In August 2017, almost a year-and-a-half ago, I gave up caffeine for the most part. Up until then I was drinking it in one form or another almost every day. The change coincided with the revelation that rectal cancer had spread into my lungs, so I’m not sure if the extreme fatigue I felt over the following days was due to caffeine withdrawals or the effects of intense emotional overload. Regardless, within a few days I felt physically back to normal and I never really missed caffeine.
I didn’t give up caffeine for the health benefits. In fact, I gave up caffeine in spite of the extensive research I had come across touting the benefits of multiple cups of coffee per day. I also didn’t give up caffeine for any moral or religious reasons, although that is a whole conversation unto itself. I gave it up because I believed I was allergic to it. Every time I had caffeine the inside of my ears would begin to itch. I also had skin issues and pruritis (an itchy bum ?) that could have been related.
Whether by coincidence or not, all of these issues cleared up within a few months of my new program. No more itchy ears, no more itchy bum, no more skin condition. Unfortunately, there were too many other factors to be able to attribute my improvements to caffeine. I had also given up all animal products, nearly all sugar, and cancer treatments–that is to say that I was no longer doing chemotherapy, radiation, or any medications.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. During another massive re-evaluation of my health program, I decided to experiment with adding some caffeine back in. The itching in my ears and bum had come and gone over the previous year, and I was a bit more confident in the causes (refined grains, go figure). The benefits of caffeine were once again flooding in from the research literature, so I decided it was worth a shot.
As I do this, I recognize that I’m not making a risk-free decision. There are some potential detriments to health that come with caffeine–some of them depending on the source of the caffeine. Here’s a brief overview of some of the major pros and cons*
*A quick note. Most caffeine research is done looking specifically at coffee. Therefore, it can be tricky to separate the effects of caffeine in general from the effects of coffee. For the purposes of this post they will be used mostly interchangeably.
- Coffee drinkers seem to live longer on average than non coffee drinkers.
- Moderate daily caffeine intake is associated with better cardiovascular health (the most common non-cancer cause of death in cancer patients).
- Regular coffee drinkers have a decreased risk of stroke.
- Coffee is full of polyphenols, which protect against all kinds of organ damage, especially that of the heart.
- Coffee prevents cancer (!)
- Caffeine is linked to a lower risk of Parkinson’s Disease.
- Caffeine may fight depression.
- Coffee often contains acrylamide, a known carcinogen.
- Caffeine is addictive for most people. Addiction is never good.
- Some people process coffee and caffeine poorly, which can be hard on the liver, nervous system, and emotions.
- Caffeine is not good during pregnancy. Full stop.
- Most coffee is processed poorly, resulting in toxin accumulation, reduced nutrient quality, and more problems than benefits.
- Non-organic sources of caffeine, which are what most people use, are particularly susceptible to problems from heavy pesticide use.
- Most caffeine comes in a carrier that is full of sugar, additives, bad fats, and other garbage (I’m looking at you, Ms. double caramel macchiato with whip cream. And you, Mr. 24-oz Mega Monster).
- Don’t even get me started on caffeinated soda. There’s nothing more deadly to our bodies than liquid sugar, and diet soda is no better.
Neither of these lists are comprehensive, but I think they provide a good overview of the relative merits and demerits of caffeine and coffee. On the whole, it appears the most common issues with caffeine are related to the form it comes in.
Therefore, it is worth mentioning some alternative options for people who want the benefits of caffeine, but do not want the risk that comes with coffee and soda:
- Use organic whole-bean coffee that has been tested for toxins and grind it right before use. I hear good things about Purity coffee, which has been tested extensively.
- Take it black. If one of the largest issues with coffee is all of the sugar, artificial sweeteners, and cream people add to it, then one solution is to just drink it in its pure form. Good luck if you are new to coffee, though. Or if you are used to sugary coffee. It is an acquired taste, to be sure.
- Take it with raw, grass-fed milk or butter. That’s right, straight out of the cow’s udder, no pasteurization. We’re extremely fortunate here in Utah that we can buy it from a retail store like Redmond Heritage Farms in Orem. Many states also allow purchasing directly from dairy farmers. In the near future I’ll do a whole post or video on the amazing benefits of raw milk. It’s incredible.
- Take it green. By that, I mean drink green tea instead. Green tea has been shown to provide many of the same benefits of coffee with much lower risk. There’s even some evidence that it provides a much smoother boost of energy with much less of a crash later.
- Switch it up. Regardless of how you get your caffeine, everyone should take breaks and allow their body to get back to a balanced state to avoid over-dependence on caffeine.
- Just say no. There’s nothing wrong with not drinking caffeine, especially if doing so would violate your religious or moral code. It’s important to keep in mind that all of the studies showing that caffeine boosts longevity are observational. That is, they know that people who drink caffeine live longer, but they don’t know if it is because they drink caffeine or if there is something else going on. Personally, I feel confident that an otherwise healthy person who abstains from caffeine is going to do just fine in the longevity department.
There are a lot of factors to consider with caffeine. Ultimately, my decision to experiment with it again was based on my enjoyment of it. As I type this, I am experiencing a very pleasant surge of energy and positive feelings from caffeine. I find that it makes me more productive and happier. Some of my favorite rituals, which I consider a vital part of my spiritual well-being, involve caffeine.
Just as in my case, caffeine use is a personal decision. Hopefully this caffeine-fueled post has given you some food for thought, particularly around whether you believe caffeine is worthwhile and how you can do it in a healthier way.
What do you think? As always, I would love to further discuss this or any other topic with you. You can comment on this post, reach out via Facebook Messenger, email me, or call/text us at (801) 810-1420. If you want access to several free health and wellness webinars, just enter your email here.
Tristin Roney is the husband of one of Provo Health’s founders and owners, Juanique Roney. He volunteers his time to educate people about health and nutrition, advocate for patients, and help everyone know they aren’t alone in their quest to live a better life.
Where are the references? You may have noticed the lack of references in this post. They are coming, but we thought it would be better to get the information out while we work on adding the references, rather than making everyone wait.