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Caffeine is No Better Than a Drug

Posted Sep 01 2009 3:22pm

As you know, caffeine is one of the most addictive substances in a standard diet, and there is some research that indicates that excessive consumption of caffeinated beverages may pose a risk to your well-being. Coffee, however, does contain chlorogenic acid, a phenol with strong antioxidant activity which may benefit people who hardly eat vegetables. So in spite of hundreds of studies showing slight increased risk of certain diseases such as osteoporosis and heart disease, there are also studies that show certain health benefits from coffee.1 Overall, both the risks and the supposed benefits are marginal either way. One or two cups of coffee per day is not likely to cause significant disease risks.

Besides the slightly increased risk of osteoporosis or heart disease, there are other problems. Caffeine is a stimulant, so it enables you to more comfortably get by on less sleep, and inadequate sleep promotes disease and premature aging.2 Drinking coffee also boosts estrogen levels, which worsens problems like endometriosis, breast pain, and menstrual disorders. Increased estrogen levels are also linked to higher risk of breast cancer.3 Overall, it is difficult to discern the precise risks from heavy coffee drinking because most people who drink lots of coffee, do lots of other unhealthy behaviors too.

My main objection to drinking coffee is that it may promote more frequent eating and a higher calorie intake in some people, so eliminating your caffeine intake may help you lose weight. Coffee drinkers—and tea and cola drinkers—are drawn to eat more frequently then necessary. They eat extra meals and snacks because they mistake unpleasant caffeine withdrawal symptoms with hunger. They can’t tell the difference between true hunger and the discomfort that accompanies caffeine withdrawal.

In essence, coffee is mostly like a drug, not a food. In spite of the presence of some beneficial antioxidants it also has some negative effects and withdrawal symptoms that may fuel drinking and eating behavior. Like most drugs, it could have some minor benefits, but its toxic effects and resultant risks likely overwhelm those minor advantages. It is best if we aim to meet our nutritional needs with as little exposure to stimulating substances as possible. This program will work more effectively, as you will be better connected to your body’s true hunger signals if you are able to gradually reduce and eventually eliminate coffee and other caffeine-containing substances.

This is an excerpt from Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat For Health.

1. Melita A, Jain AC, Mehta MC, Billie M. Caffeine and cardiac arrhythmias, An experimental study in dogs with review of literature. Acta Cardiol 1997;52(3):273-283. Nurminen MI, Niittymen L, Retterstol I, et al. Coffee, caffeine, and blood pressure: a critical review. Eur J Clin Nutr 1999;53(11):831-839. Christensen B, Mosdol A, Retterstol I, et al. Abstention from filtered coffee reduces the concentration of plasma homocysteine and serum cholesterol-a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2001;74(3):302-307. Higdon JV, Frei B. Coffee and health: a review of recent human research.Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2006; 46(2):101-123. Hallström H, Wolk A, Glynn A, Michaëlsson K. Coffee, tea and caffeine consumption in relation to osteoporotic fracture risk in a cohort of Swedish women.Osteoporos Int. 2006;17(7):1055-1064.

2. Spiegel K, Leproult R, Van Cauter EV. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet 1999;354(9188);1435-1439.

3. Lucero J, Harlow BI, Berbieri RI, et al. Early follicular phase hormone levels in relation to patterns of alcohol, tobacco and coffee use. Fertile Steril 2001;76(4):723-729.

Image credit: javaturtle

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