Coffee: What are the health effects?

October 12th, 2021


Coffee is an integral part of the morning routine for many of us. We love its taste, its smell, the little ritual that comes with it and most of all, its effect on mood and energy.

This habit, however, can turn into an addiction bringing with it the belief that we need coffee to start the day. And when we turn our backs on it, the body goes into withdrawal mode and we experience some rather uncomfortable symptoms. Headache, irritability, fatigue, it's not easy to go without caffeine when you've been consuming it regularly for months or even years. You may wonder if there are any benefits to depriving yourself of your coffee, if it can be harmful to your health. Besides the addictive effect it creates, the negative effects of caffeine unfortunately tend to outweigh its few benefits. Let's explore how caffeine works with the body.

Effects on the nervous system and sleep

Most of the time, we consume coffee for its effect on energy and concentration. Coffee actually acts on the central nervous system. Quickly after ingestion, we have the impression of having more energy. Indeed, caffeine penetrates rather quickly into the tissues and the brain.  It acts by blocking the action of adenosine, a molecule necessary to fall asleep. It is therefore said to be an adenosine receptor antagonist. Coffee also inhibits the secretion of melatonin up to 6 hours after its consumption. Melatonin is a hormone produced when light levels decrease and is involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms (sleep-wake rhythm). Finally, caffeine does not really wake us up, but rather prevents us from feeling tired. It should be noted that it takes 2.5 to 4.5 hours to reduce the blood level of caffeine by half, which can greatly affect sleep, both in terms of the ability to fall asleep and the quality of sleep. Moreover, it has been shown that coffee increases cortisol, the stress hormone, which is also a risk factor for many other health problems. So, if your sleep is disturbed, you feel irritable and stressed, caffeine may not be the best thing for you!

Effects on hormonal health 

I'd like to tell you that coffee is compatible with good hormonal health, but it's actually the opposite. Coffee can lead to disturbances in the stress hormone cortisol, as seen above. Moreover, cortisol is already naturally higher in the second part of the cycle (after ovulation), so taking caffeine can aggravate or trigger all sorts of hormonal symptoms, including PMS: breast pain, irritability, migraine, etc. A study conducted by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that it tended to interfere with estrogen metabolism, causing some women to experience a decrease in estrogen levels or an increase, which can affect fertility.

Effects on nutrition and metabolism

Coffee decreases the level of certain nutrients including folate, B vitamins and magnesium. This is why it is often called the "thief" of minerals. It also prevents the absorption of non-haem iron, which is contained in plants. It also has a diuretic and dehydrating tendency. If you drink coffee, don't forget to hydrate yourself accordingly. A good 1.5 to 2L of water per day is recommended. In addition, get plenty of nutrients via a large quantity of quality vegetables on your plate to counteract this effect. In addition, it may be beneficial to avoid taking coffee at the same time as your dietary supplements, if you are taking them, to maximize their absorption. Finally, coffee greatly affects the work of the liver. Indeed, only 10% of the population is able to metabolize caffeine efficiently. It is degraded by the liver enzyme CYP1A2. On the other hand, if you have a mutation of this gene, it will affect the metabolism of caffeine in the liver. Interestingly, this same gene is responsible for the metabolism of estrogen.

Effects on digestive health

Over time, caffeine consumption can lead to problems in the intestines. Caffeine affects the balance of the microbiota, that fragile and important ecosystem that has an impact on the entire health of the body, no less! Coffee can also have a laxative effect. It stimulates the production of bile, the contraction of the gallbladder and the relaxation of its sphincter, which leads to a greater release of bile in the duodenum, causing greater motorization of the colon. Finally, it stimulates gastric acid secretion and relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, which can increase the risk of acid reflux.

Making an informed choice about coffee

If you are making the choice to consume coffee, here is some information to guide you to better choices. First of all, caffeine content varies depending on the extraction method. In fact, an Espresso type coffee contains between 58 and 75 mg of caffeine while filter coffee contains more than 250 mg. What's more, what few people know is that the darker the roast, the lower the caffeine content. It is therefore possible to make wise choices in order to consume less caffeine. Decaffeinated coffee can also be a valid option, even if it contains a small amount of caffeine. In this case, choose a decaffeinated coffee made with water (not extracted with chemical solvents). Moreover, on an ethical level, it is preferable to choose a fair trade coffee. This one respects the whole production chain, as much the work of the farmers as the environment. Finally, choosing an organic coffee is preferable because many herbicides and pesticides are used to produce coffee.

Some alternatives to coffee

- Rosemary: A plant that helps to increase blood circulation, especially in the brain, helping concentration, energy and memory.

- Adaptogenic plants: These plants act on the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. Some of them, such as reishi (ganoderma lucidum) bring a more stable energy without necessarily stimulating, while others, such as ginseng, have a slightly more stimulating effect. These plants may have some benefit when transitioning away from coffee.

- Cocoa: Cocoa increases blood flow to the heart, skin and brain. It also boosts mood by activating the neurotransmitters responsible for a good mood.

- Lifestyle: Coffee can never replace a healthy lifestyle. Eating a healthy diet, drinking enough water, getting enough rest and sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night are the keys to optimal energy and concentration!





- Alisa Vitti (Book: In the Flo)
- Flora Medicina (Course in Therapeutic Nutrition)
- Aviva Romm (Book: Hormone intelligence)

* No dosage is recommended for natural products as it will vary according to the needs and condition of each person. Always consult a specialist before taking herbal remedies to ensure that there are no contraindications for you.