Written by contributor Lisa Bryne of WellGrounded Life.
A mother, Anne, who was taking one of my courses on stress and our hormonal health emailed me this question,
“I start my day with steamy hot coffee and half & half.
The morning ritual is so comforting to me. Sitting, cozy on the couch with hot coffee, a blanket, and my Bible. Love it!
But, I need to ask the question, is this caffeine contributing to the [stress] problem? What are your thoughts on coffee and caffeine?”
Coffee, and whether it is friend or foe, is a hugely popular question I get from many women, and I can understand the confusion.
So let’s take caffeine – and in particular the question, “Should I give up my morning cup of joe?” – and work through the three-step strategy I use when women are confused about health information.
First Seek to Understand
In this case, without demonizing caffeine, let’s just understand how our bodies are made and what caffeine as a chemical does when we ingest it.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant. As such, it has certain basic impacts on our biochemistry.
To keep it simple, it primarily stimulates the nervous system, which is closely aligned to our adrenal system (aka our stress response).
This means that caffeine triggers our brains to become alert, our adrenals to produce cortisol, our digestion to engage and clear out, and our liver to release sugars to increase our energy.
Apply the Understanding to Your Own Situation
Since caffeine essentially triggers a biochemical stress response, the first line of exploration is to take an honest assessment of how you are doing on the stress continuum.
If you are showing signs of adrenal fatigue or chronic stress, it may be a no-brainer that coffee simply is not moving you in the right direction.
Additionally, consider what is happening in your life when you drink your cup.
A cup of coffee savored in quiet time is WAY different than a few cups thrown back as you are running around like crazy trying to get everyone to school in the morning and skipping breakfast. It’s a totally different experience.
And the impact it has on your mind and body will be different in each of those scenarios as well.
An already stressed out mind and body is primed and ready to be especially vulnerable to the impacts of caffeine.
A calm, peaceful mind and body are much more able to handle the caffeine intake, and process it without throwing your hormonal equilibrium off.
But let’s dig a little deeper.
Some other questions to explore would be:
1. How are your moods about 2-3 hours after your coffee?
If you are able to maintain steady, balanced and resilient emotional health after the caffeine leaves your system, that is a great sign it is not significantly causing imbalance.
2. How are your bowel movements when you don’t drink caffeine?
If you find your body is relying on your cup of coffee in order to “go” regularly, that’s a red flag.
3. How is your hunger?
One thing that caffeine will do is decrease your hunger – which can cause many women to skip breakfast all together. This has been an issue in my experience and I’ll share how I adapted to it later in this article.
4. How is your energy level 2-3 hours after you drink your coffee?
Similar to your moods, if caffeine is becoming an energy crutch you’ll know by a significant crash 2-3 hours after you’ve had it.
5. Finally, how is your sleep?
This question is important because caffeine can very quickly mask underlying adrenal fatigue or burnout. If you aren’t getting proper restorative sleep, have issues with insomnia or broken sleep, and feel you just “can’t get going in the morning” without your coffee, take notice! Now is when you may want to start digging deeper and getting to the root causes.
Seek Your Right Solution
Caffeine impacts people differently because every body is different. It is always useful to check in with yourself and see what your body is telling you.
A few years ago, I was in adrenal fatigue and I quit coffee all together in order to nurture my hormones back to health and resiliency.
Now, I can tolerate a small amount of caffeine under certain circumstances.
Here are my personal guidelines:
1. I eat something substantial very near to when I have my coffee– caffeine on an empty stomach does NOT work well for me.
2. I also drink a good amount of water in the mornings, it helps me stay hydrated and keeps the jitters and anxiety that can happen if I drink too much coffee from happening.
3. I regularly take a day or two off caffeine to be sure I’m not experiencing clear “withdrawal” side effects and to give my body a proper break from the stimulant from time to time.
When I read Anne’s question, my first reaction was to revel at what a beautiful ritual she had established for her mornings. For thousands of years we have connected food to meaningful rituals in our lives.
If you look at the research, the anti-coffee drinkers and avid coffee drinkers both have science on their side. What works for some people, doesn’t work for others.
This is the beauty of coming to a place with food and health information where you can assess it on your own terms, you know your body and how to read its language, and so can determine when shifts need to be made and when things are working just fine.
An Invitation: If you’d like to learn more about your amazing hormonal body, I’ll be sharing a free teleclass soon called Clearing Up the Hormone Confusion. I’ll be sharing how the five major hormone systems all work together, the biggest mistakes we make to cause our hormones to go haywire, and specific concrete ways you can bring more harmony to your hormonal systems. If you’d like to sign up, click here.
How about you? Do you know how caffeine or coffee impacts your body and mind?