street corners are awash with the odour of brewed beans as the city tanks up on one of its favourite legal drugs. But is there a hidden cost to your morning joe? While the coffee lobby presents its product as a benign cerebral ally, holistic types emphasize its addictive nature. Coffee's seeming energy boost, they say, is just a case of tricking your adrenal glands into producing adrenaline. All that alertness and concentration comes from fooling your body into thinking you're under attack. The aftermath? Irritability, insomnia, exhaustion -- and the need for more joe.
Studies also show that caffeine raises blood cortisol levels, which weakens your immunity, lowers blood sugar, tampers with energy levels and cognitive performance, and interferes with your ability to handle stress.
Researchers have also long feared a relationship between coffee and heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and breast cysts, but a raft of conflicting studies have failed to absolutely prove any of these connections. Some clinicians even believe that at doses of a few cups daily there is little effect on the area of the brain involved with addiction.
Still, getting off a several-cups-a-day habit causes headaches, space-out and depression. Some healers suggest that weaning is the best way -- cutting by 50 per cent daily and substituting with green tea. Also know that a 6-ounce cup of drip coffee contains between 70 and 130 mg of caffeine, percolated between 80 and 110 mg, and green tea between 24 and 48 mg.
One of the best ways to break the habit is to use green yerba mat, which also has caffeine.
If you're going to continue to indulge, consider fortifying yourself with what coffee leaches out of you -- vitamins B1, B2, B6 and C, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and calcium. Also, support the health of the rest of the planet by choosing fair-trade products.
The coffee biz touts new studies showing lowered risk of gallstones, Parkinson's, kidney stones and colorectal cancer when you drink up, but don't believe everything you read. The marketers fund many of these studies and know how to spin the others.
EXPERTSWant to get off coffee?
"Licorice tea is a great substitute (check with a practitioner) and Siberian ginseng is soothing to the adrenals. Coffee drinkers are dehydrated, which causes severe fatigue, so drink lots of water."
Tari Lee Cornish
Is caffeine used in herbalism?
"Oh, yes. Plants containing caffeine are diuretic, stimulant. They're energy and nerve food (e.g., guarana, yerba maté). But when you roast things you degrade the medicinal compounds."
A risk factor for osteoporosis?
"A few cups a day is not going to increase the risk, provided that calcium intakes are optimal. But a few cups a day for women not getting adequate calcium may accelerate bone loss."
Dietitian, Women's College Ambulatory Care Centre of Sunnybrook Hospital
"Coffee is not only safe, it has beneficial health effects. It is not addictive."
(U.S.) National Coffee Association
Relationship to Parkinson's?
"As the rate of coffee consumption increases, the emergence of Parkinson's disease decreases. But it could be that people who have a predisposition to Parkinson's simply don't have a taste for coffee."
Robert D. Abbott
University of Virginia school of medicine
"Drinking four cups of coffee a day decreases one's chance of developing colorectal cancer by 24 per cent. But it's premature to say that this represents a causal association. There are better ways to prevent colorectal cancer." (His study was funded by the National Coffee Association.)
Harvard school of public health *