(This is a topic that always brings up a pros and cons debate
and, sometimes, a lot of emotion when talked about.)
Many people don’t know it but there have been 24 beneficial compounds identified so far in coffee. (Note that we’re talking about coffee, not just caffeine drinks.)
- There are good antioxidants and benefits for brain illnesses like dementia.
- There are also possible negative effects for those with diabetic and adrenal gland issues.
Coffee is the beverage of choice for many Americans who often drink it to start their day. In fact, in one survey, 20% of people over 64 said they would rather give up sex than coffee! No emotions there – but maybe we do need to take a balanced look at the facts.
How Caffeine Works
To help protect us from overwork, our body gradually breaks down some nutrients into adenosine. The adenosine helps slow our body down and helps us feel sleepy at the end of the day so our body can rest and repair itself.
Caffeine slows the effects of adenosine and can even put the ‘pedal to the metal’, increasing brain activity. This signals the pituitary gland to have the adrenal glands produce adrenaline and cortisol for a jolt of both energy and mental alertness.
The adrenaline increases the heart’s activity, cortisol increases glucose levels and slows down some normal body functions. Both of these are part of the ‘flight-or-fight’ increased awareness and preparation for physical activity. This can have both good and not-so-good effects.
When caffeine is abused or chronically overused, the resulting chronically high cortisol can:
- Lower your immune system abilities,
- Make you anxious and disrupt your sleep,
- Cause food cravings to spike and weight gain to increase,
- Accelerate the aging process, and
- Lower your sex drive.
But there are a couple effects I especially want you to be aware of.
- Glands and Hormones: When abused, it takes more and more caffeine to stimulate the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline. The adrenal glands are being overworked and a safety switch in the body is being overridden. This can affect the thyroid and your hormonal balance.
Overworking the adrenal glands and not letting the body repair itself = Very Bad!
- Diabetes: Many people don’t know it but caffeine increases sugar absorption into the blood. Dr. James Lane, of Duke University, has shown as much as a 26% increase.1-2 Every diabetic should be aware of the caffeine in many drinks and try to find another beverage of choice. (Combining caffeine with sweets compounds the issue.)
On the other side, in moderation, there are also some good benefits we’ll look at!
- Dementia: Researchers have known for some time caffeine may protect your brain from mental diseases. Studies show:
- A couple cups of coffee a day cuts rates of cognitive impairment by 26% over 10 years.3
- Three cups of coffee a day cut the risk of mental decline by more than 50%.4
- Three cups of coffee a day also slashes the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s by 65%.5
A new study from Indiana University identified 23 compounds – besides caffeine – that may boost an enzyme in the brain, called NMNAT2, to protect against dementia. It guards neurons against stress and fights ‘tau’ proteins that collect in the brain as ‘plaque’ as you age.6
Many doctors often scoff at the idea that coffee or caffeine can guard your brain against dementia and Alzheimer’s. They are waiting for Big Pharma to come up with a cure – and there has been no progress on that front in decades.
- Antioxidants: These protect us from free radicals that would harm our cells and quite a few people include antioxidants in supplements. Surprisingly, because so many Americans drink coffee every day, coffee has actually become the number 1 source of antioxidants in the US diet.
Tips – If You Drink Coffee
Be careful about when you drink coffee. Drinking coffee in the morning is better to support your body’s natural rhythm of the release of cortisol in the morning to get you moving. As the day wears on, your cortisol levels naturally decrease. Switch to decaf coffee, or another beverage, in the afternoon to keep your body aligned with its natural cycle.
It is also good to develop a habit of avoiding artificial creams and flavorings because of the chemicals used. Also, using a natural sweetener, like Stevia, will help reduce the amount of sugar you consume.
- Journal of Caffeine Research, April 7, 2011.
- Lane, James Diabetes Care, 04;27(8): 2047-2048.
- Driscoll I, Shumaker SA, Snively BM et al. “Relationships Between Caffeine Intake and Risk for Probable Dementia or Global Cognitive Impairment: The Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study.” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2016;71(12):1596-1602.
- Ritchie, K., et al, “The neuroprotective effects of caffeine: A prospective study (the Three City Study),” Neurology 2007;69(6):536-45.
- Eskelinen MH, Kivipelto M. “Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.” J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20(suppl 1):S167-S174.
- Yousuf O. Ali, Gillian Bradley, and Hui-Chen Lu. “Screening with an NMNAT2-MSD platform identifies small molecules that modulate NMNAT2 levels in cortical neurons.” Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 43846 (2017) doi:10.1038/srep43846.