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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 20, 2008

Caffeine Talk

By Worker Bee
116 Comments

Got your morning (or afternoon) joe in hand? For many readers, this would be a yes. Even if you said no, it might just be because you’ve joined ranks with the tea crowd. And, while cultural practice (a mug on the work desk being as American as apple pie) and taste are undoubtedly big draws, for many of us it all boils down to that rousing, invigorating, motivating little substance: caffeine.

When it comes to caffeine, there’s a lot of dissent among those who in some way align themselves with the paleo approach. Purists shun it. Some partake sheepishly and publicly support tea more than coffee, cocoa or unsweetened caffeinated sports waters. Still others openly embrace caffeine as a reasonable compromise. (You’re harder pressed to find common support for soft and sports drinks.)

It’s true that Grok had no Starbucks or Tazo. But should we “can” caffeine?

We should first get the antioxidant issue on the table. Tea, coffee and cocoa, indeed, sport some lovely little flavonoids, but a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can offer the same. The issue is caffeine, the stimulant, itself.

As a stimulant, caffeine offers the temporary benefits of improved concentration, enhanced memory and an extra bit of energy. However, this “heightened” state has some unappealing physical effects as well. Obviously, there are the proverbial caffeine jitters and, for a few people who are either caffeine sensitive or who regularly overindulgence, even heart flutterings. But there’s more. Recent caffeine consumption can reduce blood flow to the heart during exercise.

And, apparently, some of us are “slow caffeine metabolizers” (who knew?). Being part of this crowd and partaking of caffeine, some research shows, puts us at increased risk for non-fatal heart attacks. Caffeine has been shown to also raise blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, caffeine induces heartburn in many people. Given that prescriptions targeting acid reflux are so common these days, we often wonder how much caffeine plays into many people’s symptoms. At a certain point for certain people, caffeine probably isn’t worth it just from that standpoint alone.

And then there’s the question of why we reach for the mug in the morning (and perhaps the afternoon). Is it really just a pick-me-up, or is it a band-aid for a larger problem like sleep deprivation, hormonal imbalance, lack of physical activity, lack of adequate sunlight, you name it. Are we really taking care of ourselves?

And is caffeine the only answer? Would heading out for a morning walk offer the same benefit? If you’re falling asleep at your desk come 2:30 p.m., would working out over the lunch hour make a difference? We’d argue that scrutinizing caffeine consumption is about the why, how much, and what else, more than a resounding yes or absolute no.

For some of us, in the end, a small amount of caffeine can be a true (and, arguably, truly needed) leg up. It’s a compromise we make in the context of our real, harried modern lives: global business trips with inevitable jet lag, heavy workloads with last minute deadlines, teething toddlers we’re up with half the night, etc. We make a commitment to truly take care of ourselves day to day, but the caffeine option is there to help get us over the hump. It’s a moderate dose of concession in the midst of a busy and otherwise healthy lifestyle.

And maybe that can bring us back to the convenient antioxidant justification. If it should count as an indulgence, why not make it one with a few health benefits on the side?

Send us your perspectives, reasons for abstaining, rationales for imbibing.

Refracted Moments, dawn_perry, clara & james Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Sensible Vices

Tea Time

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116 Comments on "Caffeine Talk"

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Brian A
Brian A
8 years 6 months ago
I began to notice a ‘reverse’ effect of too much caffeine consumption making me feel fatigued, like I had done an intense workout earlier in the day. I used to drink a lot of coffee AND do a lot of intense workouts, so I figured it was the exercise. But then I noticed it on days I had no reason to feel physically fatigued neither from intense effort nor lack of sleep. I tied it to the excess coffee over a period of days of purposefully drinking too much on light workout days and not drinking so much on hard… Read more »
Mr. Niceguy
Mr. Niceguy
4 years 12 days ago

Caffeine comments or “Does the internet make everyone’s opinions particularly extreme?”

It’s hard to believe how opinionated and extreme people’s comments are about coffee. The comments range from the bland to the extreme (coffee is horrible… it makes you sick) to the hypochondriacal (coffee causes every possible physical and mental malady in the ICD-10).

Coffee gives you a mild buzz. Drink it or don’t drink it. If you want a real buzz, take methamphetamine. If you really want to get addicted, take oxycontin. Otherwise, get real and stop whining.

McFlanigan Fish
McFlanigan Fish
8 years 6 months ago

The Quick stop by my house used to sell a “Double Big Gulp” for $1.87. That’s 64oz. of soda for under 2 bucks. I’d down one daily, always diet coke (because diet coke is healthy, right?). By the end of the day I would be bouncing off the walls from the caffeine. I couldn’t focus or sit still. I still do the 64oz a day, but now it’s water. Also, I keep doing Starbucks, but I believe I’m more addicted to the Norah Jones atmosphere than the caffeine.

Dave
Dave
8 years 6 months ago

I stopped going to Starbucks specifically because I couldn’t stand the Norah Jones. To each his own…

sarena
8 years 6 months ago
so around 1.5 years ago (at 44.5), I got into a cup of coffee in the morning for some um!! digestive help. Despite doing everything right, my system liked that jumpstart!! I dont think I couldve counted the times I had coffee (in my whole life) before that on one hand!! This was around the same time I started being more vigilant on my path to fitness (CF) and all!! Now I always drink home brewed organic java (rarely frequent Starbucks and then basically only if with a friend for a tea). I usually have 1-2 cups in the morning… Read more »
Tony
Tony
8 years 6 months ago
I can’t handle caffeine. At low doses I like the energy it gives me, but the come down just isn’t worth it. I envy those that can drink coffee with no side effects because I love the taste. I will indulge in a periodic mug of green tea on the weekends or when I have a big workout ahead of me, but often times I find (especially if I drink it on back to back days) that the day after I drink it I get a headache. I must be especially sensitive to caffeine. On the occasions when I have… Read more »
Mike Drew
Mike Drew
8 years 6 months ago
I enjoy a cup and a half to two cups of coffee most days of the week. I find it helps to get my digestive system going in the morning. Suffering from IBS, I’ve ready many materials suggesting that I avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages like the plague, but my body handles it fairly well. I’ve had IBS for some 10 years, and I only started drinking coffee about 9 months ago. I’ve noticed no change for the worse, and, instead, found that coffee helps to soothe my rumbling stomach and gets me going, in more ways than one.… Read more »
Joey
Joey
8 years 6 months ago

Coffee is Not a band-aid for anything! Maybe it is this whole health craze that has kept you from really enjoying coffee. Try taking a week off from the gym and vacation indoors with a fresh cup of Black Joe in front of your TV.

Nancy S
8 years 6 months ago
I think I’m one of those slow metabolizers of caffeine, which makes me really sad. I love a good cappuccino in the morning! But if I have any sort of caffeine after about noon I can’t sleep that night, and even too many days in a row of *decaf* coffee will eventually keep me up all night. I also really dislike how the caffeine makes me feel, jittery and shaky and my heart races and it intensifies my anxiety. But I still indulge once in a while, especially if I have a busy day planned because then I don’t notice… Read more »
Digger Mcdyce
Digger Mcdyce
8 years 6 months ago
Wow, I had a memory crop up about when I was a younger gentleman probably in 4th or 5th grade. Does anyone remember Jolt Cola??? It was this hyper caffeinated, well come to think of it, it is exactly how it sounds. A friend of mine, Matt Bodell Layton used to drink that stuff and just go crazy at school for about an hour. I remember the boys in my class had to read petitions at mass (catholic school) in front of the all school mass and the old people that came to church. We drank Jolt Cola before we… Read more »
Brian Self
Brian Self
1 year 10 months ago

Used to drink it to and I agree! I

Migraineur
8 years 6 months ago
Bunch o’ thoughts. 1. Is it the caffeine that causes heartburn, or some other compound in coffee? I find that decaf, consumed in excess, aggravates my acid reflux. I almost never drink caffeinated coffee, but I’ve had to cut way back on the decaf, too. 2. I never fall asleep after lunch (or, heavens, after breakfast) any more, now that I gave up carb heavy meals. 3. Sarena – I think the effect on your plumbing may also be caused by some other compound in coffee besides the caffeine, because decaf has the same effect on me. 4. Starbucks is… Read more »
Noah
Noah
4 years 9 months ago

About the acid reflux: I’ve had trouble with coffee giving me heartburn for years, and I believe it’s the acidity of drip coffee. It takes tons of espresso to give me the same problem, and it never happens with tea. And when too much coffee has given me an acid-sensitive stomach, other acidic things like orange juice, tomatoes, and onions can also hurt.

GoatSalad
GoatSalad
4 years 8 months ago

Freshly roasted coffee beans have little taste. After the beans are roasted they must sit, usually overnight, to develop the oils that produce the flavor.

Habanerohead
Habanerohead
3 years 11 months ago
I am a great fan of Starbucks because I prefer my coffee more mellow, as you would get in Spain, rather than the sharper, bitter, high roast that I associate with Italian coffee. On occasion I’m at the bar when they open a new vacuum packed bag o’ beans. I love that ‘cos the smell is always amazing and the beans glisten with a coat of oil (which the de-caff beans don’t seem to have), and, as far as I’m concerned, those beans have been roasted to perfection. I always get the barista to let me have an espresso paper… Read more »
Tatsujin
8 years 6 months ago

I drink one cup of coffee in the morning upon rising. It’s a habitual ritual and I enjoy the taste very much. It helps me wake up, but I’m still not sure if it’s the ritual or the caffeine.
Although my guess is, that it is both.

Starbucks? Starsucks 😉

DanaLovesLife
DanaLovesLife
8 years 6 months ago
Ooooh how I love-a my java. And my green tea when I’m taking especially good care of myself. But what about a cup of hot water? This is an amazingly simple, healthful, and available form of liquid satisfaction any time of day. Skeptical? Take a day off the cuppa cuppa and drink a cup of hot water instead. Ayurveda recommends a hot lemon treatment first thing in the belly each morning and I find that’ll “get things moving” as well as Joe. I have been surprised at how easily H2O can substitute for coffee. Period.
MizFit
8 years 6 months ago

it is the sign of a true addict that I feel superior (tongue firmly implanted in cheek) that I derive my caffeine from a hot mug in the morning rather than a canned energy drink or (*gasp*) a PILL.

ahhh, excuses.
how I HEART thee.

M.

Phillip
Phillip
8 years 6 months ago

Like many – I have a love/hate relationship with coffee.

Pros – (1)Increased energy; (2) Increased focus; (3)Increased digestive function.

Cons – (1) Pulled muscles; (2) increased compulsive/obsessive behavior; (3) anxiety.

I now limit my coffee consumption. I use it when I really need to focus on one long task or need a kick start. Otherwise I drink green or black tea. Yeah, tea still has caffeine, but at an amount that does not adversely me.

I feel like I am a different person, depending on what I am drinking.

Kaitlin
Kaitlin
8 years 6 months ago

Every time I see that mug o’ beans on the front page, I want to dive right in.

Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 6 months ago

I probably “don’t need it” but man does a good Americano or expresso shot just taste soooo good to start the day off especially sitting outside. One a day for me. I used to do 5 cups of coffee a day a long time ago…and that was not healthy.

Kevin Burnett
Kevin Burnett
8 years 6 months ago

Always funny to hear statements like, “Starbucks coffee is demonstrably terrible” when taste is completely subjective. My aunt who is a life long coffee lover thinks McDonald’s is the best coffee ever created. Here in our office we have people who will only drink Pete’s and only if it’s made in a press; others swear by Starbucks and others, some totally esoteric brand for $8 or more a cup. They all insist that their’s is best and the others are crap.
To each his/her own.

Migraineur
8 years 6 months ago
Kevin, I see your point. Maybe I was indulging in my lifelong habit of hyperbole. However, I used the word “demonstrably” deliberately – it would be hard to find someone who did not agree that stale food is inferior to fresh food. I meant to say that the roasting procedure used by Starbucks’ roasting procedure makes it possible to sell stale coffee to the public. I wonder how subjective quality really is. There’s certainly an element of subjectivity – I may never ever like bananas, no matter how fresh they are, how they are served, how they are prepared, etc.… Read more »
Marie
Marie
8 years 6 months ago
Hello, I’m Marie and I’m a pancake junkie…I’ve been eating them 5-8 times per week for the past two months…. I just feel compelled to confess that, as I was downing my most recent stack while reading these comments 🙂 A couple thoughts: I find everything about coffee disgusting: the smell, the taste, the concentrated caffeine..eeew! Most of the people at work who I see drinking coffee are really drinking hot milkshakes for grownups…judging by the amount of creamer and sugar they put in. I love tea and drink a few pots per day…and it makes me happy. Mark, you… Read more »
Cortney
Cortney
8 years 6 months ago

I, for one, LOVE my coffee. I teach high schoolers chemistry all day, and that “little” venti brew with sugar free vanilla syrup is what gets me going….I may have given up on bread, thanks to Mark, but I simply cannot give up my morning Starbucks coffee.

Anna
8 years 6 months ago

Aaaah, a nice Americano with half & half or heavy cream, made with locally roasted beans. I don’t bother with drip coffee anymore, if I can help it.

Scott Kustes
8 years 6 months ago
Nice post. Caffeine is pretty much a requirement in our culture due to our reluctance to actually go to sleep. Burning the candle at both ends, eating the wrong foods, being out of shape, etc all contribute to a society where caffeine addiction is not just acceptable, but necessary. I had a post about energy drinks and their booming industry a few weeks ago. Just a note though…cocoa actually doesn’t contain caffeine. It contains a cousin of caffeine known as theobromine, which is why the stuff will kill your dog. It can’t metabolize the theobromine very quickly and can easily… Read more »
Kris
8 years 5 months ago
I love a non fat 20 ounce cappucino but it does not like me. I feel fine when I drink it but about an hour later I get all jittery and it usually will put me into a panic attack. I can’t breath and I feel instant doom! Am I the only one that feels this? Can it really be dangerous for me? And the biggest question is why can I drink it sometimes and have no reaction at all but other times I feel horrible! I don’t understand how one cup can have such an adverse reaction.I only drink… Read more »
Phillip
Phillip
8 years 5 months ago

Kris – funny how a drink can impact us differently on different days. I have noticed when my aerobic activity is high, caffeine impacts me more. Just a thought…

Migraineur
8 years 5 months ago
Kris – I have a similar reaction to alcohol. Sometimes I can handle one or two drinks, but last night I had two glasses of wine and I am *seriously* hung over. With caffeine – nowadays I drink mostly decaf. But in my past life, I noticed I was less tolerant of caffeine if I also consumed sugar. The combination would throw me into what I now know was reactive hypoglycemia much faster than sugar alone. Are you drinking non-fat because you actually like it, or because you think fat is bad for you? I am a big believer in… Read more »
william
william
8 years 5 months ago
I have abused caffeine for years now. There have been times when I would stop for a month or two and I was able to focus and not feel so anxious. I am caffeine sensitive but am also dependent on it. Can never seem to get it in gear in the morning if I don’t have at least a 44oz cup of coffee. I am planning to stop tomorrow, the caffeine is affecting my work, I feel like some kid with a.d.d. I am unable to confront people because of the anxiety it causes and I can’t sit still without… Read more »
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[…] guide time again. I’ve read your requests and am happy (as always) to oblige. Grab your coffee (or tea), and pull up a seat. Glad you’re with […]

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Mike Gruber
Mike Gruber
7 years 1 month ago

I had to give up caffeine years ago, it raises my blood pressure about 20 points for 4 hours, just for a single 8oz. cup. I used to pound down cup after cup, so my BP was always elevated. My pulse rate *slows* about 5bpm as well. I would say 4 hours of raised BP after a single cup indicates I’m a slow metabolizer.

Now I roast and brew my own (got tired of waiting in line at Starbucks). I make decaf espresso, with half and half, maybe twice a week. That’s my cheat.

Laurie
Laurie
6 years 10 months ago
Hm…those of you who mentioned increased digestive properties are making me think. I started drinking coffee regularly about 2-3 years ago. I drink about 1-2 cups per day, never more. Also, in the last few years, I have noticed…increased (and rushed, lol) bathroom trips. Especially in the morning (after drinking coffee). As one who has never had much problem with constipation, I never worried about getting things “flowing” as it were. So, these last few years have had me wondering just why I’ve been rushing to the bathroom. Maybe I just found the missing link? I could be the coffee!… Read more »
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[…] controversy, of course, is rooted in the caffeine. Personally, I happen to like the taste, and I have one big cup every morning with a healthy splash […]

CrzyDJM
6 years 3 months ago

I love a nice cup or two of coffee in the morn but don’t consider it a “crutch” by any means.

I’ve come a long way too; now I have a tablespoon of honey to sweeten vs the old inch or so of french vanilla/hazelnut creamer I used to use. Now my coffee tastes like COFFEE (gasp!) with a subtle sweetness from the honey.

Ronstar
Ronstar
6 years 2 months ago

This post is funny. Cuz while we all know it’s bad for us, pretty much every comment says “well I know it’s bad and stuff, but I still like it every single day. I used to drink a lot more of it so it’s ok.”
No wonder they call it the most widely used drug in the world.

WalterB
WalterB
5 years 1 month ago

Actually sugar (and it’s identical twin brother HFCS) is probably the most used drug in the world.

Bob Hennessey
Bob Hennessey
5 years 10 months ago
I am a coffee addict, I sit on my butt all day in front of a computer at work. We have free coffee that we brew ourselves, it smells and tastes so good. The problem is I reach for it every time I’m tired, stuck on a problem, or feel bloated. It got to the point of at least 4-5 8oz cups a day on an average day. I’ve been this way for years and slowly began to feel so “brittle”, my knees and hips ached. I knew it had something to do with the coffee but I kept trying… Read more »
Lisa
Lisa
3 years 1 month ago
I have the same experience with aching joints and feeling “brittle”. The first time I quit coffee, I abstained for 10 years. After the first few weeks, I didn’t even think about it. Unfortunately, for various reasons, I got back into the habit again. I cannot count the number of times I have quit since then because the effects were making me sick. Each time, I managed to convince myself that I would only have one “now and again”. For me, one is never enough and it always leads to more. This, even though I know it does me more… Read more »
Jamie
Jamie
5 years 8 months ago

I drink one 4-8 oz cup of dark black high quality (so says the purveyor) coffee every morning. It gives me an energy boost but most importantly, it’s the only thing I’ve found that seems to completely prevent gallstone attacks.

If I miss a day of my daily dose, I can almost surely count on a gall stone attack that night.

Has anyone else had that experience?

Catt
Catt
5 years 7 months ago
I recently quit coffee for over a month after learning that stimulants can compromise immune function, and I didn’t like the idea of my adrenals going out of whack either. When quitting, I didn’t even have a caffeine headache (which surprised me because when I’ve quit before, I _always_ do), but I did feel a little slumpy. Anyway, I just missed coffee overall — I like the little high, I love the taste, and it gets things going in the AM. I’m a big tea drinker throughout the day (green in the AM then only rooibos) but tea just doesn’t… Read more »
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[…] Mark’s Daily Apple on Caffeine […]

robbie
robbie
5 years 6 months ago

This is a really interesting piece, we’ve got to so careful about caffeine. I believe that its super dangerous and I, first hand, have experienced the amazing effects of quitting it! Here’s a guide for how to quit, do it you won’t regret it http://www.caffeinefreeliving.com
I couldn’t figure out why I felt so terrible all the time, up and downs, etc and the change has been incredible

kate
kate
5 years 6 months ago

I gave up caffeinated coffee a few years ago after reading Paleo Diet for Athletes. Now I just have it on race day. It’s not so much the coffee I’m concerned about as it is what we put in it. Though I don’t drink the caffeinated stuff anymore, I am pretty addicted to the taste. I get decaf in the morning (along with many weird looks). Breaking the Starbucks habit could be good for the pocketbook, too.

Natalia
Natalia
5 years 5 months ago

I enjoy a cup of black coffee now and then. More bitter, the better. But I sometimes get headaches, stomach sickness, panic attacks, exhaustion…… so I don’t drink it very often. Only when I have to wake up by alarm, before seven.

Zimmer
Zimmer
5 years 5 months ago

Anything that you eat or drink can be implicated as “evil” by the food police. I’ve seen articles on coffee being evil and coffee being the all inclusive, cure all beverage.
Like anything else, moderation is the key. I have a cup if I feel like it…or not. It’s a beverage..no big deal.

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[…] Get a regular, moderate dose of a wide variety of polyphenol-rich foods and spices, like chocolate, coffee, berries, red wine, tea, cinnamon, and turmeric; polyphenols often up-regulate the body’s […]

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[…] hipotezy paleo. Dla przyk?adu Mark Sisson, autor znanego bloga Mark’s Daily Apple, w artykule „Caffeine Talk” zauwa?a, ?e chwilowe korzy?ci ze spo?ycia kofeiny (np. wi?ksza koncentracja, lepsza […]

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Elenor
Elenor
5 years 3 months ago
Ten-plus years ago, when I was going in for double surgery (lapo. gall bladder followed by regular hyster…. two for the price of… er… two!), I went to both docs ahead of time and said this: “A couple of studies have recently shown that the “post-surgery headache” that has always been attributed to an after effect of the anesthesia, turns out to only occur in — guess who?! Coffee drinkers! (Someone finally thought to study it!) Since I am a coffee addict (albeit only a tall mug in the morning — more and my hands shake!), unless you have a… Read more »
Lance Zimney
5 years 2 months ago
Caffeine is a neuro-stimulant, therefore it activates your body’s “fight or flight” response. The “regular” caffeine drinkers in my office(mainly coffee) are showing elevated cortisol levels on their nervous systems scans displayed as decreased muscle tone in the area of the kidneys (adrenals sit on top of each kidney). Many of these same people note decreased energy, difficulty sleeping, difficulty losing weight, blood sugar issues, thyroid issues, and other hormone type issues. For most of them, cutting out the caffeine seems to normalize their cortisol levels back to normal. Depending on how long the cortisol has been over-activated in their… Read more »
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