Nora Gedgaudas

That morning cuppa Joe: What’s the buzz?

That morning cuppa Joe: What’s the buzz?

A lot of you getting started with the 10-week program might be wondering why we ask you to forego that morning cuppa Joe or even black/green tea. After all, most of you have probably had a cup or two a day for most of your adult lives and it is such a common enough, habitual/daily and sought-after beverage that one might practically mistake it for mother's milk. Or utterly benign, at the very least. Caffeine, after all, is planet earth’s most commonly used and sought after psychoactive drug!

A lot of you getting started with the 10-week program might be wondering why we ask you to forego that morning cuppa Joe or even black/green tea. After all, most […]

A few of you might even notice the fact that there is a fair amount of contradictory information about these morning libations (particularly coffee). There are plenty of articles to be found out there in the news and blogosphere that would have you believe you are foolishly forgoing a Class A health food if you do without it. They talk about studies that say coffee gives you energy, helps you lose weight, increases dopamine and serotonin (practically a liquid antidepressant), increases learning and even contains antioxidants! Not that all of this is untrue, necessarily but it decidedly needs to be put in context.

Naturally, too all this hype is telling 85% of the Western world (that habitually and often addictively drinks coffee each and every day) exactly what it wants to hear… And there have never been more Starbucks locations and other coffee shops on every corner ever before. Coffee is BIG business— and there is one especially good reason for that: Coffee is also a drug, and the vast majority of people living in the world are hooked.[1] And along with any addiction can come withdrawal symptoms. In the case of caffeine this can potentially include headaches, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, as well as fatigue, depression and anxiety.[2] [3] Fortunately, this discomfort is both very temporary and short-lived.

RULE OF THUMB: Always beware of any research, spokesperson or media story that tells you that an addictive drug/substance is really a health food in disguise.

Is coffee the harbinger of evil? No…absolutely not. It may in fact even truly confer some significant benefits where some people are involved. And yes, quality organic coffee does even contain some potentially beneficial substances, such as beneficial antioxidants, including significant amounts of other potentially health-promoting compounds such as hydrocinnamic acid and polyphenols— but this also has to be weighed against its potential detriments. And when it comes to anything claiming to be health food there really shouldn’t be significant trade-offs.   And with coffee, it is decidedly a significantly mixed bag.

It’s a reasonable assumption that you will never meet anyone walking loose anywhere that is suffering from any sort of “coffee deficiency”—though you probably do occasionally run into a co-worker who you see fumbling aimlessly through their morning claiming, somewhat irritably, that they “didn’t even have time to drink a cup of coffee before leaving the house” and as a result seem practically zombie-like or bumbling without it. We’ve all heard the phrase: “I’m simply not worth a damn without my morning coffee!” The fact that coffee stimulates the release of acetylcholine, dopamine and serotonin certainly sounds like a bona fide benefit—And it probably even feels like one, at first, but what all the pro-coffee hype doesn’t tell you is the fact that while these brain chemicals are up-surging in your system, coffee is not giving you anything whatsoever to make more. The fact is, that for every good feeling coffee gives you, there’s also a price being paid.  In other words, your brain is essentially being drained of its precious neurotransmitters for the sake of a quick and short-lived jolt. And when it comes to acetylcholine, there is potentially a very real concern. Your brain uses acetylcholine to learn and form new memories. It’s responsible in part for keeping you clear-headed, alert, sharp and quick thinking and helps you remember things. It’s the very substance your brain starts losing its ability to produce effectively in conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. And every time you get that “coffee rush” it taps into your brains precious reserves of acetylcholine and gradually drains you of this critical neurotransmitter. Your brain is suddenly forced to scavenge for a critical brain chemical it’s been robbed of, and it doesn’t necessarily take a long time before your brain starts to steal this substance from its nerve cell membranes. It’s like forcing a state of auto-cannibalism, where your brain has to destroy one part of itself to feed another. And over time, the consequences can be potentially serious.[4] As neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease advance, for instance, it is the choline producing neurons that show the most damage.

A similar drain (and potential hippocampal damage) occurs with catecholamine (epinephrine/norepinephrine) and dopamine reserves that caffeine stimulates.[5] [6] [7] [8] [9] The same similarly occurs with serotonin, which caffeine also stimulates the release of into the bloodstream. A single cup of coffee may not be that much of a going concern, but then again as with many things in life, it depends. One person’s morning salvation can be another person’s vulnerability. And it is easy overdo it and create what amounts to dependence— ever seeking the next jolt to keep those good feelings going throughout the day. Only, coffee’s effects do have their limitations, and their price. We can all remember the good old days in college where you were pulling that all-nighter studying for that all-important final exam and after about the 10th cup of coffee it simply wasn’t working anymore. All you felt was jittery. In fact past a certain point, caffeine can leave you feeling less coordinated and unfocused. –Just frazzled, sleepless and emotionally reactive.

And stress, whether generated by life circumstances or whether the result of an exogenous stimulating dietary substance such as caffeine also has the potential to disrupt prefrontal lobe activity that governs executive function, decision making and mood.[10] [11] [12]

There’s also one more neurotransmitter caffeine stimulates the release of, and it is called glutamate. Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in your brain, and also happens to be similarly related to the glutamate in “monosodium glutamate” or MSG. MSG, of course, is an excitotoxic substance added to food to enhance the brain’s perception of flavoring, but at a neuronally lethal cost. No I am not saying that coffee contains MSG. And in normally/naturally (i.e., endogenously) created small amounts glutamate serves a functionally useful purpose. It is normal and natural to produce a certain amount of glutamate during the day as your brain may need or demand— but it is quite another matter for the brain entirely when it is being chronically stimulated by this neurotransmitter. The effect on your nervous system is one of perpetual sympathetic over-arousal… Also known as “flight or fight”. We were never designed to operate in a fight or flight state 24/7. Our Primal nervous systems were in fact truly designed to function instead in a calm, relaxed and parasympathetic state for 99.99% of any given day. Modern society has forced the unnatural flip-flop of nature’s design and instead we are being perpetually driven by nervous energy into eventual states of exhaustion and depletion. Few things can get you there faster than coffee and/or excess caffeine. I mean, do you really want to add a caffeine to all that?

And that caffeine-induced state of flight or fight has the effect of further stimulating your beleaguered adrenal glands to produce flight or fight, survival hormones— namely adrenaline and cortisol. For some this can have an IBS effect.[13] [14] [15] In fact, many people come to depend on their morning, coffee-induced bowel movement. But nothing that irritates your bowels into action is doing your colon a service, and this has the potential to foster a dependence on the stimulus, leaving many prone to constipation (at least temporarily) without it.

Also, adrenaline and cortisol are both what can be termed “catabolic hormones”. Where the term “anabolic” implies building something up, “catabolic” means that something is being broken down. Some (coffee-loving) bloggers will try to tell you the caffeine helps you lose weight— but what they fail to mention is that other things besides fat are being broken down at the same time, which may include muscle, neurotransmitter reserves and even brain tissue. Furthermore, in some people this seemingly backfires and caffeine can actually result in increased insulin resistance and weight gain.[16] Adrenal hormones also have a tendency to stimulate a rise in blood sugar, which can keep that blood sugar roller coaster going while simultaneously facilitating cravings for more of the same once it gets used up.[17] [18]

This dysregulatory effect doesn’t happen with everyone, but it most certainly can.

What coffee actually gives us, after all, isn’t “energy”, per se— but the ILLUSION of energy. Nervous energy isn’t the same thing as having an abundance of ATP or healthy, well-nourished mitochondrial function offering us a sustained wealth of ongoing endurance.

Studies have shown that caffeine can elevate both blood pressure (BP) and heart rate and some investigators have found that caffeine raised average blood pressure by about 4 points, and pushed average heart rate up by about 3 beats per minute. The researchers in this study caution that, if sustained by regular coffee-drinking over a lifetime, these increases in blood pressure and heart rate will elevate the risk of stroke and heart disease.[19] Others have found a link between coffee consumption and cardiovascular disease, heart palpitations, arrhythmias and even heart attacks.[20] [21] [22] [23] [24] Other studies have certainly contradicted findings like this, with other studies implying cardioprotective benefits.[25] [26] Confused yet?

Other potential detriments associated with caffeine and/or coffee use includes:

  • Ulcers[27]
  • GERD/Heartburn[28] [29]
  • One study reports an association between spontaneous abortions, primarily in the second trimester, and unusually high levels of consumption of caffeine, equivalent to more than six cups of coffee a day.[30]
  • Drinking more than two cups of coffee daily may boost estrogen levels in women and could worsen conditions such as endometriosis and breast pain.[31]
  • Coffee is a diuretic and may make you more prone to dehydration, as well as water-soluble nutrient and mineral losses.

The irony? There are also numerous studies out there contradicting much of this aforementioned evidence of coffee’s and even caffeine’s adverse effects. Some even imply rather strongly that coffee in small amounts may in fact be quite beneficial. The overall implication here is that the effect of one type of coffee to the next, as well as one type of person to the next can by quite variable and complicated. I think it’s fair to say that different people have genetic and other variations in their potential response to coffee and caffeine.[32] As little as 100 mg a day, the amount in an average cup of coffee, is enough to foster caffeine addiction in some people.[33] In others, it may confer protective properties or even help reverse certain types of disease.

Oh what to do??

The impact of coffee can differ widely from individual to individual. Your genetic phenotype combinations, brain chemistry and other factors help build and nuance your unique relationship with caffeine. The effect of caffeinated teas can also be highly variable for better or worse.

It IS known and well established that coffee is among the most pesticided crops and also that toxic molds contaminate the majority of conventionally grown coffee. Mycotoxins are highly toxic byproducts created by these molds that have serious implications for your health.[34] Coffee grows in some of the most damp and humid places on earth and mold is a very, very big problem. A recent study found that 91.7% of green coffee beans were contaminated with mold.[35] In fact, coffee often grows even more mold during processing and mold often contaminates the equipment used for that purpose (and those tanks are not necessarily being regularly cleaned). NOT GOOD. Studies link mycotoxins to brain damage, weight gain, cancer, hypertension, kidney disease, and numerous other health problems.[36] [37] And pregnant women should probably avoid all forms of caffeine/coffee.

Low-end coffee companies from all over the world readily sell contaminated coffee beans to various stores and commercial companies here in the US. Cheap, commercial coffees, instant coffees and processed pre-ground varieties have significant adverse potential to compromise your health and may even have a strongly pronounced cross-reactivity with gluten (where certain immune systems cannot tell the difference and exposure may lead to all the same deleterious or catastrophic consequences) for some.[38] Coffee rejected by places with high mold standards, like Europe and Japan, are redirected to the U.S. for sale (or elsewhere) because the FDA’s standards for mold and toxin contamination are some of the lowest in the world.

By now some of the reasons for coffee’s inconsistent effects and potential health concerns may be getting clearer and coming into better focus for you.

Black/green/oolong teas, though typically having just half the caffeine content of coffee may contain any number of contaminants, including fluoride and pesticides, etc. depending on where they were grown (let’s just say the China and Japan may not be your safest options for sourcing teas or much else these days).

But even with the highest quality, certified mycotoxin-free, organic, shade-grown and fair trade coffee, or organic teas, the question remains whether you have truly healthy and robust, quality energy without that caffeine crutch. We at The Paleo Way think you owe it to yourself to find out. If you think you might be dependent on that cuppa java or tea in the AM you might just owe it to yourself to discover whether you can find a way to experience your own TRUE energy and be your best without that drug-like boost.

At The Paleo Way we simply encourage a trial of going without caffeine for the 10-weeks, which will help you see 1) how you do and how you are without any reliance upon caffeine and 2) what health improvements you may discover emerging without the effects of caffeine and what might just be possible for your well being!

At the end of the 10-weeks you are certainly free to decide whether going back to

your morning coffee habit if it makes sense to you. For some it does, but for many that have drunk the primal “ketogenic Kool-Aid”, there’s no looking back. Either way, you’ll certainly be in a position to make a much better informed choice about the benefits vs. detriments of coffee for you.

Final Thoughts On This…For Now

I can tell you from my own, personal experience in drinking tea and then monitoring my own brainwave activity that there were decidedly adverse changes in my own EEG—as well as a clear interference in my ability to sustain deep meditative states. Being the brain geek I am I frequently monitor my brainwave activity during my morning meditation. I have been curious as to whether a cup of lightly caffeinated tea might improve my alertness and focus. I have attempted this a number of times now and can tell you that even the smallest amount of caffeine has consistently interfered with a quality meditative state and my normal ability to achieve high states of heart-brain coherence (something else I look at) and deeply sustained focus. I think that finding is significant, and through the subtle state of mindfulness the effect seems crystal-clear (where in normal waking consciousness any awareness of this effect is more likely to get lost in the effluvia of the day).

I suspect the effect would be similar for most anyone, but I admit that this series of experiments were merely an N = 1.

For those deciding to catch the train back to “Javaland” after your 10-week activation is completed, I have a piece or two of advice:

  • Never again settle for highly processed, cheap diner/pre-ground or instant/fast food coffees and stick EXCLUSIVELY to quality, ORGANIC, whole roasted coffee beans you grind yourself.
  • If you decide to go the decaffeinated route stick only to Swiss water processing methods for coffee
  • Consider trying Bulletproof Coffee (purchased online), which is unique in the industry in that it is, certified 100% mycotoxin-free, organic, shade grown and free trade. Dave Asprey has gone to meticulously great lengths to see to it that coffee drinkers have a better quality product. He’s a marketing maven, but his coffee really is the best quality (in terms of being contaminant-free) out there to be had.
  • If you’re a tea-totaler, I strongly urge you to seek out loose-leaf varieties and stick to organic blends. And finally…
  • Moderation, moderation moderation. The less, the better. And try days without it, just to make sure you aren’t fostering too much of an addiction.
  • OH—and be sure to add another glass or even two of purified water you drink per day for every cup of coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverage that you drink.

As for sodas and sugary (or, almost worse yet, artificially sweetened), chemically-laden, stimulant-based so-called “energy drinks” such as Red Bull, Monster and others like it—literally everyone is better off without all of them.

Bottom Line: Water is simply the best fluid for us and is the ONE liquid substance we were actually designed to drink the most of. Anything that depletes your body of the second-most important substance next to air that anyone can consume; and that your body requires for literally every single metabolic and detoxifying process is likely not doing your health any favors. Anything other than water, especially taken daily over a long time, is likely to cause complications.

Artesian spring water, anyone?


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[2] Strain EC, Mumford GK, Silverman K, and Griffiths RR. “Caffeine dependence syndrome.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 1994. 272:1043-1048.

[3] Silverman K, Evans SM, Strain EC and Griffiths RR. “Withdrawl Syndrome after the Double-Blind Cessation of Caffeine Consumption.” The New England Journal of Medicine. 1992. 16(327): 1109-14.

[4] Sapolsky RM. “The possibility of neurotoxicity in the hippocampus in major depression: a primer on neuron death.” Biological Psychiatry. 2000. 48(8):755-65.

[5] Lee AL, Ogle WO, and Sapolsky RM. “Stress and depression: possible links to neuron death in the hippocampus.” Bipolar Disorder. 2002. 4(2):117-28.

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[7] Lane JD, Adcock, R.A, Williams, R.B. and C.M. Kuhn. “Caffeine effects on cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses to acute psychosocial stress and their relationship to level of habitual caffeine consumption.” Psychosomatic Medicine.1990. 52(3):320-36.

[8] Lane JD. “Neuroendrocine Responses to Caffeine in the Work Environment.” Psychosomatic Medicine. 1994. 546:267-70.

[9] Papadelis C, Kourtidou-Papadeli C, Vlachogiannis E, Skepastianos P, Bamidis P, Maglaveras N and Pappas K. “Effects of mental workload and caffeine on catecholamines and blood pressure compared to performance variations.” Brain Cognition. 2003. 51(1):143-54.

[10] Arnsten A.F. “The biology of being frazzled.” Science. 1998. 280(5370):1711-2.

[11] Tassin J.P. “Norepinephrine-dopamine interactions in the prefrontal cortex and the ventral tegmental area: relevance to mental diseases.” Advances in Pharmacology. 1998. 42:712-6.

[12] Arnsten AF and Goldman-Rakic PS. “Noise stress impairs prefrontal cortical cognitive function in monkeys: evidence for a hyperdopaminergic mechanism.” Archives of General Psychiatry. 1998. 55(4):362-8.

[13] Lea R and Whorwell PJ. “Psychological influences on the irritable bowel syndrome.” Minerva Medica. 2004. 95(5):443-50.

[14] Lea R, Whorwell PJ. “New insights into the psychosocial aspects of irritable bowel syndrome.” 2003. Current Gastroenterology Reports. 5(4):343-50.

[15] Dapoigny M, Stockbrugger RW, Azpiroz F, Collins S, Coremans G, Muller-Lissner S, et al. 2003. “Role of Alimentation on Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Digestion, 67(4):225-33

[16] Dallman MF, la Fleur SE, Pecoraro NC, Gomez F, Houshyar H, Akana SF. “Minireview: glucocorticoids–food intake, abdominal obesity, and wealthy nations in 2004.” Endocrinology. 2004.145(6): 2633-8.

[17] Krahn DD, Hasse S, Ray A, Gosnell B and Drewnowski A. “Caffeine consumption in patients with eating disorders.” Hospital and Community Psychiatry. 1991. 42(3)313-5.

[18] Livermore B. “Caffeine Boosts Eating Disorders.” 1991. Health. June: 16.

[19] Lane JD, Phillips-Bute BG, and Pieper CF. “Caffeine raises blood pressure at work.” Psychosomatic Medicine May/June 1998; 60(3); 327-30

[20] Happonen P, Voutilainen S, Salonen JT. “Coffee drinking is dose-dependently related to the risk of acute coronary events in middle-aged men.” Journal of Nutrition. 2004. 134(9):2381-6.

[21] Panagiotakos D.B, Pitsavos C, Chrysohoou C, Kokkinos P, Toutouzas P and Stefanadis C. “The J- shaped effect of coffee consumption on the risk of developing acute coronary syndromes: the CARDIO2000 case- control study.” Journal of Nutrition. 2003. 133(10):3228-32.

[22] Lochen ML, Rasmussen K. “Palpitations and lifestyle: impact of depression and self-rated health. The Nordland Health Study.” Scandinavian journal of social medicine. 1996. 24(2):140-4.

[23] Shirlow MJ and Mathers CD. “A study of caffeine consumption and symptoms; indigestion, palpitations, tremor, headache and insomnia.” International Journal of Epidemiology. 1985. 14(2):239-48.

[24] Rosmarin PC. “Coffee and coronary heart disease: a review.” Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. 1989. 32(3):239-45.

[25] Larsson SC and Orsini N.  “Coffee Consumption and Risk of Stroke: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies.” Am. J. Epidemiol. (2011) 174 (9): 993-1001. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr226

[26] Choi Y, Chang Y, Ryu S, et al. “Coffee consumption and coronary artery calcium in young and middle-aged asymptomatic adults.” Heart doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2014-306663

[27] Abu Farsakh NA. “Risk factors for duodenal ulcer disease.” Saudi Medical Journal. 2002. 23(2):168-72.

[28] Feldman M and Barnett C. “Relationships between the acidity and osmolality of Popular Beverages and reported Postprandial Heartburn.” Gastroenterology. 1995. 108(1): 125-31.

[29] Naliboff BD, Mayer M, Fass R, Fitzgerald LZ, Chang L, Bolus R, Mayer EA. “The effect of life stress on symptoms of heartburn.” Psychosomatic Medicine. 2004. 66(3):426-34.

[30] Cnattingius S, Signorello LB, Anneren G, et al. “Caffeine intake and the risk of first-trimester Approximate Caffeine Content of spontaneous abortion.” The New England Journal of Medicine 2000: Vol. 343, No. 25, pp1839-45.

[31] Lucero J, Harlow, BL, Barbieri, RL, Sluss P, Cramer DW. “Early follicular phase hormone levels in relation to patterns of alcohol, tobacco, and coffee use.” Fertility and SterilityOctober 2001. Volume 76, Issue 4, Pages 723–729. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0015-0282(01)02005-2

[32] http://www.geneplanet.com/genetic-analysis/list-of-analyses/caffeine-metabolism.html

[33] Griffiths R.R, Juliano LM, Chausmer AL. “Caffeine pharmacology and clinical effects.” In: Graham A.W., Schultz T.K., Mayo-Smith M.F., Ries R.K. & Wilford, B.B. (eds.) Principles of Addiction Medicine, Third Edition (2003). pp. 193-224.

[34] Sydenham EW, Shephard GS, Thiel PG, et al. “Fumonisin contamination of commercial corn-based human foodstuffs.” Agric. Food Chem., 1991, 39 (11), pp 2014–2018

[35] Martins ML, Martins HM, Gimeno A. “Incidence of microflora and of ochratoxin A in green coffee beans (Coffea arabica).”  Food Addit Contam. 2003 Dec;20(12):1127-31.

[36] Ventura HO, Malik FS, Mehra MR, Stapleton DD, Smart FW. “Mechanisms of hypertension in cardiac transplantation and the role of cyclosporine.” Curr Opin Cardiol. 1997 Jul;12(4):375-81.

[37] Doi K, Uetsuka K. “Mechanisms of mycotoxin-induced neurotoxicity through oxidative stress-associated pathways.” Int J Mol Sci. 2011;12(8):5213-37. doi: 10.3390/ijms12085213. Epub 2011 Aug 15

[38] Vojdani A and Tarash I. “Cross-reaction between gliadin and different food and tissue antigens.” Food Nutri Sci, 2013; 4:20-32

By Nora Gedgaudas

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