Let’s be honest. Almost NO food substance when eaten in moderation is harmful. To the contrary, almost EVERY food substance when eaten in excess (except for maybe vegetables) is detrimental to your health. By and large, the troublemaking trifecta of the modern diet are alcohol, sugar, and caffeine. And what do all three have in common? They’re all…
- consumed by large portions of the population
- very addictive
- easily abused
- mood altering and can cause depression
- fatigue inducing
- low in nutrient density
While all three contribute to ill-health when consumed in large amounts, I believe caffeine is truly dangerous because of how fundamental it has become to our daily routines no matter our age. The current popularity of “energy drinks” and “the coffee culture” are prime examples.
How many people do you know can’t even start their day without their customary cup of joe? Or how about those teenagers who down sodas and energy drinks like they’re water? Even their parents, when low in energy, are prone to knocking back something caffeinated just to get them through their long work days. As if the addictive nature of these drinks (coffee, soda, tea energy drinks etc.) wasn’t bad enough, they’re also vehicles for unwanted calories (sugar and fat), take the place of good calories, and in the context of a poor diet and busy lifestyle can cause blood sugar fluctuations resulting in energy, cognition, and mood problems.
I actually cringe when I see parents buying soft drinks or heavily sweetened, sugar-laden, dairy containing, espresso-loaded coffee drinks and a refined flour, sweet-fat muffin or something of that nature, for their children at their favorite coffee shop. This is not good! In my opinion, coffee shops (and, yes, I frequent them too) are places where bad health habits are created and exacerbated. I liken them to legal drug houses where bad substances like sugar, fat, refined grains, dairy and caffeine are readily accessible.
Think I’m being overly dramatic here? Do yourself a favor. The next time you visit your favorite coffee establishment, have a look at their nutrition information sheet. You will be amazed how many calories (400-500 is common) are in one of the fancy coffee drinks; and in a tall or large cup of plain coffee. The caffeine content for these drinks can range anywhere from 300 to 400 milligrams!
As a health practitioner I tell patients all the time who are consuming way too much caffeine to go a day or two per week caffeine free so they can remember how they feel being off caffeine. The goal is for them to be in control of the drug. If they don’t know how they feel off it, it’s hard to make conscious choices.
I often share this visualization to emphasize the point. It is one thing to have a large breakfast and coffee and then go out and do manual labor for a day like those who live in agrarian societies. It is totally different story, however, to be racing out of the house completely stressed out because you have to get the kids to school and yourself to work on time. Since there wasn’t any time to prepare a healthy breakfast you opt to pull into your local drive-thru and purchase a whipped cream-topped, chocolate, and sugar-filled coffee drink that you scarf down with a muffin and something similar (if not the same thing) for the kids. The former will do you no harm. However, the latter is a prescription for exhaustion, headaches, anxiety, mood changes, and a variety of other symptoms. And, sadly, it’s also typical of how most of us start our days.
What people don’t understand is that regular caffeine consumption leads to a withdrawal phase every 24 hours. By withdrawal phase I don’t mean the sometimes vicious headaches you get when you stop consuming caffeine cold turkey. The withdrawal phase is more like you’re just sitting at the office (or home) and you’re feeling a bit down. You determine you need something caffeinated just to perk you up. If you keep a log or diary of each time you feel this way, most likely you would notice that this desire for caffeine happens every day almost at the same time.
A counter-intuitive reality is that if you chronically ingest a lot of caffeine, especially with sugar, you can create depression and fatigue. This becomes evident after four to seven days of being caffeine and sugar free and your energy and mood begin to return.
The following is a list of caffeine-related problems. If you are suffering from any of these issues, try reducing or eliminating your caffeine intake and you should notice a definite change in how you feel.
- Abdominal pain or discomfort of unknown cause
- Anxiety, irritability, and nervousness
- Autoimmune disorders
- Colitis, diverticulitis, diarrhea, and other irritable bowel symptoms
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Dizziness, Meniere’s syndrome, or tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Fibrocystic breast disease
- Gout (elevated uric acid levels)
- Heart disease or heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Insomnia and interrupted or poor-quality sleep
- Liver disease and gallbladder problems such as gallstones
- Kidney or bladder problems, including kidney stones
- Migraines or other vascular headaches
- Muscle pain
- Skin irritations, rashes, and dryness
- Ulcers, heartburn, and stomach problems such as hiatal hernias
- Urinary tract irritation
I’ve seen caffeine use (and abuse) have an adverse effect on so many people’s lives including my own. For short periods, I have let it get the best of me. What I’ve learned and hope to impress upon you is that if not controlled, caffeine excess from coffee, tea, sodas, energy drinks, and some medications can lead you to some significant health problems treated symptomatically with medication and unnecessary medical tests. All this suffering, money, and time might be totally avoided with awareness and control of this legal drug. Do yourself a favor and incorporate a “caffeine break” into your regular routine and the routines of your kids if you have them. Something so simple as taking a days off from your daily intake can help you be in more control of your health and also help prevent the problems excessive caffeine consumption creates.
As a certified physician’s assistant specializing in nutrition, prevention and integrative medicine, KIRK HAMILTON maintains that if there’s one cure all for chronic disease it’s what you eat. With his emphasis on consuming more unprocessed, micronutrient dense plant-food along with simple cross-training and mind/body principles, Kirk has been instrumental in guiding his patients and clients toward the path of optimal health since 1983. He has also been a valued educator to health professionals. As the founder of Clinical Pearls Publications, Kirk provided summaries of nutritional research to practicing physicians and researchers around the globe until he sold the company to Tishcon Corp. in 2004. Since 2009 Kirk has hosted his own radio program/podcast titled Staying Healthy Today. He has interviewed hundreds of the top experts in the medical field including Joel Fuhrman, Dr. David Jenkins and Dr. Neal Barnard. Drawing on his 28 year career, in August 2011 Kirk self-published the book titled “Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane – 9 Simple Steps to Optimal Health.” His book serves as a guide for individuals, professionals and policy makers on how to create a new health paradigm that is focused on staying well and prevention instead of treatment.
The greatest medicine of all is to teach people how not to need it.
Read about how to lose weight and prevent chronic diseases by purchasing Kirk’s book, “Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane – 9 Simple Steps to Optimal Health.” Order your copy here. Enter code “RX40” and receive an automatic 40% off your book purchase.