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Coffee: How Bad is it Really?
2005 04 03

By Dr. Joseph Mercola |

with Rachael Droege

Although coffee is one of the most heavily researched commodities and studies have spanned decades, there is still much controversy surrounding its ill effects, or lack thereof, on health. Study after study is performed--often with conflicting results--and it seems there is always a new study out to discount the last one. Still, the average American adult consumes over 10 pounds of coffee per year, which amounts to a total of 2.4 billion pounds a year in the United States alone.

It appears that drinking coffee may interfere with your body's ability to keep homocysteine and cholesterol levels in check, most likely by inhibiting the action of the vitamins folate, B12 or B6. Coffee has been previously associated with increased risk of stroke and rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have also shown that caffeine in coffee can raise blood pressure and levels of stress hormones, and if consumed in large quantities it can lead to heart palpitations, jitters and nervousness.

With that said, coffee is clearly not the healthiest liquid to drink--the best choice is pure water--but coffee and caffeine are far less dangerous than fruit juice or soda. While I do believe that eliminating, or at the very least limiting, coffee should be one of your goals, if you are in the midst of other dietary changes, such as those outlined in my nutrition plan eliminating coffee can be put toward the bottom of the list, and you should strive to eliminate soda and fruit juice from your beverage list first.

There are, however, some important facets of coffee that you should know before you have your next morning cup.

Coffee and Pregnant Women
Pregnant women should NEVER drink coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant drug that easily passes through the placenta to the developing fetus and is also transferred through breast milk.

During pregnancy and in infants the half-life of caffeine is increased, which means that it will stay in your body, and your infantís body, longer. Moreover, fetuses have no ability to detoxify caffeine.

Research suggests that drinking more than 300 mg of coffee daily, or the equivalent of two to three 8-ounce cups, may increase the risk of miscarriage, birth defects such as cleft palate and low birth weight, although as I mentioned above I donít believe that ANY amount coffee is safe for pregnant women.

Even with moderate caffeine intake, when the woman experiences no effects, studies have found changes in both the motherís and the fetal heart rate and blood pressure. Preliminary studies also suggest that drinking four cups of coffee or more per day may put the infant at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Caffeine may also make it more difficult for women to maintain necessary levels of iron and calcium, which are especially important during pregnancy.

It also appears that coffee consumption is associated with increased estrogen levels, which means an increased risk of breast and endometrial cancer.

Coffee also has the issue of pesticide contamination, which is particularly harmful during pregnancy. You can read more about this issue below.

Coffee and Pesticides
Coffee is usually not grown in the United States and we therefore have no control over how many pesticides are sprayed on coffee crops. As such, coffee is a heavily sprayed crop, so drinking coffee is likely to expose you to a dose of pesticides with each cup.

Pesticides have been associated with a number of health problems such as:
  • Prostate cancer and other cancers

  • Parkinsonís Disease

  • Miscarriages

  • If you choose to drink coffee, drinking organic coffee might reduce or eliminate the exposure to toxic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. The only drawback is that the countries where coffee is produced probably have less control and monitoring for compliance to organic practices along with pesticide use. Another plus of organic coffee is that you will also be helping to protect the health of the people working in the coffee fields, as you will be helping to reduce their exposure to toxins as well.

    Avoid Coffee if You Have High Blood Pressure, Insomnia or Anxiety
    Since coffee is a stimulant it will only worsen the symptoms of insomnia and anxiety and should definitely be avoided. People with panic or anxiety disorders may find that they are especially sensitive to caffeine and may find that even a small amount of the stimulant exacerbates their symptoms. Similarly, the caffeine will linger in your body for hours after you drink it, so it may keep you up at night even if you drink it long before bedtime.

    For those with high blood pressure, a general rule is that the more caffeine you drink in a day, the higher your blood pressure will be. So if you are already at the higher end of the scales, drinking coffee will only increase your blood pressure further.

    How to Wean Yourself Off Coffee
    If you try to stop drinking coffee "cold turkey" you will likely experience symptoms of withdrawal that can include severe headache, fatigue and depression. This can be avoided by cutting down the amount you drink gradually over a period of days or even weeks. Itís also important to drink plenty of water during the process in order to keep your body well hydrated.

    If you find that you miss your morning coffee-drinking ritual, replace it with a new tradition that will also boost your health and energy. Vegetable juice makes a great coffee replacement, and if youíre in a hurry you can try Living Fuel Rx Superfood. Both options will give you the energy boost that youíre looking for in the morning without the negative effects of caffeine.

    While youíre in the process of weaning yourself off coffee, here are some tips to reduce the chance of harmful effects until you can completely eliminate it:

  • Use organic coffee. As mentioned above, coffee is a heavily sprayed crop, so drinking organic coffee might reduce or eliminate your exposure to toxic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. It will also help the people working in the coffee fields, as they will be exposed to fewer pesticides as well.

  • Try "Swiss Water Process" decaf. If you are going to drink decaffeinated coffee, be sure that it uses a non-chemical based method of decaffeination. The "Swiss Water Process" is a patented method and is the best choice. Most of the major brands are chemically decaffeinated, even if it says "naturally decaffeinated" right on the container. If you are unsure of the methods, contact the manufacturer.

  • Avoid sugar and milk. These are actually much worse for you than the coffee itself. Don't compound the detrimental health effects by adding milk or sugar to your coffee.

  • Only use unbleached filters. If you use a "drip" coffee maker, be sure to use non-bleached filters. The bright white ones, which most people use, are chlorine bleached and some of this chlorine will be extracted from the filter during the brewing process.

  • Mary Sparrowdancer is the author of The Love Song of the Universe. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

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