For many of us, coffee is ritualistically present throughout the week. Whether it’s the morning, midmorning, afternoon pick-me-up, or a weekend treat at our favorite cafe, coffee has established itself in our psyches as a both a motivator and a reward — and for some even a non-negotiable step in the day’s routine.
Considering the drink’s potency and impact on the body, with its collection of biologically active compounds, it is incredible how many people don’t consider their consumption levels and the impact on general health and well-being. Though we often link caffeine addiction to excessive coffee consumption, the chlorogenic acids, caffeol, polyphenols, phytoestrogens, and diterpenes have also been found to have effects on our health and glucose metabolism.
It has been estimated that nearly 400 million cups of coffee are consumed every day in America. With gourmet coffee surging in popularity both throughout cafes and through a resurgence in at-home preparation, 5 percent more people are drinking coffee than last year, according to one report. The average consumption is 3.1 cups per day, with 65 percent of people drinking with breakfast and also 30 percent drinking coffee between meals.
The largest coffee-drinking group are people 40 to 59, with 64 percent of survey respondents reporting drinking at least 1 cup per day. Caffeine is said to be our most popular “psychoactive drug,” with 90 percent percent of people in America consuming caffeine from various beverages and foods daily.
Health Effects of Caffeine on the Body
Though the caffeine in coffee can provide a great pick-me-up, an instantaneous charge of energy, plus a mood boost to get into the day, it can increase cortisol levels leading to stress and greater implications for every physiological and psychological system in the body.
Some of the impacts of caffeine on the body include:
Adrenaline: Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands. Every time you drink coffee, the body’s fight-or-flight response is activated. However, the adrenals are releasing the hormone in response to drinking coffee instead of a true stressor.
Stress: Coffee consumption increases serotonin levels and activity of serotonin receptors. When caffeine exits the system, withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and irritability can occur. Further, studies in humans have shown that caffeine increases cortisol and epinephrine at rest. Elevated cortisol levels can affect every system in your body, can make you anxious and irritable, and put you at risk of developing a number of flow-on health issues.
Mineral and vitamin absorption: Coffee inhibits the absorption of iron, a key mineral involved with the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine. Additionally, coffee consumption can decrease the amounts of circulating B vitamins. Since coffee is a diuretic, minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium can be lost quickly when we visit the toilet.
Cardiovascular disease: According to the Mayo Clinic, high consumption of unfiltered coffee (boiled or espresso) has been associated with mild elevations in cholesterol levels and can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body.
Sleep: Coffee drinking can impact sleep cycles as you become dependent on caffeine for energy in the day. Consumption even six hours before bedtime can disrupt sleep later on that night.
Digestion: The acidity of coffee is associated with digestive discomfort, indigestion, heartburn, and imbalances in gut flora.
What Will Happen When You Reduce or Give Up Caffeine?
As it is possible to build up both a tolerance and addiction to caffeine through coffee drinking, reducing or giving up can result in withdrawal symptoms that initially can include tiredness, headaches, and muscle pain. Since the symptoms can last up to a week, cutting down gradually is the best way to reduce the impacts of quitting.
Other ways you can help the quitting process are by ensuring you allow more time for sleep and drinking more water. An elimination program in which you cut out things like refined sugars, flours, caffeine, alcohol, dairy, and gluten for at least a week can help to reset your biology, preventing the triggering of cravings. The reward for the challenge will be in achieving rejuvenating sleep, natural focus, clarity, and reduced feelings of stress.
It can be hard to cut out the habit of drinking coffee, especially when catching up with friends or when you have meetings to attend. Luckily there are a range of alternatives that can take coffee’s place and can even help mediate the effects of weaning off caffeine.
Our Favorite Healthy Alternatives to Coffee
Turmeric Tea or Turmeric Latte
Turmeric lattes are becoming more popular in cafes as a healthy coffee alternative. Turmeric has an active ingredient called curcumin, which has been positively associated with lower rates of memory loss and Alzheimer’s and also for its anti-inflammatory effects.
Also an anti-inflammatory, ginger is an adaptogen — one of a unique group of natural ingredients used to support the adrenal system and the body’s response to stress by assisting the regulation of cortisol levels, increasing energy, and stimulating digestion.
Licorice Root Tea
Grouped among adaptogens, licorice root tea can increase energy, endurance, and support the immune system. As licorice tea can increase blood pressure in some, it is recommended that pregnant women and others with blood pressure issues consider its suitability.
Peppermint tea is a soothing drink, great for the afternoon. Its menthol content cools the body down internally, leaving the body and mind calm.
Rooibos tea is another drink that can be incredibly useful while trying to cut down on coffee as it has been known to reduce headaches and insomnia. Naturally sweet, rooibos is easy to drink and contains antioxidants, including nothofagin and aspalathin.
Green tea has long been heralded as a multibenefit health drink of choice. Though green tea contains a small amount of caffeine, it also has L-theanine, a beneficial amino acid that assists focus and reduces edginess.
This story originally appeared on Food Matters. It has been reprinted with permission.