Is it worth changing up your daily cuppa?

Is it worth changing up your daily cuppa?

Before I start, I want to say I'm an 80/20 guy and there is a lot to like about coffee in the morning but I do believe in a balanced approach to all things. I think people would agree that there is a lot of caffeine around these days. Nearly every person I see walking down the street has a cup in the hand and 9 out of 10 times, it’s coffee. Australians spent almost $800 million on over 2 billion cups of coffee last year alone.

Some people say they can’t function until they get their morning cup. My 3 year olds favourite kids book says he is a “cranky” Wonky Donkey without his coffee! It’s pretty ingrained, and with coffee machines in petrol stations, clothes shops and every work place, it’s everywhere. It’s almost as if not having a coffee is the exception. People don’t say “let’s catch up for a chat”, they say “let’s catch up for a coffee”.

Regularly I hear people say they are trying to back off coffee it so it might be good to find out whether they should. I like the facts so I did some digging around to see if I needed a change.

What does the research say?

According to research, coffee and caffeine is both good and bad for you. There are a lot of studies, lots of benefits and issues and too many to include here. Perhaps a more candid approach would be to mention the symptoms I personally recognise so at least I can relate the literature. Here thay are in no particular order.

Caffiene gets the Heart Racing.

There is no question about this and it’s often what people are after. A Pick-Me-Up to get the motor running. Caffiene stimulates the central nervous system. One cup of coffee can apparently raise the heart rate by 100 beats per minute. This happens as soon as 15 minutes after ingesting. A Carnegie Mellon study found a coffee can cause shallow breathing which can affect blood flow to the body and brain, affecting your mood and your body function.

Caffiene is addictive.

According to research done at Johns Hopkins University, caffeine only gives you that percieved focused energy because it gets you over caffeine withdrawals in the first place. Researchers found that caffeine-related performance improvement is non-existent without caffeine withdrawal. In essence, coming off caffeine reduces your cognitive performance and has a negative impact on your mood. The only way to get back to normal is to drink caffeine, and when you do drink it, you feel like the energy kicks in. In reality, the caffeine is just taking your performance back to normal for a short period. (from Forbes). Withdrawal is about 12-24 hours after your last cup, according to the American Heart Association.

You lose sleep.
This is a personal thing and depends on how well your body can process caffeine (We all know we drink coffee to stay awake, that's the point!). Coffee has a 6 hour half life so on average it takes 24 hours to work its way through your system That means coffee right before bed will affect the quality of sleep, particularly your REM sleep. It will also have you up to the toilet in about 3 hours time (on your second sleep cycle) with a full bladder. Dr Nick Mabbott, a psychologist that specializes in fatigue management, says loss of sleep is one of the major causes for chronic health issues for Australian workers.

Caffiene can make you Jittery.

Caffiene stimulates hormones, such as adrenaline, which puts your body into “flight or fight” mode. This can lead to anxiety and can become a little overwhelming for some people. Try having a calm conversation with someone after 4 strong coffees! Again, balance is a key issue here.

Caffiene can cause Diuresis.

Caffeine increases the need to urinate because it increases blood flow through the kidneys and dilates the blood vessels, making the kidneys produce more waste.

Caffiene causes Gastrointestinal Disturbance and Dehydration.

Caffiene acts like a laxative by increasing contraction in the small and large intestinal muscles. This can cause predigested food to move into the intestine, triggering stomach cramps and a trip to the loo. Caffeine also speeds up the process of gastric emptying, which may result in highly acidic stomach contents passing into the small intestine more rapidly than normal, causing injury or ulcers.

What are the positives?

There are studies showing that caffeine (and coffee in particular) protects against type 2 Diabetes, liver cancer, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. There are also studies that say it reduces the risk of depression and can improve your cognitive functioning.

I find it can get confusing, but personal awareness of how you feel when having caffeine is important to determine how much is good for you.

Should I change my caffeine habit?

I think this is a good question to ask. For me, I think most of the people who drink high-caffiene drinks are doing it out of habit and social ritual rather than need. Some can handle it, some not so well. In my case, I found by lessening my caffeine intake and changing my ritual, I became more conscious on the reasons I was having a coffee (but that's a whole different blog!)

Are there low-caffeine alternatives?

This is another good question and one that quite a few people are asking. There are a lot of people who drink tea, hot chocolate, chai, all manner of alternatives and it’s very much a personal choice. Some of the things that I have found on my journey to manage my caffeine intake are listed below.

  • If you like the feeling of coffee (warm, milky, filling), then tea might not cut it (it didn't for me).
  • Appropriate caffeine intake is important to get the best out of yourself. For some people this is no caffeine, others can handle a lot. Being aware of your mood and wellbeing is important.
  • Hot chocolates that have a similar texture to coffee but also an incredible amount of sugar. Most of the satchel coffee hybrids and powdered chai packets have sugar as their top ingredient. Some chai powders have up to 85% sugar.
  • The decaffeination process for coffee can involve an array of fairly strong chemicals. There are several  methods available (e.g. swiss water) but if you're not a big fan of too much processing, do the homework.. Certified organic ingredients are a good sign in any cup that your drinking.

I hope this answers a few questions. I think it's healthy to figure out why we drink the amounts of caffeine that we do and get the balance that's right for you. Sounds a bit boring but the simple things in life often work!

Love to hear your personal experiences with this and get any feedback.


Alistair Schuback
Alistair Schuback