Okay, so coffee and me go way back but, whilst we’ve gone through some tough times, I never saw this break-up coming.
It is true that at times it has been both an abusive and addictive relationship – I’ll clarify that; I’ve had times of drinking 8-10 espresso’s per day and, no I didn’t think I had a problem! As for addictive, the “withdrawal” shakes, nausea, headaches and irritability speak for themselves.
More recently though, I thought the relationship had become more balanced – less of a dependency, more a friendship. In the morning we would plan our day together then, when I hit an afternoon low, coffee would lend support, so I could go “full steam ahead” through the remainder of my day.
Coffee’s darker side
So why the volte-face? Well earlier this year I discovered the truth; coffee is a duplicitous “bitch from hell”! Insidiously coffee has been messing with my hormones, playing havoc with my gut and sometimes making me so jittery that my heart seemed to jump through double somersaults!!
Maybe you think I’m being over-hasty in leaping to this conclusion but, with a vested interest in finding a different culprit, I can assure you I’ve tested and re-tested. And you know, I’m the girl with a shelf-full of studies expounding the benefits of coffee – you know, powerful antioxidant, dementia-fighting, cardio-protective, blah, blah ….
But take it from me, coffee really does have a darker side; while I thought we were getting on great the two-faced sneak was cosying up with that unsavoury “Jekyll and Hyde”, Cortisol. I had no idea that my levels of this stress hormone were already on the up, thanks to some lifestyle and emotional factors over the past few years; adding coffee to the mix was the petrol to the already smouldering fire! One of the key “building blocks” of adrenal hormones, Pregnenolone, is also crucial for building other hormones, critically female sex hormones. So you can start to see where this is going; when stress hormone production increases, it is at the expense of other essential hormones, meaning the level of these will decline.
Cortisol and Caffeine
Whilst *cortisol is essential for optimal health, when it is either chronically elevated or suppressed the effects can be devastating. Cortisol can mobilise stored sugars on a whim “not just tipping the apple cart” of your blood sugar balance but providing “fast food” for unfriendly gut bacteria. And cortisol wants you to speed up – once ago this would have been super-useful when running away from the proverbial tiger but in modern life this just means waking in the middle of the night feeling “totally wired”, with a pounding heart and clammy hands – like you’ve just had your worst fright ever.
As for coffee itself, well there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that coffee can alter the balance of gastric secretions and cause reflux symptoms – sadly even decaffeinated coffee can cause problems.
From Acknowledgement to Action
But even with all the evidence confirming my suspicions, going from acknowledging a problem to changing such entrenched behaviours was never going to be easy. For months even the faintest whiff of coffee had me wanting to make up and get back to how things were. You see, breaking up really is hard to do!
But when you realise you are in a toxic situation, one of the best options is to find some new friends, so that’s exactly what I decided to do. I refuse to avoid all my old haunts so I see coffee everywhere, but now you can find me hanging-out with a large pot of peppermint tea or an occasional oat-milk matcha. A few months ago coffee was sending me pitying looks across the café, a look that said, “you can’t possibly be happy with that”! But they say “fake it until you make it” so that’s what I did. Once ago a herbal infusion was a last resort, after too many coffees, now it really is my “go to” drink of choice.
And has it been worth making the change? For sure it has; resting heart rate is down, perfectionist-driven anxiety has lessened, random digestive symptoms have disappeared, my sleep has improved, and I’m possible a little less impatient!
I’ve learnt along my journey to never say “never”, but coffee is no longer in my “inner circle”; perhaps we’ll hook-up every now and then to reminisce about the old days but I’m having such a nice time with my new friends that I’ve barely got space in my life now for coffee.
Cortisol is an adrenal hormone that helps the body respond to stress. It plays a key role in increasing levels of circulating glucose to prepare you for “fight or flight”; for example so you can run faster from that tiger! Similarly, when blood sugar levels fall this triggers an outpouring of cortisol, again to mobilise glucose and ensure blood sugar levels are topped up. Anyone with unstable blood sugar will often experience the effects of cortisol in the middle of the night. If blood sugar levels drop, cortisol levels surge so the brain becomes more alert and the body becomes hot and restless as the heart rate rises and glucose from the liver is released into the bloodstream. Sadly, as most of this released glucose is not really needed whilst you are trying to sleep, it gets redeposited and typically this is around your middle! So not only can elevated cortisol interfere with getting a good night’s sleep but disrupting cortisol levels contributes to vasomotor symptoms and can also cause your waistline to expand.