I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was well over 30 years old. I had already endured 36 hour shifts on busy L&D units, all-night surgeries, medicine in the developing world and was working on my 4th University degree by the time I started drinking coffee. I had easily escaped the caffeine rituals of most college students when I met an incredibly smart, motivated couple who, among other things like practicing law and competing in mountain bike races, roasted their own coffee beans. The aroma was irresistible and the deep toasted flavors they could create were life-changing. I would relish the all-encompassing experience that went with our weekend coffee dates. They were likely my first experiences with body, mind and soul as we were surrounded by deepening friendships and sunk into stimulating academic discussions after partaking in high-level athleticism and the coffee just seemed to bring it all together. I went years enjoying coffee only on special occasions and, truly, I’m not sure when that changed. But it did.

Coffee can be a beautiful thing and I fully expect to bring it back into my life once my 21-day Quantum Wellness Cleanse (1) is over but only time will tell and, for now, I’m excited to research the pros and cons, coming back to why, on earth, I am doing this cleanse….

This is not for the faint at heart! 

I’ve had headaches, hot flashes, insomnia, nausea, anxiety, crying spells and a strange sense that I’ve misplaced something valuable. It’s only been 3 days and my husband has compassionately asked me if I should have weaned more slowly while whispering to the children that school is their sanctuary. 

I’ve learned that when caffeine blocks adenosine our body no longer gets the peaceful calming effects of that natural tranquilizer and, instead, becomes soaked in enough adrenaline and cortisol that I could go hand to hand with a tiger. With a half-life of over 6 hours, my 2 morning cups stay in my system well into the afternoon even though I never indulge after the clock strikes twelve. 

Along with persistently elevated cortisol and adrenaline come the ravaging health & inflammatory effects of a "fight or flight" response even though I’m trying to enjoy my work and be present with my precious children. Consistently elevated inflammatory hormones, like the cortisol & adrenaline released in response to caffeine, are related to the functioning of the thyroid, brain, bone, muscle, immunity and blood pressure. So, maybe some of my morning aches and pains are less related to aging and more linked to the caffeine my body needed so badly; an argument strengthened by the fact that I so desperately sought out that pleasurable surge of dopamine with my morning brew and to get me moving.

And just when I thought things were cut and dry, I’m reading many health benefits scientifically reinforced in the medical literature that makes me want to grind some beans! 

First of all, coffee promotes bowel regularity and that small health benefit may rank higher for some than the fact coffee reduces death (2). Plus, there are strong associations between coffee and the prevention of type 2 diabetes, liver cancer, endometrial (uterine) cancer, lethal prostate cancer, basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer), neurological disease (dementia and overall brain function) and even cardiovascular disease (heart disease) (2). All these health benefits are likely related to the fact that Americans get most of their antioxidants, normally derived from fruits and vegetables, from Starbucks. When we eat or drink antioxidants our body responds by producing some very healing compounds like lutein and zeaxanthin (both linked to eye health and macular degeneration), lycopene (linked to heart health and cancer prevention) and vitamin A (most commonly associated with vision, mucous membranes, skin and immunity).

Like most things, the key is moderation, making sure we ingest high quality vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (even if those nutrients are coming from coffee) and that we do so without letting it get out of control. By tuning into my body I’m confronted with the stark reality that I’m an addict and I don’t like it! 

I’m relishing the opportunity to explore, with curiosity, what it feels like without caffeine rushing through my system and into every cell and every conversation. I’m committed to getting my antioxidants in healthy foods, moving my body daily, feeling present with my family AND I will likely return to a measured, intentional relationship with the occasional cup of coffee on my deck in the morning.

1. The Quantum Wellness Cleanse. The 21-Day Essential Guide to Healing Your Body, Mind, and Spirit. Kathy Freston. Weinstein Books. 2009.

2. Ding, et. Al., Association of coffee consumption with total and cause-specific mortality in 3 large prospective cohorts. Circulation. 132(4). 2015

3. Wilson et. Al. Coffee consumption and prostate cancer risk and progression in the health professionals follow up study. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 103(11). 2011

4. Svilaas, A. et. Al. Intakes of antioxidants in coffee, wine, and vegetables are correlated with plasma carotenoids in humans. The Journal of Nutrition. 134(3). 2004