My training, nutrition (food and supps), sleep, and overall stress management are all pretty tight, but I often find myself in a borderline abusive relationship with coffee. I will be candid: I don't need it. I just love it. LOVE IT.
It appears to me that many of the current ancestral fitness luminaries are regular consumers of caffeine. I sense that this is a blind spot in the emerging paleo template, considering the significant hormonal implications of constant (over)stimulation. I'd rather not discuss whether or not HG man has regular access to stimulants. I think it is much more important to discuss the real health implications of chronic caffeine consumption. Additional thoughts...
I appreciate any remarks. Thanks also to Patrik for having the vision and work ethic to set up this venue.
When I drink coffee, 99% of the time, it's decaf. My understanding is that caffeine from coffee hinders the ability of the immune system to function.
UPDATE: Based on speno's question below, I'll include a few sources. My apologies. I should have done this initially.
Basically, in layman's terms, I need both rest and magnesium (among other nutrients) for my body to function right (ie. process food and deal with stress and other stressors such as exercise and environmental attacks). The caffeine from coffee causes my body to have less of both.
From the article, Enhancing Your Immune System the Natural Way, comes this quote:
Caffeine is a diuretic that contributes to the body's loss of important nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Caffeine places stress on the adrenal glands (already stressed out from our hectic lifestyles) and adversely affects the nervous system, resulting in anxiety, hyperactivity, and insomnia.
Healing occurs when the body is relaxed... Regular consumption of caffeine deprives the body of this relaxed state. The acid in coffee eats away the villi of the small intestine, reducing their effectiveness in supporting nutrient assimilation. Thus the acids in coffee may cause as much problem as the caffeine.
Coffee reduces inositol levels in the blood. Inositol is a regulating factor in calcium metabolism. It inhibits formation of the cells (osteoclasts) that draw calcium from the bones into the bloodstream (14). It also exerts a direct influence on transport of calcium into cells (16,17).
Teeccino, on their website, list a number of articles that cite the relationship between caffiene comsumption and stress and the negative effect of their combination on the body's health.
From the article, Caffeine: The Socially Accepted Killer, comes this quote:
Excessive caffeine intake overworks the glandular system and can quickly deplete the body of vitamins B, C, magnesium, and several micro nutrients, according to nutritional psychologist Marc David MA (David, 2005).
There are lots of references at the bottom of this one.
From the article, Caffeine and the Adrenal Glands, comes this quote:
...caffeine keeps the cortisol levels high preventing the body from resting when it should and preventing the adrenal glands from operating as they would.
Basically, if I want my body operating optimally, I will try to throw as few stressors at it as I can.
That said, perhaps my body is more sensitive to caffeine than others' bodies.
ANOTHER UPDATE (05/06/11): "That Paleo Guy" just did a blog post that essentially says that coffee can contribute to insulin resistance and glucose tolerance. It also increases cortisol levels. Check it here.
Coffee drinkers are looking for reasons to justify their habits.
If you want to have a vice, go ahead but don't waste your time trying to find benefits to caffeine.
Saying that coffee gives you energy and makes you alert is the same as saying alcohol makes you more sociable and that pot makes you relax.
Be honest with yourself and accept that it is a vice that has costs and benefits.
Studies on the pros and cons of caffeine are mixed. I drink coffee and tea -- usually one cup of coffee in the morning, and a cup (sometimes two) of tea after lunch, all black.
I used to mainline the stuff, but I have found that eating in the paleo style greatly reduced my need for caffeine... I was clearly using it to try to overcome carb-induced stupid-headedness for many years.
I have no hard and fast answer to this but I agree with the OP's observations, especially regarding caffeine and intermittent fasting. In Robb Wolf's most recent podcast, The Paleolithic Solution - Episode 15, he addresses this very issue of caffeine. I encourage you to listen to it for yourself but what I took away from it was the frustrating answer of "it depends." What it depends on is mostly dose and the individual's response to CNS stimulation. Some people will physically respond to the stimulation with higher cortisol output which is decidedly bad while others won't and will enjoy the increased concentration and appetite suppression with little to no downside. Knowing which camp you will fall into depends greatly on your insight into how you handle stress and how well you can gauge your cortisol secretion symptomatically.
A blogger biochemist I know only as Stargazey at his "Low-Carb for You" blog, in his February 16, 2010 post, Caffeine and Weight Loss, says that the research is mixed but leans toward a very modest beneficial effect on weight loss:
To summarize, from the literature, it appears that caffeine does not provide much help with weight loss, but on the average it does not hinder it either. Caffeine increases insulin resistance in the short term, but it may or may not do so in the long term. For those who get their caffeine fix by drinking coffee, it is possible but by no means certain that the coffee itself contains one or more compounds that have a beneficial effect on glucose metabolism. As of this writing, the use of caffeine on a low-carb diet is up to the dieter. The science is far from settled.
Dr. Kurt Harris in his PaNu framework recommends only decaf coffee although I don't recall him stating a reason why. I've noticed too that the Drs Eades in their 6 week Cure for the Middle Aged Middle book also restrict caffeine in the first two weeks of the program. I think their reasoning had something to do with decreasing the load on the liver.
There has been a ton of research on caffeine, and none of it I've seen has indicated moderate intake is harmful. Good enough for me. I seem to be somewhat insensitive to caffeine as even massive amounts (don't do this anymore) have little physical effect on me - I've never had a 'buzz', and I can usually sleep just fine after a cup of tea or whatever. It does make it easier for me to focus, which as someone with un-medicated ADD-PI and serious procrastination problems, is great. Coffee is also a vehicle for heavy cream.
There are few things more paleo than addiction to plant-based stimulants, BTW. Very very common in 'primitive' societies, and most of them don't bother to worry about not using too much!
I've found my use of coffee has gone down of late. I drink 3 espresso shots a day--either with half and half in a latte, or with coconut milk. I used to drink at least a pot of very strong, dark coffee.
This was not intentional, just a result of more sleep, a new-found love for hot matcha in the morning, and a reluctance to roast beans (being a bit of a coffee snob, I roast my own). I think I'm feeling better without so much, but it's a bit early to tell.
Caffeine's connection to a Paleo lifestyle more than likely stems from the fact most folks who adopt a Paleo diet are also extremely physically active (assumption on my part, it pretty much goes hand in hand). Caffeine is a proven, effective and safe ergogenic aid; it pretty much stands without reason that people are going to want it prior to a workout.
Downsides? Sure, with any form of stimulant, negative side effects are possible, but this can easily be alleviated through intelligent timing and dose.
There's some significant health issues with drinking (conventional) non-organic decaf, so I see no point; on that note, I wrote a caffeine guide a while back:
I'm recently into Paleo but as the weeks go by I am more and more on board. I gave up caffeine (usually had an espresso or tea in the mornings) a couple of weeks ago. For some reason today had a taste for some coffee, maybe due to all this rainy weather in the Bay Area CA. All I can say is that caffeine, even from the good stuff as I am very particular, is highly over-rated. The pure, clean, stable and mentally sharp energy from protein and fat (once your body gets used to it) in the morning is far superior than this scatterbrained wiry caffeine buzz. And if you want to be extra smart just take some fish oil along with breakfast. Now I look at everyone lining up for their latte and laugh. Hurried, borderline ADD and spazzy energy to start the day - no thanks!
Perhaps two exceptions are when you are trying to IF (coffee seems to have an energy enabling one to 'run across plains for hours without food' but maybe just me) or perhaps before a workout when you want to push yourself more than usual.
Anyway I wanted to add this post to encourage anyone thinking about de-caffeinating their lives to give it a try just for a few weeks and then see. You'll sleep better too!
Lastly anyone familiar with this study?
NASA measured how spiders spun their webs on different drugs including caffeine. One might say that there is not much similarity between spiders and humans but the image of the spider's web on caffeine is exactly how my mind feels today. Too bad they don't show the pic of the LSD, if I remember correctly from some other image that web was perfection :)
It's pretty clear that most Americans are SERIOUSLY addicted to coffee. This is not a bad thing in itself, but I think it's worth acknowledging. Now, I seem to be blessed with a lack of addictability. I've quit smoking, tea, coffee cold turkey without a problem. Whatever makes people hooked on stuff, I just don't have. I'm not saying this to sound superior. It seems to me a good rule of thumb to take with food is never to consume something every day (except water, and people even overdo that). As with most things, we probably don't know for sure what the effects are of consuming as much coffee as the typical westerner does are. For myself, since completely going off coffee and tea about a week ago I've gotten better sleep. Don't know if these are related, but that's been my experience. In the future I plan to drink coffee and tea on occasion, but not every day. I guess my take on it is: Why become physically dependant on something when you can not be, unless there's a huge benefit? (which, in this case, I don't think there is- at least in my experience, coffee creates the need for itself. That's how addiction works.)
I can't speak to whether it's a good idea or not. I drink lots of tea, and don't worry about it, but, like everyone else, I have noticed since starting paleo that I am far, far less dependent on caffeine.
As far as vices go, I think my caffeine habit is better than my drinking problem.
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