Caffeine

Rise and shine!

Time to do your part: every day there are over two billion cups of coffee consumed worldwide.

That coffee doesn’t drink itself!

But wait!! Wait until the end of the bulletin to drink your cup this am, you just might have a different approach after reading this through.

Caffeine is a cornerstone of our nutrition, it appears. 1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine is its official name, and it can be found in about 30 different plants. 90% of people have caffeine at some point in their day. Caffeine is our most common psychoactive drug. It’s a central nervous system stimulant that interferes with multiple receptors to give us those effects that 90% of us know and love.

I have been off caffeine completely for a month (hold your applause ’til the end, please). Mostly, I like knowing it’s me and not the caffeine if I find myself deepening in discourse. Besides, under certain circumstances I get a kick out of not doing what 90% of other people do. I also have a personal belief that the less routine we have with a substance, the better. Plus, I trust the body’s innate capacity to generate energy, wholly and unconditionally.

A simple question for the doctor: is caffeine good for you?

Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, thinks it is.  In an April 5, 2021 article in Discover, he describes that the pros outweigh the cons, in his opinion. “Moderate coffee intake — about 2–5 cups a day — is linked to a lower likelihood of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver and endometrial cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and depression. It’s even possible that people who drink coffee can reduce their risk of early death.”

Mixed reviews

But others say the jury is still somewhat out on calling caffeine a key to health. Almost everyone knows from experience that too much caffeine can make one feel anxious or jittery, or cause an upset stomach. The list is quite a bit longer, however:

  • Coffee stays in the body for hours after your last sip and can interfere with sleep
  • Pregnant people with high caffeine intake may be at risk for low birth weight, premature birth, and even pregnancy loss compared to those who consume it in moderation.
  • Excess caffeine has also been found to increase bone fracture risk, especially in women.
  • Coffee consumption may make it harder for older people who have high blood pressure to control their blood pressure.
  • Others may experience an increased risk of atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm) from it.
  • People with certain gastrointestinal conditions, such as gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disease, may experience a worsening of their condition.

A review article gives a decent take on the mixed conclusion on caffeine as a key component to health:

“The findings of recent studies show mixed results regarding the effects of caffeine on mood, attention, processing speed, and memory. Current research suggests that if caffeine does have an effect on mood, the most significant changes may be anxiety. Studies did not support caffeine as having any significant effect on attention, but that it did play a role in enhancing processing speed. The majority of the studies reviewed suggest caffeine as having a significant positive effect on both short and long-term memory in adults and the elderly. Current findings warrant continued research on the association of caffeine and the resultant effects on cognitive function.”

Like I said: somewhat mixed reviews. It reminds me of how we used to think about alcohol. Moderate drinkers are healthy, right? There are benefits, but not so fast, please. As far as alcohol itself, the healthiest amount of alcohol is zero, experts now say. Alcohol causes neurotoxicity and cardiotoxicity, for example. Caffeine has its toxicity profile as well. These aren’t one-size-fits-all propositions. They are both accompanied by ritual, social engagement, and enjoyment, and those things have a lot of relevance and influence on our health and well-being. It may be it is the context that offers benefits. I believe alcohol as a substance is not a key to health, and I think the same about caffeine.

Caffeine and alcohol are like any drug. You pay a price for what they offer. Ritual, social engagement, and enjoyment don’t need a psychoactive substance. To focus on all the places we get access to healthy intangibles is smart.

Closer Look at Brain Health

I’m not advocating for no caffeine. I am saying don’t confuse it for anything other than the compromise it and other drugs are. You might find it interesting caffeine is not on anybody’s shortlist to benefit the brain, for example.

Here is a good shortlist that demonstrates this:

8 BEHAVIORS THAT CAN BENEFIT THE BRAIN

  1. Stay socially engaged
  2. Quit smoking
  3. Find ways to stimulate your brain
  4. Manage stress
  5. Stay physically active
  6. Get enough sleep (aim for at least seven hours)
  7. Eat a healthy diet
  8. Control blood pressure and blood sugar levels

Source: Global Council on Brain Health/CDC

Most smart approaches to ANYTHING will list natural lifestyle interventions and advocate for taking away drugs (in this case tobacco and sugar). Only after these have failed should adding medicines be seen as an option. Doing something is the best medicine. It’s revealing that with a drug, we are quite passive. So, with that being said, when you drink your coffee do your morning puzzle and plan your daily walk.  Then you’ll be approaching it holistically!

Longevity

Like I said, as far as poisons go, caffeine isn’t that bad. And aren’t we allowed some vices? Can we do some things that contribute suboptimally towards slowing our aging? Absolutely. We aren’t meant to live forever. No, really, we are not.

It’s weird to think that if things progress in certain ways dying will have to be a choice in the future.

Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist Venki Ramakrishnan in his recent book, Why We Die, postulates that we may not want to lengthen our lives much longer than we have already. His “thought-provoking argument is that a society where people lived for hundreds of years could potentially become stagnant, as it would consist of the same group of people living longer, raising important questions about societal dynamics and progress.” Do you mean the self-centered, ego-oriented thought to live forever might not be good for society as a whole? Got it. Makes sense.

Here’s a centered thought on longevity (and the take-home thought of this bulletin) in three parts:

  1. Concede not a minute from your time on the earth and seek not a minute more than you are naturally allotted. 
  2. Let your habits help you make the most of that time
  3. Take control of your health and life to establish enough predictability to diminish fear.

It is a long-winded way of saying have your coffee even if I convince you it’s not exactly a virtue.

This AM’s Coffee

And, that’s all a prelude to making one suggestion about your morning caffeine drink, as promised in the bulletin’s introduction today.

It’s popular in the health world right now to suggest not to go right for the coffee after waking up. Cortisol levels start to rise naturally right before you wake up and peak generally within 30 minutes of waking. This cortisol peak contributes to our morning alertness. Caffeine raises cortisol, and health pundits say it probably is best to ingest it after your body is done with its natural cortisol rise.

In short, consider trying your caffeine drink between 9:30 and 11:30AM, (or at least one hour after you wake up) and see how you feel. A lot of people say they feel good doing that.