Drinking that morning cup of coffee is an essential ritual that many of us can’t do without. In fact, over 90% of all Americans consume caffeine each day, usually in the form of coffee. But is it good for you? When it comes to the question of whether coffee is healthy or not, there are compelling arguments on both sides of the fence. Add to this often-confusing pool of information the studies that pop up every year touting both the pros and cons of coffee consumption, and you’re left with contradicting messages when all you really want is to be able to enjoy your morning cup of Joe. Never fear! We’re going to debunk a few of the most common myths about coffee, and let you decide once and for all if this potent brew still holds a place in your heart and in your morning mug.
Myth #1: Coffee Gives You Energy
The ingredient in coffee that’s responsible for the ‘energy’ it provides is caffeine. It might surprise you to know that caffeine does not, in fact, give you energy. Caffeine is a circulatory system stimulant that produces a feeling of alertness, but when it comes to real energy, it just doesn’t deliver. When you drink a cup of coffee, the caffeine is absorbed into your bloodstream where it stimulates your central nervous system. At the same time, it blocks the nerve receptors in your brain that make you feel drowsy. Caffeine temporarily enhances brain function by causing your brain’s neurons to fire like crazy, but this same action quickly puts your body into emergency mode, prompting your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, stress-related hormones that are responsible for the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. The result is that your body goes into overdrive; your heart rate increases and more oxygen flows to your brain, making you feel more alert. Your blood pressure rises, your pupils dilate, and your muscles tense as your body prepares to respond to perceived danger. Unfortunately, while it seems to temporarily increase energy levels by getting your body ready for action, the caffeine in coffee does nothing to help your body’s real energy production. Instead, you may find yourself dragging as soon as its effects have worn off.
Myth #2: Coffee Wakes You Up
Because the caffeine in coffee produces a feeling of alertness, you may think it’s helping to wake you up. The truth is, continued coffee drinking can actually make you more tired in the long run. Because the caffeine in coffee works by triggering your nervous system and adrenal glands, continuous caffeine consumption can put undo stress on these systems, ultimately depleting your energy levels. The illusion of more energy also tends to make you push yourself harder when what your body really needs is rest. The constant stimulation and state of emergency that caffeine creates is like ‘crying wolf’ to your adrenal glands, which eventually wears them down and inhibits their functioning, over time contributing to feelings of tiredness and fatigue. Because drinking coffee also increases the level of dopamine in your brain, temporarily boosting your mood, without coffee you may even be left feeling a little depressed. To top it all off, it takes about six hours for half the caffeine you drink to leave your system, so depending on how much you drink and at what time of day, your coffee consumption could even affect your nighttime sleep. Because caffeine blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter your body needs in order to fall into a deep sleep, any caffeine left in your system at bedtime will make it harder to get a deep, refreshing sleep. The result is that you reach for a cup of coffee first thing in the morning to compensate – creating a never-ending vicious cycle.
Myth #3: Coffee is Good for You
Although certain constituents in coffee have been shown to protect against diseases such as Parkinson’s and colon cancer, as a whole, coffee will not make you healthier. First off, it has no nutritional value; in fact, it actually robs your body of water, vitamins and minerals. Coffee, even decaf, causes an acid/alkaline imbalance in your system, making your blood overly-acidic. As a result, your body robs your bones and teeth of alkalizing minerals like calcium in order to keep the pH of your blood in an acceptable range. Various studies have proven the connection between coffee drinking and bone health. In one study, drinking as few as two cups of coffee a day significantly increased the risk of hip fractures. In another study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was shown that out of 85,000 nurses, those who drank the most coffee suffered three times the amount of hip fractures. Aside from weakening the bones by leaching precious minerals, an overly-acidic system creates a veritable breeding ground for bacteria and serious diseases like cancer. Coffee also wreaks havoc on your hormones, contributing to hormonal imbalance by raising estrogen levels and depleting progesterone. The resulting imbalance creates a condition called ‘estrogen dominance’, which is related to concerns ranging from low libido, PMS and endometriosis to breast and ovarian cancer.
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