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Coffee: Good or Bad?

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"Dr. Hyman, I'm so confused about coffee," writes this week's house call. "One day I read that it's so bad for me and the next it's good for me. Why all the conflicting information?"

Let's face it: Americans love their coffee, which is the number one source of antioxidants in our diet—which actually makes me kind of sad!

Studies show coffee decreases your risk for type 2 diabetes, lowers cancer risk and improves mood and memory. iStock

In a recent animal study, researchers saw improvements in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and cholesterol when mice consumed coffee and fat together. (More on that combo in a minute.) They also found coffee can help reduce gut permeability or leaky gut.

Among its other benefits, studies show coffee decreases your risk for type 2 diabetes, lowers cancer risk and improves mood and memory. Coffee can also boost metabolism and sports performance.

On the other hand, coffee can become highly addictive, altering stress hormones while making you feel simultaneously wired and tired.

So I understand the confusion. It feels like one day we see studies that support coffee and the next day we see 10 reasons why coffee is bad. So let's uncover the truth about this aromatic beverage that most of us love.

When to Avoid Coffee

Before jumping to conclusions, remember those blurred lines aren't entirely about coffee itself. It also depends on the person drinking the coffee. The way you respond to coffee is often determined by genetics that affect caffeine metabolism. For one person, a cup could have them bouncing off the walls, while another person can have a triple espresso at dinner and fall fast asleep easily.

In other words, everyone is different and we all experience coffee's effects differently. One patient complained about fatigue, restlessness and heart palpitations. Obviously, in that situation, I recommended avoiding coffee.

Likewise, if you suffer from adrenal fatigue, coffee could easily become dangerous. Some individuals might also be sensitive to coffee beans, meaning their bodies can't tolerate them and they create unpleasant symptoms.

Constituents in coffee can also interfere with normal drug metabolism and liver detoxification, making it difficult for your liver to regulate the normal detoxification process.

Sometimes, too, I find patients substitute coffee for real food. Never ignore your hunger and eat regularly to prevent low blood sugar levels. Keep protein on hand and snack on a handful of nuts or seeds like almonds, pecans, walnuts or pumpkin seeds.

I had one patient who drank 12 cups of coffee a day yet constantly fell asleep at his desk. This person could barely function and couldn't understand why he felt so exhausted. The truth is he wasn't sleeping well at night due to all the caffeine but he was too exhausted to realize it. He wasn't getting the proper rest his body desperately needed at the right time.

So we tapered him off coffee and he began to sleep soundly at night, rather than nodding off at his desk during the day.

If you fall into those categories, coffee probably isn't for you.

Regardless, I recommend treating coffee like any other potential toxic trigger and eliminate it for at least three weeks, especially if you're addicted and can't seem to function without coffee or if you drink multiple cups a day.

If you need coffee every day to feel motivated or even function, you have a coffee addiction. If you have withdrawal symptoms and headaches from stopping coffee or feel like you can't live without it, you are biologically addicted to it. There's also a big chance your stress hormones are out of whack and need resetting.

How to Quit Coffee

The best way to wean off coffee is switching from drinking multiple cups to just one cup and eventually half a cup. You might also switch to green tea or herbal teas and warm lemon water.

As with any detox plan, drink adequate amounts of water and get plenty of rest during this time. I also suggest regular exercise to stabilize energy levels. Should you get irritable or have difficulty sleeping, supplement with 200 to 500 mg of magnesium citrate before bed.

My favorite detoxification rituals include a sauna, meditation and yoga. I provide powerful techniques to relax and combat stress on my website.

If you can handle it, remove coffee from your diet for three weeks and add it back in slowly. Be attentive to how you feel once you reintroduce coffee. Pay attention to your energy levels, symptoms (like anxiety or jittery feelings) or changes in digestion.

In other words, monitor how you personally respond to coffee. You are your own best doctor here.

It's perfectly fine if you realize coffee just does not work for you. Other health-friendly beverages include green tea or non-coffee-based lattes using reishi powder and other powerful herbs.

If you find you can occasionally tolerate coffee, avoid adding milk and sugar. These two culprits do more damage than the actual coffee.

Alternately, add fat to your coffee. Once people taste the creamy, frothy goodness of fat blended with coffee, they don't miss milk at all. You've probably heard of Bulletproof® Coffee, which blends MCT oil and a bit of grass-fed butter or ghee with high-quality, organic coffee. If you are a vegan, try adding 1 tablespoon of cashew butter for the creamy texture.

This delicious beverage keeps me satiated for hours, cuts cravings and keeps my brain extremely sharp. You can also drink this before exercise for steady energy levels without coffee's crash.

Here is a version of my friend Dave Asprey's Bulletproof Coffee:

In a blender, add:

  • 2 cups of hot coffee (regular or decaf), ideally fresh brewed with organic beans
  • 2 tablespoons of grass-fed butter or ghee
  • 2 tablespoons of organic coconut oil or 2 Tablespoons of MCT oil
  • ½ teaspoon of organic cinnamon (optional) or 1 teaspoon of organic cocoa powder for a mocha

Blend until creamy. For best results, I suggest using a metal mesh filter in your drip coffee maker or a French press.

Note: Always be very careful when pureeing hot liquids in a blender. The heat from the liquid can cause the pressure in the blender to build up under the lid and when the blender is turned on, the top can blow off and your hot soup will go everywhere. Keep the lid vented by removing the small window insert from the middle of the blender lid; hold a towel over the open window to prevent splattering. Always start on the lowest speed possible.

The bottom line is that much no one-size-fits-all approach exists for diet and lifestyle and that includes your coffee intake.

One person may be able to enjoy raw, cruciferous vegetables while another needs to avoid them because of digestive issues. This same thing applies to coffee. For some people it works; others, not so much.

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