clinical trials and research studies on specialty topics? The obvious answer is those industries that serve to gain the most profit from the published findings of such research.
Apart from this potential elephant in the living room, a few logical conclusions can still be made with what is known to be contained within the coffee bean itself.
The most common assessment of why coffee drinking is beneficial is due to coffee's well documented antioxidant content. Studies seem to show a reduced incidence of health conditions with increased coffee intake (up to 24 ounces per day). These studies are showing clear differences in health related incidences between those who drink coffee and those who do not. (J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Sep 22. Epub 2009 Sep 22. PMID: 19772322)
Yet some studies are also showing the same kinds of benefits from other caffeinated beverages like green, black, & oolong teas, suggesting it is the caffeine itself producing the health benefits, although both coffee and the teas are known to contain antioxidants. (JAMA.2000;283(20):2674-2679. doi:10.1001/jama.283.20.2674.192731) (Br J Nutr. 2010 Feb;103(3):453-9. Epub 2009 Oct 12. PMID: 19818197)
It is interesting to note that the group of antioxidants that show up in the highest percentage in coffee include 70+ phenolic compounds called chlorogenic acids (CGAs). CGA's are bitter acids and account for much of coffee's bitter taste.
While the antioxidant content in both coffee and the green & black teas appear to contribute to overall health, there may be other reasons more powerful to explain the potential health benefits from these drinks, benefits that are associated directly to their bitter taste.
The numerous articles that have been published recently about coffee document a growing body of studies on its antioxidant health benefits, yet are not making reference to the single most important benefit I believe coffee is able to provide – the coffee bean is a bitter herb.
Here's how it works. Bitter herbs and foods provide their bitter components to assist the liver. The liver has a function to support the body in at least three significant ways:
to purify the blood
to promote the digestion of fats
and thereby assist in the reduction of high sugar levels
There is a direct relationship between bitter herbs (like coffee) and the emulsification (digestion) of oils and fats. I consider this to be the main reason for the positive influence of coffee on the body.
Why? Five reasons:
Average diets are typically high in oils and fats (largely in the unhealthful trans-fat arena).
Bitter food & herbs are used by the body to increase the production of bile fluids from the liver.
Bile is involved in the removal of toxins and pathogens from the blood.
Bile is responsible for the emulsification of fat.
Undigested fats & oils in the blood interfere with the regulation of blood sugar levels (thus the importance of pre-emulsification).
Bile is a depository for toxins being filtered from the blood by the liver. Bile is used by the liver to encapsulate impurities (heavy metals, chemicals, bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc.) from our blood, thereby isolating them as the bile fluids move through the digestive tract and out of the body. (As a side note, fiber, chlorophyll, charcoal and clays are commonly used to assist in the removal of toxins passing through the intestines with the bile, thus mitigating chances of re-absorption.)
Bile fluids also help us to break down our fats/oils prior to entering the bloodstream, thereby removing the most common obstacle to the regulation of sugars in the blood – fats and oils.
Bile fluids are largely made of cholesterol, placing a demand on, and thereby reducing/recycling, cholesterol excesses stored in the body.
Undigested oils & fats in the bloodstream (compounded by simple sugars in the bloodstream) acidify and thicken the blood, and thereby interfere with insulin’s ability to lower high sugar levels (insulin resistance).
Higher than normal sugar levels in the blood set off a cascade of health-lowering effects beginning with:
A weakening of the spleen functions (being affected by excesses of all kinds, especially sugar, caffeine & alcohol), thus a reduction in the body's natural immune responses given that the spleen generates a large portion of the immune system's antibody production.
An increase in fungal/yeast & bacterial overgrowth (which underlies many health problems). One valuable purpose for yeast and bacteria in the body is to consume dangerous levels of sugar in the blood and tissues.
High sugar levels tend to produce high acid levels in the body, thus causing bile to get sluggish leading to liver stones & gallstones.
High acidity in the body also contributes to bone loss, along with many other health conditions.
High sugar levels also leave an unnaturally high level of free floating insulin in the blood.
One job insulin has is to store sugars and fats in fat cells (typically around the belly).
Another job insulin has is to help control arterial wall tension throughout the body (which is related to blood pressure).
It is the presence of undigested fats, pollutants and high sugar levels in the bloodstream that are largely responsible for the very health conditions mentioned in the studies that appear to be benefited by drinking coffee.
However, my experience and research has proven to me that similar benefits can also be derived, yet in a more powerful way, from the use of other bitter herbs and spices, such as turmeric, ginger, fennel, cardamon, trifala (amalaki, bibitaki, haritaki), yarrow, aloe vera, boldo, chamomile, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, milk thistle, dandelion, parsley, gentian, andrographitis (the King of Bitters) and numerous others, most of which can be found in Digestive Bitters. Taken prior to or with each meal, and again before bed, the digestive powers of the body are steadily improved, providing a host of additional health benefits.
In the above list of herbs, it can be noted that many common spices have bitter components, yet also provide nutritional the organs that produce the body's own supply of digestive enzymes (from the pancreas, stomach, intestines & liver), thus eliminating the need for enzyme supplements.
While bitter herbs and digestive spices will produce far more benefits to the body than coffee alone, a moderate intake of coffee may well be tolerated by some (but not all) for its enjoyable & beneficial attributes. That is, of course, if you are going to be OK with the less desirable effects associated to drinking coffee.
Now, for the flip side of this coin.
Even though the list of benefits attributed to drinking coffee appears to be growing based on new studies, staged or genuine, there is conclusive evidence from anyone who has "reached their limit" for the day of coffee's more numerous side effects, some of which are more hidden than others.
Before delving into this long list of potential side effects, a coffee addiction may not be able to be let go of immediately, so let me point out that moderate use of coffee can be further supported by taking just a few precautions, and by adding some surprising healthful ingredients to your brew.
If coffee is to be consumed, here are a few health promoting guidelines:
Only drink organic coffee (non-organic coffee is one of the most heavily pesticided foods in the world). Herbicides and pesticides kill friendly flora in the gut and act as hormone disruptors. Support your local organic roasters.
Know your bean. While this may take some serious research to scrutinize one brand over the other, it will be worth it to insure you are consuming a reliable source of coffee. Many coffee plantations have added genetically modified versions to their fields (and herbicided/pesticided them accordingly). Select the brands that are only growing heirloom varieties of coffee.
Drink your coffee black (sugar and pasteurized milk or cream strain the body and reduce the health benefits of a bitter herb).
If preferred, use raw organic milk from non-GMO feed, grass fed cows or goats, assuming such is available to you (if not, better to do without).
Most butter is pasteurized, thus congesting to the body and harmful. Raw butter will not have the hormones and chemicals of pasteurized butter, but is a type of fat that is a prime food source for the Epstein-Barr virus if a predisposition already exists.
Coconut oil is a safer alternative, though again in moderation. While the oil may reduce coffee's side effects, most of the side effects will remain.
Pasteurized milk, cream, or Half & Half tend to increase sinus congestion (and thus snoring during sleep, then congestion upon waking and during the day).
Avoid the use of nondairy creamers due to the number of harmful ingredients in them.
Consider the use of cinnamon and nutmeg as optional flavoring choices. Greek coffee uses cardamon, which offsets coffee's harm to the spleen).
Grind your own coffee bean (preground beans can become rancid quickly).
There are questions regarding the use of dark roast beans over the light roast. Light roast beans contain higher amounts of active palmitic acids which enhance the production of glutathione S-transferase (GST). (GST is an important agent in the reduction of pollutants, possibly lending to coffee's benefits during various studies, and the main reason why coffee enemas with light roast beans are promoted for detoxification purposes.) Dark roast beans have higher levels of secondary antioxidants formed during the roasting process.
If you are going to drink coffee I also recommend adding approximately 1/4 tsp. of clay to your coffee. Sacred Clay and/or Ancient Mineral Blend added to coffee helps to moderate some of coffee's side effects:
The minerals in clay moderate coffee's acidity & stimulant qualities, more so over time than immediately (a pot of brewed coffee set in the fridge overnight with clay in it mellows the taste and feel, producing fewer jitters).
A quality clay will slightly increase the oxidation reduction potential (ORP) of coffee (ORP is a measure of a liquid's ability to neutralize a pathogen or toxin).
Electrolytes that are naturally occurring in a clay will replenish the electrolytes that the coffee's stimulating effect on the nervous system will deplete.
A quality clay will absorb residual toxins or chemicals in the coffee bean (even organic coffee beans can have overspray or undisclosed chemicals in them).
Some have shared with me that they like to add a pinch of salt and/or baking soda to offset the acidity of their coffee.
From years of personal experience with a variety of coffees, I feel the greatest detriments to drinking coffee are four fold:
the over-stimulation of the adrenal glands leading to high cortisol (a stress hormone) levels
the over stimulation of the nervous system leading to a deterioration of brain function, jagged nerves & shakiness
the acid promoting effects of coffee
the little known effect of how the combination of these lead to an overgrowth of Epstein-Barr, herpes & shingles virus strains
Coffee temporarily increases the production of cortisol, a hormone that is designed primarily for just a few minutes in the early morning and during times of fight-or-flight types of stress. Coffee produces an elevated cortisol that can last for 12 hours or more.
If this cortisol is not used in a physically demanding activity (like a heavy workout, a jog, or other forms of exercise), viruses multiply to consume this excess.
Cortisol is a cholesterol based steroidal hormone derived from lipids (fats & oils) from the diet. When the body has the perfect amount of lipids steroidal hormones are produced on schedule as needed.
When the fats, oils and cholesterol based hormones are in excess for normal health they become a food source for Epstein-Barr, herpes, and shingles viruses, as well as certain mycoplasma. It is the normal function of these pathogens to consume excesses of lipids as well as any chemical toxins or heavy metals in the body.
When hormones are present in abundance, pathogens that feed on them multiply relative to the volume of their preferred food sources. Cortisol excesses are one of their favorites.
This little known relationship between fats, hormone excesses, and viral overgrowth is behind many chronic fatigue conditions, fuzzy brain, muscle & joint inflammation, and typical Lyme symptomology.
In the area of cortisol it is caffeine driven. Cortisol is also driven by life stresses, job, home or relationship changes, a passing of a loved one, and many other stress related experiences. It also leads to the eventual exhaustion of the adrenals and other hormone producing glands.
Daily over-stimulation of the body's hormone producers not only exhausts these important aspects of human physiology, it also causes a depletion of the foundational energy reserves of the body (which Traditional Chinese Medicine refers to as the kidney jing – the subtle, yet foundational, life-energy stored in the kidneys). More on that below.
The most shocking revelation of just how harmful coffee can be came from Dr. Amen, a specialist in SPECT Scans of the brain. The following pictures of Spect Scans of the brain were taken by Dr. Amen and reported by Christi Vlad on his blog under the title This is your Brain if you Smoke, Drink, or use Drugs.
Here is a picture of a healthy brain:
Here is a SPECT brain scan of a 45 year old person, with 27 years of addiction to nicotine and caffeine (3 packs of cigarettes each day + 3 cups of coffee). :
The missing areas in the brain are places where the blood flow to these parts of the brain became so diminished that the cells of the brain have been destroyed.
To understand just how this happens, here is a link to a video of an ABC investigative reporter interview who underwent an MRI of the brain before and after consuming 20 oz. cup of coffee (estimated by the doctor to reveal a 40% decrease in blood flow to the brain, later confirmed to actually be a 53% loss of blood flow to the brain):
Explanation? Caffeine blocks a chemical called adenosine which controls blood flow to the brain causing the blood vessels to constrict, thus reducing blood flow to the brain while increasing the heart rate and blood pressure. This same constriction event is responsible for the headaches common to caffeine withdrawal.
Coffee & Tea Block Iron Absorption
Both coffee and green/black tea block iron absorption, which can aggravate an anemic condition. Here are two PubMed abstracts on related studies:
Inhibition of food iron absorption by coffee.
The following is a general list of detriments that excessive coffee intake can result in. Moderation or elimination is the important point each must decide for themselves. Each person will need to find a balance that is right for them.
Knowing what can be possible helps to find a suitable line to draw in the sand with reference to how much one wants to consume, or whether complete abstinence is best.
From decades of personal experience, common sense, and research findings, coffee excesses can result in:
spleen deficiency (resulting in spaciness & increased mucus congestion)
jitters from nervous exhaustion (the result of electrolyte depletion)
Brain fog from the reduction in blood flow to the brain due to vascular constriction
hormone dysregulation as a result of overstimulation followed by the typical 2 hour drop
long-term deterioration of vitality necessitating more coffee to obtain desired energy levels
addiction to caffeine
dehydration common to all caffeinated beverages
an erosion of mental sharpness and memory (due to dehydration, nerve exhaustion, and viral overgrowth)
accelerated aging/wrinkles due to the loss of kidney jing essence
an acidic constitution and resultant bone deterioration
a loss of probiotics in the intestines (due to an excessively acid environment in the small intestines)
mouth sores (from the gut flora imbalance and viral overgrowth)
greater chance of herpes outbreaks due to the high cortisol levels (a food source of viruses), and common sugar + fat consumption with coffee
digestive disturbances (mostly caused by the sugars and pastries consumed with coffee)
Yeast/bacterial overgrowth (again, more often caused by what is normally consumed with or in coffee)
increased swelling & inflammation (caused by the acidity and the chemicals in nonorganic coffees)
systemic reactions to the genetic modifications common to nonorganic coffees
heightened emotions with an increased proneness to anger & irritability
depression (after the 2 hour drop)
increased sexual appetite (with lowered performance abilities over time due to the exhaustion of adrenal hormone production)
(not to mention the all too familiar problem of "doing stupid things really fast"). :)
Coffee is not the only vice in our society that depletes the valuable jing essence. Sugar, tobacco, alcohol, chemicals, radiation, black & green teas, guarana (a caffeinated herb), processed foods devoid of minerals and other nutrients, recreational drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, a stressful job or home life, various perceptions leading to fear, anger, worry, etc., and for some, the stress of living a self-serving lifestyle (as opposed to a focus on the common good), all of which deprive us of kidney jing to one degree or another.
Jing essence is responsible for the constitutional strength of our immune system, as well as our levels of vitality, physical hardiness, mental/physical stamina and a general sense of well being. So maintaining an abundant storehouse of jing essence is fundamental to the enjoyment of life.
It is worthy of noting here that the true health advantages derived from consuming coffee for its beneficial bitter effects, detoxification of body pollutants, and fat digestion can be more readily obtained from the Digestive Bitters formula with far greater benefits.
Digestive Bitters contains both bitter herbs for improved bile activity (with its attendant laxative effects) and digestive spices (which provide nutrients to the pancreas, stomach, liver and intestines needed to produce over 20 different kinds of digestive enzymes), thus eliminating the need for the more debilitating ox bile and digestive enzyme supplements.
For the uplifting effects most people reach to coffee for, basic energy reserves (kidney jing) can be built up over time without coffee by taking any one or more of the following:
The formulas build natural energy over a 5 hour span, starting slow, then building to peak energy at the 5 hour point (as opposed to coffee’s quick stimulant effect followed by the 2 hour drop).
Vitallite Clay starts with an uplifitng energy, and sustains the energy for 3-6 hours, providing steady endurance for heavy workouts or office work without creating jitters.
The above formulas build jing reserves gradually as they nourish the entire endocrine (hormone producing) system back to health.
Granted, they may not satisfy that desire for the morning indulgence with that appealing coffee taste, but the long-term benefits are far more desirable. Any of the above will assist in reducing the quantity of coffee consumed down to the simple pleasure of a cup now and then, while adding numerous health benefits to your life, simply by providing the body with the types of nourishment it needs to empower its own energy systems.
During the early stages of coffee withdrawal Yerba Mate' can be consumed to reduce or eliminate the chance of headaches, while providing a similar boost of energy.
Reducing or eliminating sugar consumption will also reduce the chance of headaches during coffee withdrawal, as it is the sugar that complicates the matter triggering migraines when coupled with coffee.
If total coffee elimination is your goal, then Yerba Mate' can be reduced gradually without headaches, providing sugar in the diet is reduced as well.
Eco Teas makes a great roasted version of Mate' as well, which is darker and richer than the green version.
For some, consuming Mate' is an acquired taste (much like coffee at the beginning for some), yet it grows on you after awhile and can become a satisfying alternative.
The drawback to Mate' is that it tends to deplete the spleen similar to coffee due to its caffeinated nature. Depletion of spleen function has a number of side effects of its own. An aggravation of chronic fatigue is only one of its many side effects. Read this article for an outline of how serious this can be, and just how pervasive spleen deficiencies are in our society.
So ultimately the goal here is to get off caffeinated beverages completely, including green & black tea, as well as Mate', except for that occasional cup. One way to improve your chances of succeeding at such a lofty goal is to add a rich tasting herbal tea with adaptogenic & tonic herbs to your regimen. SumaRaj Tea is one such blend worth considering.
Adaptogens are herbs that support natural energy, hormone balance and overall well being without the drawbacks of caffeinated beverages. Siberian Ginseng and Suma are two popular examples. They can also be consumed everyday safely. Adaptogens assist the body to restore natural hormone levels whether they are too high or too low.
Tonics are similar to adaptogens but are more targeted in their tonifying effects on the body. Panax ginseng is one popular example. Adaptogenic and tonic herbs are one of Nature's most effective ways to restore depleted Jing Essence, the body's energy reserve storehouse.
Nutritives are a third class of herbs that are essential to restoring depleted systems. Nutritives contain an abundant store of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. They are often referred to as superfoods for this reason. Sea vegetables, and certain land plants like Moringa, Nettle Leaf & Seed, Alfalfa, & Amalaki Berry, are some of Nature's top nutritives with broad spectrum benefits to overall health.
Give the body the nutritive building blocks it needs to repair and rebuild and it will naturally heal itself. This is the purpose of nutritive herbs. Nutritives are included in several superfood formulas: Sea Vegetable Blend plus Moringa, Alfalfa-Nettle Combo, Vital Cleanse & Nutrify, Earth & Sea Greens, Herbal C.
One of the most comprehensive ways to assist the body in restoring depleted Jing Essence is through the addition of adaptogens, tonics and nutritives (particulary Alfalfa & Nettle Seed) to the diet. Alfalfa & Nettle Seed are in Vital Cleanse & Nutrify and the Earth & Sea Greens in small amounts, yet are the primary ingredients in Alfalfa-Nettle Combo (for a more focused influence on restoration).
SumaRaj Tea makes an alternative beverage to coffee and a way to withdraw from coffee without headaches. SumaRaj contains a small amount of Yerba Mate'. It also contains a number of adaptogenic herbs, tonic herbs & nutritives, and has a dark, rich flavor as well.
better sleep at night
more energy during the day
a clearer mind
a stronger immune system
a more balanced composure (less anger)
a calmer, more effective nervous system
an improved ability to handle stress
a more alkaline system
a better internal environment for the sustainment of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract (which relies on a near alkaline system to survive)
improved digestion and regularity
improved liver & kidney function
fewer health complications overall
a longer life with a slower aging process
and a greater sense of general well being
It is also important to note here that various forms of exercise, including gentle walking, builds jing essence. The fastest and most effective way to build jing essence (if you desire to follow the advice of Li Ching Yuen who is believed to have lived 256 years) is to perform Qi Gong every day, eat a very moderate diet within certain guidelines and follow your heart’s desires within the scope of your life purpose.
Coffee, with its attractive taste and uplift, may have its place in some people's life in moderation, or for that occasional social gathering at the local coffee shop.
For most however, due to its potential short term side effects, and long term effects on the brain & body, it is best left alone.
Yet, coupled with a wise path of:
quality foods combined well
a good exercise program, yoga or Qi Gong
one just may find that coffee need no longer play a role at all in life, or may simply prefer to relegate its consumption to that occasional enjoyable moment with an old friend.
Many blessings of health & success.
Enjoy the simple gifts from Nature!
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