We live in stressful times. We work more than we sleep and deal with stressful situations daily. Be it money or social media, we are living in an environment that no one ever envisioned or has dealt with. Our body and mind was not designed to deal with these new stressors. The environment is taking its toll and for some, drugs are their saving grace. Be it coffee, alcohol, exercise, food, marijuana or more lethal ones like cocaine, painkiller and heroin. It is important to realize that anything that manipulates your brain is a drug, and everything mentioned above is a drug, even food and even exercise. Some drugs, like exercise and food can be very beneficial, but too much of anything can be a bad thing. I am a firm believer that everything has a darkside, and there is a yin and yang to this life. Today, I am going to address one of the most used drugs in America, your morning cup of coffee. Last week I talked about how it worked and kept you awake, I briefly wrote about its mood enhancing effects and how it increases neurotransmitter levels in the brain.
In this blog post you will find out whether or not coffee is dangerous. After all, it is a drug and people do become dependant on it. But does this dependance cause damage to other aspects of life? We know that if you drink too much alcohol it will decrease longevity and increase your risk for numerous diseases. But coffee is different, over 50% of American adults drink it and function fine. Well, that is up for debate, but you get the point. I mean, I drink two cups a day, sometimes three and I am doing well. I sleep fine and have high energy levels throughout the day, just ask one of my clients. But if I switched those two cups out for two cups of tequila, I don't think I would be doing as well nor would my clients. The majority of people are consuming coffee on a regular basis and using it to get through their day. However, most of these people, (including myself, until now) have no idea what coffee does to their brain. By the of this blog post you will know how coffee manipulates the brain and whether or not it is detrimental to your health.
We have all experienced the mood boosting effects of our morning cup of coffee. For many people, including myself, the first cup of coffee is a ritual and something that I look forward to everyday. Just like the meme says, it touches and calms the soul. It does this by increasing a mixture of neurotransmitters of the brain, including dopamine, noradrenaline, acetylcholine, and serotonin to name a few(1). This chemical cocktail is responsible for the high you feel from your coffee and the reason why people become addicted to it. But is this chemical cocktail dangerous?
It all depends on the dose and your genetics, your coffee tolerance is specific to you. For some, an excessive amount of coffee consumption (4+ cups a day) can lead to detrimental health effects, like poor sleep, high anxiety and digestion issues. While others can thrive on this excessive consumption and not be bothered by it. Regardless, coffee is stimulating the brain in a unique way. We know that you can develop a tolerance for coffee and overtime you need more cups of coffee to get the same effects. So will this tolerance lead to bad outcomes like depression? Generally speaking, depression occurs when the brain can no longer produce the good feeling neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine to name a few. So the question is this, will too much coffee lead to a neurotransmitter resistance? In essence, by raising your neurotransmitter artificially through coffee, will the body stop producing them naturally. If this is the case, then people who drink coffee excessively should be at a higher risk for depression . But is there any science to support this hypothesis?
Studies have shown that coffee may actually reduce your risk of depression (2 ,3 ). Granted, these two studies are correlational based and took part 10+ years ago so you must take each one with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, the two studies do show a strong inverse association between coffee intake and depression.
The first study included 2232 middle aged Finnish men. The purpose of the study was to find an association between the intake of coffee, tea and caffeine and depression. To do this, they divided the men into three groups, non-drinkers, light drinkers (3 cups or less), moderate drinkers (4-8 cups) and heavy drinkers (8 cups or more). The study found that heavy drinkers had a reduced risk versus non drinkers and tea drinkers. From this result, the scientists concluded that coffee may reduce the risk of depression in men (2). But what about women, does coffee have the same effect on them?
A study done on 50,739 women found that as coffee intake increased the risk of depression decreased (3). The women were broken down into three groups, one or less cup of coffee per week, two to three cups per day and four cups per day or more. Just like the study above, the scientists found that the group who consumed the most coffee had a decreased risk for depression (3). As I stated above, these studies are correlational based and are not the final answer, but they do beg the question, Why is there an inverse relationship between coffee consumption and depression? Are there other compounds in coffee that are fighting against depression? We know coffee can increase performance in the gym and help reduce weight which would help fight against depression. So maybe I am wrong and there is more to depression than just neurotransmitter levels. Nevertheless, I still believe that we should take a break from coffee every three to four months to reset our tolerance. Ultimately, your coffee intake is specific to you, if you are loving life, sleeping well (7-9 hours) and have high energy throughout the day, then by all means keep coffee in your life. But if you are lethargic, and struggling to sleep, maybe it is time you take break. Life is just a series of experiments and there are no black and white answers. So is coffee dangerous? Well, it depends.
Stay tuned for next week’s post where I write about how coffee helps you lose weight and increases performance in the gym.