I LOVE coffee! It’s a pleasure from the preparing, the pouring, the aroma and that first blissful mouthful. At university, I was an easy ‘10 cup of (instant) coffee a day’ kind of girl. The result was a weak bladder made weaker! Dehydration (but I was young, so didn’t clock the dry skin and smelly breath), I was dog-tired and my mind scattered.
So what are the (literal) ups and downs of coffee, all of which stem from its caffeine content?
Coffee is one of the worlds most commonly consumed substances. Its ‘psychoactive’, which means it can change brain function. How you ask? Caffeine is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and crosses the blood/brain barrier where is blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine, the drowsy and sleep invoking hormone (like fitting a key into a lock and leaving it there). This allows for other neurotransmitters to increase their movement, specifically stimulating norepinephrine and dopamine. These elevate the brain’s function in areas of memory, mood, vigilance, energy and reactions times (sports and energy drinks include caffeine for this result). That’s why your first cup of coffee has that mental and physical ‘zing’. It also elevates the stress hormone cortisol. If you work well with stress, thrive on it to get things done, coffee is the perfect partner!
So what’s the payback of drinking coffee in excess?
In the background the nervous system is still producing adenosine and stockpiling it … remember, adenosine is the neurotransmitter that naturally makes us tired. When the caffeine wears off we are still confronted with our body’s load of adenosine. This makes us feel lethargic and at times down right exhausted. (“Time for a 2pm coffee?” just a little pick me up?). The effects of caffeine on the nervous system can last between 4 to 6 hours, for more sensitive people it can be longer. This zombie-like-after-life inhibits sleep and keeps the mind in alert.
Coffee is a diuretic; it can produce frequent and excessive urination. This leads to dehydration and (with chronic dehydration) constipation. With the brain being approximately 80% fluid, dehydration causes headaches, brain fog and moodiness, even stress-induced temper.
Caffeine hampers magnesium absorption. Magnesium is already a mineral lacking in our soil and therefore our food chain. Magnesium is used for cellular energy, muscular contractions, bowel regularity, cardiovascular health and wound healing.
Coffee has significant affects on the digestive system. As a plus, caffeine stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach alleviating low stomach acid conditions. If you are one of these people, coffee is helpful. But … most of us have over acidic systems produced by stress hormones, dehydration, excessive meat, alcohol, sugar and fatigue. Caffeine does stimulate the gall bladder to release bile and so aiding the liver. However, this process is better achieved as a coffee enema as vs. a cuppa / rectal as vs. oral.
The conclusion is moderation. Coffee, like all tools should be used thoughtfully. It is still my morning wake up call. It is also my 10am ‘coffee time’ pleasure. I sit, I savour and I take my moment with one of my oldest friends. But there are alternatives; peppermint tea for focus, chamomile for calm, fennel for digestion, sage for memory and my new favourite, rooibos, a soothing anti-inflammatory.
Paula is an avid writer and enjoys working with food and words.