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Coffee Talk: Does Coffee Help or Hinder Mama’s Health?

Coffee Talk:  Does Coffee Help or Hinder Mama’s Health?

I am sitting in my son’s martial arts class this afternoon, chatting with another mama. “I should have gotten a coffee today,” she says. She doesn’t need to say why. It is, after all, the end of the day, at the end of the week, and she’s the carpool gal today. “Mmm. Sounds good. Why didn’t you?” I ask. “No food or drink dojo policy,” she says. “Plus, I shouldn’t anyway. It’s not good for me.” I nod in understanding, but the truth is, not even a full hour prior to picking my son up from school, I read another article on the merits of coffee -- this time, significant correlations are mapped between coffee drinking and decreased heart disease in women. Prior to this I’ve read articles linking the coffee habit to decreased rates of Parkinson’s disease, increased muscle recovery time and decreased soreness after exercise, and even decreased mortality rates among certain segments of the population. Yet the pervasive truism persists in natural health and non-natural health communities alike -- when we’re drinking coffee, we’re doing something bad for ourselves, committing a vice, like smoking, alcohol or too much soda. We may persist, much the same way we might persist with a glass of wine or a chocolate cupcake, but somewhere inside we group a cuppa joe in the category with our guilty pleasures, in spite of evidence to the contrary. Why?

The Cons:

One reason that coffee may achieve a bad rap is that it is a popular source of caffeine -- and not all sources of caffeine are considered equal. Caffeinated colas may get a deservedly bad rap, not just for the caffeine, but for the amount of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial additives that go into every serving. I’ve had clients cure deep muscle pain and arthritis by giving up their cola habit alone. As much as I’ve said everything in moderation, I’m pretty sure colas in any quantity besides very occasional are just not good for us. Jolt cola, energy drinks and other highly artificial sodas have cast a shadow of suspicion that is perhaps undeserved on every caffeinated beverage. What we add to our caffeine, coffee or otherwise -- too much sugar, artificial sweeteners, half-and-half, have a tremendous impact on the fat content, calorie content, and overall health of the habit.

morning, coffeeThe other problem with the caffeine in coffee is that caffeine is addictive. I remember my friend’s mother wearing a Garfield nightshirt that said, “don’t talk to me until I’ve had my morning coffee,” and made myself a tacit promise to never allow that nightshirt to apply to me. Coffee was a terrible grown-up ritual that could stunt my growth, taste bitter, make us sit in restaurants far too long after dinner was over... And it never seemed to make anyone’s parents more energetic. The trouble with the addictive quality of the caffeine in coffee is that it probably masks underlying symptoms of genuine sleep deprivation and tanks running on empty. The addictive energy boost of coffee allows us to mask some legitimate health and lifestyle concerns that in the long run may take a harder toll on our overall health than the coffee alone. We can use coffee as a substitute for healthful measures that address problems at their root with more sleep, water, nutrient-dense foods, and exercise.

Coffee can be aggravating for certain health conditions, including: acid reflux, chronic insomnia, heart palpitations, and anxiety. In a culture plagued by these conditions -- 10-15 percent of American adults have chronic insomnia and 18 percent (40 million folk) have diagnosed anxiety disorders in the US. While coffee is not the acknowledged cause of any of these public health concerns, coffee’s ability to amplify these conditions at the very least make the effects of the coffee habit worthy of deliberate attention and further study from a public health perspective.

Finally, coffee is inadvisable for anyone trying to get pregnant, especially with a history of miscarriage. A 2009 study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that women who drank 1-3 cups of American coffee (specified “american” because coffees vary in caffeine content and strength) were 30% more likely to miscarry than non coffee drinkers. Five or more cups doubled the risk. Even after the first trimester, where some doctors outline acceptable quantities while pregnant, coffee and caffeine pass easily to the fetus -- and I’m cautious about anything that raises my baby’s heart rate to artificially high levels in utero -- night of crazy kicking, here we come?

coffee, pros and consAnd on the PRO side:

I’m not pregnant anymore -- I am, on the other hand, sleep-deprived. Even with healthy eating and exercise, the sleep situation and the occasional malaise that accompanies it are not likely to change in the near future. Plus, I LOVE me some coffee. What then? Here’s the upside to the coffee debate:

Coffee contains antioxidants. Coffee contains more than 9,000 different powerful antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. According to recent research out of the University of Scranton (Pennsylvania), coffee is by far the largest source of antioxidants in the diet of most Americans. This high antioxidant content may block inflammation and cell damage -- possibly explaining the correlation between coffee drinkers and decreased heart disease, Parkinson’s, cirrhosis of the liver, and Alzheimer’s. And the list doesn’t end here -- further studies show that coffee appears to lower insulin resistance and slow the absorption of carbohydrates in the intestine, making it mildly effective in reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. It has also been shown in studies to reduce risks of certain cancers, including endometrial and colon cancers in women.

Coffee, and caffeine in general, has been shown to improve athletic performance, speed athletic recovery time and reduce soreness. Studies have long shown that caffeine prior to or during an athletic event or workout boosts performance by increasing the availability of glucose to the muscles -- the gas for the engine, so to speak. This same effect may explain shortened recovery times after working out as well. The most likely explanation for the reduced soreness is that coffee blocks adenosine, a chemical that is triggered by inflammation.latte art, coffee culture, coffee, pros and cons

The coffee culture is just so darn fun. Have you ever stood in line for a cup of Blue Bottle Coffee on a foggy San Francisco morning, or a local brew from the Farmer’s Market, or an iced latte on a Summer day? Or taken your work to the coffee shop? Or gone through the quiet coffee ritual while the rest of your family sleeps and felt the same calming effects as meditation? Then you know what I mean.

So was my mama friend right to forego the afternoon cup of coffee before martial arts class? I don’t honestly know. In the end, I guess I ask myself, as I try to do with all things, is this going to make my life happier, for me and for the people around me? Sometimes the answer is yes (picture productive, energetic, and above all, pampered-feeling mama with that little cup of heaven in hand.) Sometimes the answer is no (insomniac mama, or mama who will pull car through Starbucks drive-through with two tired children in tow, maybe not.) But even as I write this, I know that if I drop off my son at school on time, and get in my exercise, maybe, just maybe, I’ll reward myself with a small Mexican Mocha on the way home.


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