Coffee – Trick Or Treats?

By Donna Easto , C.H., H.C., M.H., Certified Herbal Educator

It’s a devilishly good drink; just ask Pope Clement VIII.  It’s 1600, local clergy are worried. Is coffee part of a satanic plot by Ottoman infidels to capture Christian Europeans’ souls?  They petition the Pope to outlaw the increasingly popular drink. Instead, intrigued by the fragrance of the dark liquid, Pope Clement bravely quaffs a cup. He likes it so much, instead of banning coffee, he blesses it, outfoxing Satan. The Church’s somewhat self-serving wisdom ensured the spread of the demonic brew throughout Europe. 

Nowadays, coffee is a wildly popular drink worldwide.  Despite its popularity, there’s still confusion about what coffee does to our body.  Biology 101 tells us coffee contains caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant (the trick). It also contains antioxidants (the treats), a broad group of molecules that soak up dangerous wastes in our body. We’ll leave talking about the positive effects of the antioxidants for another article. Let’s focus on the buzz around stimulants (caffeine is the world’s most commonly used psychoactive drug).

Coffee has two faces, it can wake you up, it can keep you from sleep. Caffeine interferes with your body’s natural ability to rest when it’s tired.  Too much coffee, you’re jittery, jumpy and sleepless.  Not everyone processes caffeine the same way.  It can pose a serious health concern by deepening depression, increasing heart rate and intensifying arrhythmias.  Unfiltered coffee (Turkish, French press or boiled) has been associated with an increase in serum cholesterol levels, while reviews do not associate this effect with filtered coffee. People with heart disease, liver disease, Type 1 diabetes, or take thyroid medications or echinacea should speak with their health care provider about caffeine consumption.  Pregnant women should limit caffeine intake.  Breastfed infants don’t metabolize caffeine well.

Coffee for weight control. Rats fed instant coffee to the human equivalent of 70 to 80 cups of coffee daily were found to weigh less than a control group.  Wicked!

How much is too much?  According to the Mayo Clinic, a robust adult can safely drink up to 400mg of caffeine per day.  An average (8 oz) cup of coffee contains 75-130mg caffeine, a shot of espresso 55-76mg. Overdose/caffeine intoxication can be fatal. Symptoms to look for: restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, frequent urination, nausea, vomiting, tremors, talkativeness, periods of undisciplined activity, irritability, racing or erratic heartbeat, diarrhea, seizures, abdominal pain, and mental confusion.  These symptoms require immediate medical care.

What’s the good news about caffeine? It improves endurance sports performance, relieves tension headaches, and contains antioxidants that prevent or slow cell damage. In one study (rats again), caffeine triggered smooth muscle contraction, promoting bowel movements. Caffeine will definitely wake you up in the morning and by adding ashwagandha powder you’ll improve your stress response.

Cutting back on caffeine? You can expect the following ghosts to visit you within 24 hours:  headache, sleepiness, brain fog and irritability.  If you’re staying indoors with family, you may want to reduce the severity of symptoms by reducing your intake slowly.