Once or twice – you’ve probably heard exclamations from colleagues or friends about the amount of coffee you consume. If so, keep reading.
Yes, coffee is great in many ways: from giving you the aesthetical pleasure that we observe through social feeds to numerous benefits such as focus, alertness and increased productivity. As research suggests, a high number of antioxidants in coffee may help prevent several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease and liver diseases. Needless to say, it tastes too good, especially in the mornings.
However, as always, there is a “but”. The reason so many nutritionists and health practitioners rave about reducing caffeine intake is the fact that coffee messes with the endocrine system and can disrupt our biological cycles and hormonal balance. Before choosing sides, let's take a look at how coffee works.
Coffee consists of several biologically active compounds, such as diterpenes, chlorogenic acids, melanoidins, and caffeine, which is the most widely consumed central nervous system stimulant. The mechanism of action is simple: caffeine blocks the activity of adenosine - a neurotransmitter that promotes tiredness and sleep. As caffeine wears off, your brain quickly receives the adenosine, causing rapid drops in energy levels. The caffeine molecule is structurally similar to the adenosine molecule, thus it can also bind to the same receptors and inhibit natural processes. As a result, caffeine interrupts the normal biological cycle of getting tired as the brain continues to release excitatory neurotransmitters: norepinephrine, glutamate, and acetylcholine. However, the more you prevent the natural mechanism of exhaustion, the more your organism fights to restore balance. The brain increases the number of adenosine receptors and as a result, you will require a higher dose of caffeine to get the same effect. Sounds familiar? Sounds exactly like the story of an addictive substance, because caffeine is precisely that. In the long run, coffee overconsumption will deplete the adrenal glands that produce essential hormones, leading to chronic fatigue and various diseases.
Although there is an association between caffeine intake and hormonal imbalance, there’s no solid scientific proof that caffeine as a molecule causes hormonal imbalance. More likely certain behavioural traits, common in people who consume more caffeine, are responsible for the hormone disruptions. For example, sometimes we fall into the trap of sleep deprivation and try to save ourselves by consuming more coffee. The key to breaking this vicious cycle is to address sleep problems first and restore circadian rhythms naturally. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly also positively affect your energy level, focus and productivity. As a result, the need to stimulate your organism with caffeine disappears as your performance is at the optimal level. Instead, enjoy your coffee not as a dose you desperately need but as a pleasant ritual and delicious experience. Last but not the least, pay attention to what you’re adding to your coffee. Cream, sugar and some milk choices can spike your blood glucose if taken on an empty stomach. It is best to have your cup after a savoury, protein-rich breakfast to make the best of it!
1. Nehlig A, Daval JL, Debry G. Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects. Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1992;17(2):139-170.
2. Daly JW, Bruns RF, Snyder SH. Adenosine receptors in the central nervous system: relationship to the central actions of methylxanthines. Life Sci. 1981;28(19):2083-2097.
3. Burke TM, Markwald RR, McHill AW, et al. Effects of caffeine on the human circadian clock in vivo and in vitro. Sci Transl Med. 2015;7(305):305ra146.
4. Higdon JV, Frei B. Coffee and health: a review of recent human research. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2006;46(2):101-123.