Updated: Oct 19, 2021
I feel like today there’s so much information out there on what is good and bad for our bodies and we’re all struggling to make sense of it all. What is going to give me the most energy? What is going to allow me to feel good today? What is going to prevent me from being sick? What is best for my reproductive health?
When we’re tired, or run down, or just have a really long day ahead of us, often the first instinct is to grab a cup of coffee. Coffee is comforting (at least to me!); it’s energizing and for most of us and the smell alone has a sense of memory. I know when I have a bad night's sleep and a day filled with treating patients and being a Mom to 2 young toddlers, it can seem daunting. Then I look for a clutch to grab onto. For most of you I bet that “clutch” is coffee. Does coffee really give you more energy though? And how is it really affecting your body today and in the long run? Like most foods, I don’t necessarily look at coffee as Good or Bad. Different foods and drinks are right for different people, at different times. So let’s explore the energetics of coffee and whether or not it is right for you, now.
WHAT DOES COFFEE DO TO YOUR BODY?
Coffee is energetically warm, moving, stimulating, associated with the Heart and bitter in taste. How do these elements affect your energy, fertility, immune system and well being? Let me explain:
Coffee is energetically warm. The warming factor of it can also be very drying, which is great for someone who may have a lot of dampness (mucus in the body, a feeling of heaviness, bloating, weight gain, etc.). However, the drying factor is harmful for those who are already depleted of internal fluids and show signs of dryness such as dry skin, hard bowel movements, flaky scalp, and some forms of eczema. Digestion is also the route of skin disorders. Coffee can be too warm for some people and contribute to eczema, acne and other red rashes. I’ve been lucky to have never had to deal with serious skin issues myself. That being said, if I drink coffee everyday for a week, small red bumps will start to appear on my face. I’ll stop coffee for a few days and they will disappear.
Coffee is very moving, which I usually would consider as a positive for most people; BUT coffee is moving in a very forceful way. Bitter greens (such as mustard greens) are also moving, but they move energy in a softer, smoother fashion. Drinking coffee is like opening a floodgate to your energy - it doesn't just move it, it forcefully pours out. Coffee is classically used to combat the toxic overload of a rich and greasy diet, by stimulating the sluggishness of the digestive system. It helps purge constipation. Getting bowels flowing is very important and if you're someone with strong digestion who may just be temporarily constipated due to stuck emotions or lack of movement, this can be a good thing. If you're chronically constipated though, it is better to focus on improving your digestion to get your bowels flowing. I am someone who naturally tends towards constipation and every once and a while if I’m just feeling totally off I’ll have a few sips of coffee to help me out. On an everyday basis, though, there're three important dietary rules I stick to, that help me stay regular and you can find those here.
On a purely physical level, coffee eats away at the villi in your small intestines'. The villi is responsible for the absorption of nutrients, digestion and immune defense. Drinking coffee affects nutrient absorption and a lot of heavy coffee drinkers are deficient in calcium & other minerals. Just 1-2 cups of coffee a day can affect some people. Coffee also is very acidic and contributes to acid reflux. If you find that you’re getting colds frequently, or are experiencing some digestive upset, then it may be time to give coffee a break.
There's really no nice way to spin this part. The stimulating aspect of coffee stresses the body and puts it into overdrive, throws hormones out of whack and depletes the adrenals (Kidney/Jing energy). When your adrenals are depleted you'll often get that "wired, but tired" feeling.
Jing & Kidney energy are central to fertility in women. There's not a great translation for Jing, but it is our life force, or life line. Jing allows women to get pregnant and grow another human - without adequate Jing, we don’t have enough life force to give to another human (a baby). Kidney energy is what governs the entire reproduction process from growth of a follicle to growth of a baby in utero. Kidney energy is so important to women’s cycle and reproductive health. Without adequate Kidney energy, women often experience infertility, irregular periods, short or long cycles etc. Coffee depletes that vital energy. I always recommend to women who are trying to conceive to give up coffee. Most women give it up when pregnant anyways, so why not start early.
On a superficial level, Jing energy controls aging and beauty. Hair turning grey too early is often related to a depletion of Jing. I can tell you that after the birth of my second child, my hair started to grey MUCH quicker. This is because the act of childbirth depletes Jing. That’s a little uncontrollable if you want to have kids, but drinking coffee also depletes Jing and that is controllable. After I recovered from the postpartum phase and took care of my body with rest and good foods, then my hair slowed in the greying process.
THE MIND, ENERGY & SLEEP
Now this is the big one and why we all rely on coffee - energy! People (usually) drink coffee because it gives them energy. Where does that energy come from though? Coffee stimulates the production of energy by taking away your storage, it doesn't technically give you energy. Coffee gives you energy today that you would have had tomorrow; and if you keep drinking it, it's like a domino effect. Eventually the energy runs out. I'll be very honest that I love the feeling coffee gives me! However, that energy it gives me is short lived and quickly dissipates. I find that on weeks when I don't drink coffee at all, I overall have more energy.
The bitter flavor is related to the Heart organ and coffee is wonderful for opening the Heart. That's why people often feel lifted and happier after drinking it. It can also clear brain fog and fatigue by clearing dampness (discussed under Digestion). The downside is that the happy feeling coffee brings can quickly turn to nervousness, anxiety and sleeplessness. If you've been drinking coffee regularly for a long time, you may not even notice that it's contributing to your anxiety. Often people don't realize it until they stop drinking coffee and compare how they felt before and after.
I often get patients who tell me that coffee helps them sleep at night. I am not that person, but I understand that and this is why. It runs your body down until you don't have any energy left, making it very easy to sleep. Your sleep may not be as restful as you think, though, or it could just leave you just needing another cup of coffee the next morning. Coffee can be very addicting to some. Instead of relying on coffee to help you sleep, I recommend seeking out better sleep habits and working on balancing your body for a restful sleep.
THE PROCESSING OF COFFEE
We live in a world where most of the foods and drinks we consume aren't grown in our backyards, so I couldn't write about coffee without mentioning some processing concerns. In the production of coffee beans, dangerous chemicals and pesticides are often used. To avoid this as much as possible, it's important to source Organic coffee. With all coffee (organic or conventional), the grinds go rancid very quickly after being ground. It's important to buy whole beans and grind your own beans fresh daily, or make sure your coffee shop is doing the same. Lastly, and sadly out of your control, if the beans aren't 100% dried when packed for shipping, they can grow fungus on them that is toxic to our bodies. I recently went to Costa Rica and spent a wonderful 5 days there drinking pure, local coffee. I didn't get the jitters I get when I drink coffee back home in NYC and I didn't get that hangover feeling the next day that I usually get. I truly do not know the answer to this, but I assume that the answer lies somewhere in between what happens to the beans from shipping in country of origin, to spending months in customs, to then to being sold at retailers.
SO HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
This is so personal and individual to every person. For me, one cup is too much and any more is way too much. If I get a cappuccino or latte at a coffee shop, I always order half decaf (1 shot espresso + 1 decaf shot espresso) because milky espresso drinks contain 2 shots of espresso, which is way too much for my body. For the majority of people, I'd say anything more than 1 cup is too much. The best way to tell is really tuning into how it makes you feel. If you’ve been drinking coffee regularly for a while, you may need to take a break from coffee to really be able to tell how it makes you feel.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF COFFEE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
If you feel that "wired and tired" feeling, then it's definitely time to break up with coffee. If you're feeling restless, having trouble sleeping or anxious, it's probably a good idea to try a week or two off of coffee. If you're trying to conceive or planning to, it’s best to avoid coffee; and if you have an autoimmune disease, you should avoid coffee.
For everyone else, honestly the best way to tell is just to stop drinking coffee for 2 weeks and compare how you felt before and after. If you're used to drinking a lot of coffee everyday, though, it may be best to slowly wean vs. stopping cold turkey.
DO I DRINK COFFEE?
No, but also yes. I wish I could be a coffee drinker, but I'm just too sensitive to it. I love the bitter taste of coffee and the smoothness of a milky cappuccino. It's nostalgic for me and reminds me of long brunches with friends after a late night of drinking (pre-kids) and studying abroad in Italy. I love the jolt of energy a good cup of coffee gives me. I love the energetic high I get from it and the way it can turn my grumpy mood into a happy one. That being said, I hate how my sleep is restless after drinking coffee, even if I drink it very early in the morning. I hate the tole it takes on my body. The initial high I get from coffee turns into a chronic run down feeling if I drink it regularly. I hate that if I drink it regularly, my skin starts to break out in small red blemishes. So, I find a balance. I don't rely on coffee to wake me up in the morning and I'm not a regular or religious coffee drinker, but I allow myself to enjoy a cup when it feels right. That being said, when I do drink coffee, I usually regret it the next day.
Coffee shouldn't be drunk out of necessity, it should be drunk for enjoyment. Some people are more sensitive to coffee and should drink it with care, while others can handle coffee just fine. I suggest everyone take a coffee challenge where they go off coffee for 2 weeks and see how they feel. If you do this, I'd love to hear your results! Please email me.
There's a lot of beverages you can have in place of coffee and things you can do in replace of coffee to help wake up your mind and body in the morning. Join my mailing list at the bottom of the page and keep your eye out for my next article where I will go over coffee alternatives in more detail.
Finally, if you feel like you're struggling with not having enough energy, insomnia/restless sleep, anxiety, digestive issues/IBS, fertility, acne, or eczema - instead of reaching for a cup of coffee, contact me to schedule a 15min call and discuss if my services are right for you.