Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
20 Mar

Caffeine Talk

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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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. 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
    I couldn’t figure out why I felt so terrible all the time, up and downs, etc and the change has been incredible

    robbie wrote on February 28th, 2011
  2. 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.

    kate wrote on March 24th, 2011
  3. 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.

    Natalia wrote on April 2nd, 2011
  4. 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 big deal.

    Zimmer wrote on April 3rd, 2011
  5. 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 good solid reason why I should NOT have coffee the morning after surgery, I’m going to have a friend bring me my morning drug.”

    Both were fine with it, I had my morning drug, and no post surgery headache! (or, rather, no caffeine withdrawal headache!) The additional (mild) diuretic and laxative effect of the coffee was just a post-surgery bennie! Got me out of the hospital quicker!

    May I also rave wildly about the Aerobie Areopress? Not associated with it/them, other than to make my morning libation very, very happily with that weird-chemistry-set kinda device. Makes SUPERB coffee! And super easy to travel with — all yah need is hot water and some ground coffee. Chucked my old coffee machine with no regrets!

    Elenor wrote on June 17th, 2011
  6. 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 body determines how long each person takes to recover.
    I consume coffee less than 5 times per year. When I do, I get to enjoy the hyperactivity of my legs to go with it. Tried drinking coffee before a road race (13.1 mile half marathon) and thought my heart was going to explode the first few miles.
    Everyone will respond differently to how much caffeine they can safely consume daily.
    If you experience any of the symptoms above(including mental cloudiness and/or anxiety), then assume your “fight or flight” system is being over-stimulated. Excessive emotional stress, too much exercise, skipping meals(especially breakfast), irregular sleep patterns (ie. working graveyard shift)…can all tap out your adrenals as well.

    A saliva test to measure your free cortisol levels is the best way to see if your cortisol levels are normal. Getting a nerve scan from a chiropractor won’t tell you what your levels are, but will only let you know if your body is in a stress response.

    So far, haven’t seen any cortisol issues in my tea drinkers(most drink only 1-2/day). Energy drinks and multiple sodas/day seem to raise the cortisol levels as well.

    Someday soon, it will become medical standard to include free-cortisol testing through saliva(blood tests only show bound-cortisol). Until then, medicine only recognizes Addison’s and Cushing’s syndrome as adrenal issues. They are only just beginning to recognize the in-between states known as adrenal fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, and adrenal burn-out.

    Dr. Z

    Lance Zimney wrote on July 6th, 2011
  7. Hey Mark,

    are there any negative effects of consuming caffeine on an empty stomach? i train fasted in the am and take 200mg of caffeine before my workouts

    jerry wrote on August 6th, 2011
  8. Having been on a low carb primal diet for over a year, I recently quit coffee with only noticeable withdrawal symptoms for about two days.

    Back before my diet change I tried to quit coffee and I had *no* energy for months.

    Talk about total dependance, could not stay awake without coffee, lost jobs because I fell asleep at my desk. One doctor offered my speed to handle my narcalepsy.

    WalterB wrote on August 10th, 2011
  9. I love the taste, smell and overall feel of coffee, especially at breakfast, and I am a huge tea fanatic. I drink a fair amount, more than your average medic would advise to be safe, but I don’t get jittery or anything, because I always have lots of water with it. Or fat – in the shape of coconut milk. Or cream if I’m in dairy mood. Works for me.

    Milla wrote on September 3rd, 2011
  10. To deal with jetlag on a vacation to Hawaii my wife found a plan where you get totally off caffeine for two weeks and then use it to retime your body clock….It does work but what an awakening after two days of no Joe I had headaches like a brain tumor, it was scary. You may not think your hooked so try stopping for a few days.


    Ken Crosiar wrote on September 8th, 2011
  11. i drink a lot of coffee, though i’m not sure i could be labelled a coffee addict. some days i’ll have 3 cups in the morning and 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and other days i’ll only have 1.

    and although too much coffee can cause my heart to flutter and make me all jittery, there are time i’ll have a cup of coffee just before bed and sleep like a baby.

    i have always suffered from insomnia, and gave up all caffeine for a year, but notice no effect on my insomnia. i’ve also tried tryptophan, but found that to act more as a stimulant than a sedative.

    in the end, i decided to imbibe in “that evil, dark brew”, and listen to my body as to how much i should, and shouldn’t, drink.

    so, drink it when i want a cup, and stop when i’ve had enough.

    roddy wrote on September 24th, 2011
  12. I love the taste of coffee & my decaf espresso (Nespresso machine – yay!) with a drop of cream and honey or molasses. Nice treat with almond meal-blueberry pancakes & bacon in the morning.

    DianeS wrote on October 17th, 2011
  13. What would you suggest as a good sweetener for coffee? I don’t drink it myself but my wife has to have a cup every morning and she’s read all the articles on the dangers of processed sugar and artificial sweeteners. She tried adding molasses and she’s wondering if that the best option. We’d like to be as sugar-free as possible but we really need to add something to the coffee. Heavy cream and??? Help us out!

    Chris K. wrote on November 2nd, 2011
  14. One thing I’ve said all my life is that I have no idea how my boreal Arctic ancestors (I’m Saami and Karelian Finnish and Nenets Russian) survived the Ice Age and post-Ice Age without coffee.

    I handle the caffeine very differently at different latitudes. When I live and work in northern/very cold (minus 30 or more) climates, I can drink it by the quart with nothing but salubrious effects. When I live and work in more tropical areas (which I don’t do often–I’m not wired for heat), I can’t touch the stuff. For a morning drink I do what my maternal grandmother did: hot water. Then cool green or oolong tea the rest of the day, and plain water. Tea isn’t quite Uralic…but it tastes better than lichen tea to my palate.

    Farmer Pat wrote on January 3rd, 2012
  15. Lots of nursing moms have trouble getting their infants to sleep. Usually they are soooo tired all the time and use coffee to help them stay awake. This in turn makes it more difficult to get the baby, who is also ingesting caffeine, to get to sleep which in turn makes the mother more tired and the baby more tired.

    I say – nursing moms shouldn’t have high caffeinated food and drinks if they want to sleep and to let their baby sleep. I don’t and I’ve never had trouble getting my babies to sleep.

    Natasha wrote on May 8th, 2012
  16. Taste is genetic! Last year I discovered why I can’t stand cilantro – I have a gene that makes it taste like dishwater!! So now I believe it when someone says they can’t stand broccoli. . . or anything else.

    Dar wrote on May 11th, 2012
  17. I’ve been depending on coffee to keep me going the last couple of years (very little before), but since taking care of some other problems (third shift work, sleep apnea, low testosterone, not being on Primal Diet)I’m thinking it’s time to start cutting back and see what happens. I’ve never drunk it for pleasure, only as fuel.

    FatHappyandCaffeinated wrote on June 13th, 2012
  18. I’m 35. I’ve never been much of a caffeine consumer. I have never had a cup of coffee. I remember a story my dad sometimes tells of a time when my mom ran out of regular coffee and switched him to decaff without telling him. 3 days in a row, he almost fell asleep at the wheel. In addition to this, my parents become irritable if they don’t get coffee in the morning. I think I was about 8 years old when I figured out this was an addiction. At 8, I had never had coffee and I wasn’t irritable if I didn’t get it. I wanted to keep it that way, so I never started drinking it.

    I used to drink whiskey and coke on irregular intervals–not a habit like my aunt and uncle who can’t survive without a glass of coke in the morning–but I mostly stopped because of acid reflux. The combination of acid and caffeine was too much for me.

    My ex girlfriend left some green tea here. I noticed it the other day. Yesterday, I had a cup and made a second cup with the same tea bag. I did not finish the second cup. I felt weird. No sugar or anything else was added to the tea. I kind of liked it but not the weird feeling. I think I’ll try it again, when I have somebody to share the second cup with.

    Joe wrote on August 7th, 2012
    • I don’t drink coffee, either, mostly b/c I can’t tolerate the bitterness–I have a big problem w/ bitter veggies, too. I come from a family that drinks so much coffee they literally wear out coffee pots but at least one of my sibs doesn’t like it, either.
      So, I’ve become a big tea collector, black, oolong, green, herbal, yerba mate–you name it. When I drink the English and Indian types that are supposed to have milk added I usually use almond milk.
      I’ve tried kicking caffeine several times and can’t do it–as little as 12 hrs w/o it and the nasty vascular headache starts. I usually have one cup of regular green in the mornings plus herbal/decaf to follow if I want it; I need another cup of regular (Earl Gray or chai w/ almond milk–yum) late afternoon or here comes the headache.
      Hopefuly this is Primal enough–not volunteering for avoidable pain.
      Joe, I’m hoping by now you’ve found your tea-drinking someone (smile).

      shrimp4me wrote on November 1st, 2013
  19. I get a full night’s rest, I eat good, I feel good and I drink coffee.. and tea (decaf though, because I drink a LOT of tea- it’s water decaffeinated). I have two cups in the morning. Not because I’m tired, not because I need a pick me up. But because I just tastes good! It’s my breakfast. Studies say it’s bad, studies say it’s good. I say it’s a strong food and for some people it may be bad, and for some people it may be good. I dunno!

    Ashley wrote on August 30th, 2012
  20. I think it’s “to each their own.” We all know are own bodies best. Do what makes you feel best. If you drink it and like the benefits fine…if you notice it bothering you, cut back or give it up a while to see how you feel. I used to drink A LOT of coffee -I loved it and if I’m to be honest with myself, was addicted. With age I just found I couldn’t handle it anymore…even the decaf…made my mind kind of race and thoughts seemed less clear. I had to cut back, for my own good. Do I miss it? Heck yeah!!! But I just can’t tolerate it anymore. :-(

    Pam wrote on September 14th, 2012
  21. I’ve recently come across a brand called Papua Coffee – it claims to not induce the negative side effects of coffee consumption; jitters, acid reflux, and actually DEtoxify and alkalize your system. I know, sounds too good to be true, but the testimonials are impressive. Apparently the altitude it grows at in Papua New Guinea is super high, so the plants don’t produce such an aggressive form/amount of caffeine (to protect themselves from predators). It’s kind of expensive once you add shipping costs, but it has given me the idea to look in Whole Foods for other coffee from Papua New Guinea – presumably all coffee from there exhibits the same qualities.

    Helsinki wrote on November 28th, 2012
  22. I quit caffeine at the New Year. I was drinking about 5 diet Cokes a day.

    The first week was hell.

    Now I feel sooooo much better. I no longer have “the munchies” which I CHRONICALLY had when caffeinated. I sleep better. I can actually CONCENTRATE – I had spent a lot of my life wondering what was wrong with my brain.

    I agree with the poster who said “drink it or don’t” – it’s just caffeine. But, when I hear about how stressed and anxious people are … I just think if it’s “just caffeine” people should just try life without it for a little while and see if life is better without it.

    Cat wrote on February 13th, 2013

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