But first, (not) coffee: Caffeine, is it doing you more harm than good?

But first, coffee. 

Sure, these kind of sayings are cute, catchy, and harmless if the person saying them doesn't actually consume multiple cups of coffee every day.  

For the most part, our culture is run on caffeine. We work too much and we sleep too little. So, how do we get through the day? Caffeine, caffeine, and more caffeine.

I'm all ears when a client says they need more than one cup of coffee (or another caffeinated beverage) a day. That one statement tells me so much about their diet and lifestyle. 

If you need caffeine to get through the day, every day, it's time to make some changes. 

There are a thousand and one articles and studies debating the health benefits of coffee. I'm not going there today... 

Let's talk about the effects caffeine has on the body, more specifically vitamin/mineral absorption. 

In the right dose, caffeine increases alertness and enhances reaction time [2]. We can all agree, this is great! One cup of bulletproof coffee is a part of my morning routine, and I love it! But I don't need it. How I arrived at being a pleasant morning person (over 3 years ago), coffee or no coffee, is a story for another day, but let's just say WHOLE30 for the win!

So what's the problem?

Caffeine can interfere with the absorption and metabolism of many vitamins and minerals. Because of the diuretic effect of caffeine, it increases the excretion of water-soluble vitamins in the urine. For that reason, you should always wait at least 30 minutes after having your cup of coffee to take vitamin/mineral supplements and it would only make sense to wait the same amount of time to eat your meals and snacks.

Chronic caffeine consumption can act as a steady flushing of valuable micronutrients before they complete their critical role that aids in the functioning of many of the body's systems. 

Science-y example: 
Vitamins are organic compounds needed in small amounts in the body that enable several important metabolic functions. They play critical roles in growth, digestion, energy transfer, nervous system function, and more. Their role as co-factors for enzymes is one of their most critical responsibilities. Vitamin B3, otherwise known as niacin, is a great example of this role. Niacin is a co-enzyme involved in the formation of NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), an electron transporter important to the energy transfer process [1]. So, while this vitamin does not act as a direct source of energy for the human body, it is intimately involved in the energy transfer processes of converting carbohydrates into glucose, metabolizing fats and proteins, and keeping the nervous system working properly [1]. Niacin also helps the body make sex- and stress-related hormones and improves circulation and cholesterol levels [2].

Niacin Deficiency Symptoms
Symptoms of mild niacin deficiency include:

  • indigestion

  • fatigue

  • canker sores

  • vomiting

  • depression

So, as a water-soluble vitamin, if niacin isn't being properly absorbed due to the over-consumption of caffeine you can see how detrimental it would be. Unfortunately, symptoms of fatigue and depression can be masked due to the fact that caffeine is a stimulant. If you're a chronic coffee, tea or energy drink consumer, what happens when you go without your typical hit of caffeine? Fatigue? Depression? While a niacin deficiency might not be the only culprit, it's a possible factor, one that shouldn't go unattended to.

And that's just one vitamin! What about all the other water-soluble vitamins whose absorption are being hindered? 

This isn't something you want to ignore. I understand that some people metabolize caffeine better than others, resulting in some quality health benefits from drinking coffee or tea. But there are still risks involved in over-consumption, not to mention the root issues that need attention so that you don't actually feel like you need caffeine to survive. 

What you do need is... Plenty of sleep (7-9hrs/night), water (at least 2 liters), macro- and micro-nutrients that come from quality sources of protein, nutrient dense carbs, and healthy fats, and exercise!

If you're feeling less than your best, or you don't even know what good feels like, you're probably not meeting your basic physiological needs.

Start by making sure you're intentionally meeting those needs and then you can truly savor that cup of coffee or tea when you want it. 

(You still want to know how much is too much, don't you? The recommended caffeine limit is 400mg/day. But, if you're the slightest bit addicted to your daily caffeinated drinks then you're drinking too much!)

My nutrition coaching programs will have you on your way in no time to being set free from the grasp of caffeine dependence! Check them out here if you want to be well-nourished, happy, and full of energy! 

1. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. 2nd Edition. John Berardi & Ryan Andrews.
2. Niacin Deficiency.