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All About Coffee


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The bulk of the research suggests that coffee consumption is beneficial, but as always, whether it works for you depends on a whole bunch of different individual factors. Find out what considerations you should keep in mind.

Revolution Health Radio podcast, Chris Kresser

I can say I drink coffee for three reasons: One, because it’s delicious and I love the smell and the ritual of it. The whole preparation that I go through is a ritual, and I really believe in the importance of those kinds of rituals, and I think we lack them in our culture. Number two, coffee is associated with numerous health benefits in the scientific literature, and that may come as a surprise to some people listening. And number three, when I drink it, it doesn’t interfere with my sleep or HPA axis function.

In this episode, we cover:

2:00  What Chris ate today
6:52  The research on coffee
16:50  Coffee intake considerations

Links We Discuss

  • Prostate cancer: lower risk of prostate cancer, inverse association with advanced prostate cancer.
  • Breast cancer: caffeinated coffee intake may be associated with lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.
  • Liver cancer: habitual coffee drinking is associated with a significantly lower risk of liver cancer in Japanese population.
  • Other cancers (gastric, colorectal): varied results; but often complicated by higher rates of smoking in coffee drinkers.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver: 1-2 cups of coffee per day protects against cirrhosis.
  • Parkinson’s: higher coffee/caffeine intake is associated with a significantly lower incidence of Parkinson’s.
  • Weight management: coffee consumption reduces weight gain and improves blood sugar control.
  • Type 2 diabetes: increasing coffee consumption by 1.5 cups a day reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Metabolic syndrome: coffee consumption is negatively associated with metabolic syndrome.
  • Periodontitis: coffee consumption is inversely associated with severe periodontitis.
  • Inflammation: coffee consumption has beneficial effects on inflammation and HDL cholesterol.
  • Oxidative damage: coffee consumption is associated with lower oxidative damage of DNA, in part by decreasing body iron storage.
  • CVD and all-cause mortality: drinking coffee is a significant benefit, especially in women. Women who drank more than 3 cups per day had a 55% lower risk of death from CVD and 25% lower risk of death from all causes. Other studies found similar, though less dramatic results, ranging from 12-20%: http://1.usa.gov/1B1oNqS and http://1.usa.gov/1zJFT7D.
  • Depression: depression decreases with increasing caffeine consumption.

Steve Wright: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. You are listening to the Revolution Health Radio Show. I’m your host, Steve Wright, co-author at SCD Lifestyle. This episode of RHR is brought to you by 14Four.me. 14Four.me is Chris Kresser’s healthy lifestyle reset program. This is a program for you if you’re struggling with how to integrate food changes, sleep patterns, movement changes, and de-stressing your life. If you’ve been listening to the show for some time — I hope you have been — we’ve talked about all four of these areas and how important they are to your overall health and well-being and really the foundation of recovering from any chronic disease as well as staying optimally healthy over the long run. As Chris and I have both shared in previous podcasts, at times it can be a real struggle even for ourselves to integrate these at the same time, and so what Chris has done is created this 14-day reset program to kind of hold your hand and show you how to integrate these into your life so you won’t get overwhelmed and you won’t get set back. So check out 14Four.me. It’s something that could be really beneficial if you’re struggling here.

Chris, welcome to your radio show. You are an integrative health practitioner, healthy skeptic, and New York Times bestselling author. How’s it going, man?

Chris Kresser: It’s going well. How are you, Steve?

Steve Wright: I’m just so sleepy today, Chris.

Chris Kresser: You’re a little sleepy today. I think the topic will interest you for sure.

Steve Wright: I have had some of the topic for breakfast and lunch today.

Chris Kresser: Uh-huh. Well, we’ll talk about that too then, why you’re still sleepy after doing that. We’re keeping everyone in suspense right now!

What Chris Ate Today

Steve Wright: Well, before we get to our suspenseful question of the day, Chris, what did you eat today?

Chris Kresser: Let’s see… I just had lunch, and it was very simple. I’m getting ready to do my annual digital detox for 10 days. It’s a 10-day period with no interaction with technology, no interaction with work, just 100% time off, so it’s always a little hectic before that, just wrapping everything up and getting ready to do that, so I had a very simple salad with red butter lettuce and salmon, canned wild salmon from Vital Choice with the bones in — that’s my favorite canned salmon by far — some sauerkraut, and a little bit of white rice that was cooked in bone broth. Simple, but pretty good.

Steve Wright: Yeah.

Chris Kresser: And the dressing, I had some rice vinegar and olive oil, a little bit of toasted sesame oil, and then some fresh ground pepper and sea salt.

Steve Wright: Right on, man.

Chris Kresser: That was it.

Steve Wright: That sounds delicious. So shall we get into the question today, or do you have any announcements?

Chris Kresser: No, let’s do it. Let’s get into it. It’s a really good one. We might spend a little bit more time on this episode just because I think it’s something that interests a lot of people.

Steve Wright: Our first 4-hour podcast.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, right! Let’s give it a listen.

Question from Sheena: Hi, Chris. My name is Sheena, and I am just wondering why sometimes you start your day with coffee. It just seems to me, knowing all that you know about health and nutrition, that you would not do that. It seems like you’re saying, “I’m gonna start my day with a lion chasing me.” Just curious. I love everything you do except for the coffee in the morning because people do what you do and the old adage, “Do as I say not as I do,” does not apply. Thank you!

Chris Kresser: OK, so thank you, Sheena, for your question. I particularly like the part about it seems like I’m starting my day with a lion chasing me. That was definitely a good visual. This is a great question, and coffee, for so long, has been seen as a vice, I think, in general. It has been understood as something that’s not good for us, but we do it anyway because either we love it or we depend on it. You know, just to quickly answer your question, for those people who are busy and don’t want to bother listening to the rest of the podcast, I can say I drink coffee for three reasons: One, because it’s delicious and I love the smell and the ritual of it. The whole preparation that I go through is a ritual, and I really believe in the importance of those kinds of rituals, and I think we lack them in our culture. Number two, coffee is associated with numerous health benefits in the scientific literature, and that may come as a surprise to some people listening, and that’s what we’re going to spend a fair chunk of time talking about, and that’s something you might not be aware of, Sheena, that actually most of the published research, the bulk of it, suggests that coffee is actually beneficial. And number three, when I drink it, it doesn’t interfere with my sleep or HPA axis function. Now, there are some caveats there, and there are times when I know drinking coffee will interfere. Like, if I’m really run down or overworked or overstressed and I drink coffee, it will have that impact on me. So part of it is me just knowing my body and how I do with it, and we’re going to talk a little bit more about that later.

So that’s the Cliffs Notes version, and now we’re going to go on and do more.

Steve Wright: And the most important question, I think, Chris, is we all know that you’re a coffee connoisseur. What is your favorite bean, or what is your favorite sort of blend, or what’s the one thing you have to have?

Chris Kresser: Well, you know, we’re going to have to do a whole other show. I think we got a little off on this tangent on a previous show, talking about our methodology. I will say that I’m a fan of lighter roasts where you can really experience the flavor of the bean. I like to mix it up. There isn’t any particular single origin location that I necessarily prefer over another. I like variety and I like to mix it up, but at the end when we talk a little bit about what to look for in a coffee, we can maybe go into that, and then we can do a whole other show on coffee preparation because I think that would be fun.

Steve Wright: Yeah.

Chris Kresser: But let’s talk a little bit about the research because that’s what we’re all about here at Revolution Health Radio.

Steve Wright: And the fact that coffee’s delicious.

The Research on Coffee

Chris Kresser: Yeah, exactly. So, yeah, if you even just spend a little bit of time in PubMed, you’ll find tons and tons of studies, a lot of them newer because this has been a relatively new area of interest in the research world. But let’s just go over some of the highlights here. A study found a lower risk of prostate cancer in people who drink more coffee with an inverse association with advanced prostate cancer, so there were much lower rates not only of prostate cancer overall, but particularly of advanced prostate cancer. There are studies on breast cancer. One showed that caffeinated coffee may be associated with lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. A study on liver cancer found habitual coffee drinking was associated with significantly lower risk of liver cancer in a Japanese population. By the way, we’ll put all of these study links in the show notes.

For other cancers, there are more varied results. There are some studies suggesting a positive association between gastric and colorectal cancer and coffee consumption while others suggest no association. But those studies, according to the authors, were often complicated by higher rates of smoking in coffee drinkers, which smoking is definitely associated with gastric cancer and colorectal cancer, so I don’t think we’re seeing a strong signal in terms of some of the few studies that have shown a positive association.

Cirrhosis of the liver. Studies have shown that one to two cups a day protects against liver cirrhosis. Parkinson’s disease: Higher coffee or caffeine intake is associated with significantly lower incidence of Parkinson’s. Coffee consumption has been shown to reduce weight gain and improve blood sugar control. There are a few studies — several actually — showing that increasing coffee consumption significantly reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. I found a few studies showing that coffee consumption is inversely associated with metabolic syndrome, which is a whole constellation of factors, including abdominal obesity, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, weight, waist-to-hip ratio, things like this, all which are characterized by disordered metabolism.

Periodontitis actually has been shown to be inversely associated with coffee consumption. And this one’s really interesting and probably explains many of the other ones that I just mentioned. There are a few studies now that show that coffee consumption has beneficial effects on inflammation. Virtually all of these chronic modern inflammatory diseases that we’re talking about are inflammatory conditions, so if coffee reduces inflammation, that would certainly go a ways to explaining why it has all these beneficial effects. Likewise, another study showed that coffee consumption was associated with lower oxidative damage of DNA and perhaps in part by decreasing body iron storage. Iron is a pro-oxidant that causes oxidative damage, and if iron levels are high or even high normal, you can see an increase in oxidative stress, and coffee appears to combat that.

Then we have studies on cardiovascular disease, the number-one killer worldwide, that show a significant benefit for both men and women and also for all-cause mortality, death from all causes. In one study, it was pretty phenomenal actually, especially in women. They found women who drank more than three cups of coffee per day had 55% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and 25% lower risk of death from all causes. That’s dramatic. I mean, to put it in perspective, statins for people who have pre-existing heart disease only get you a couple percentage points lower risk on an absolute level. It’s not comparable because those are clinical trials, interventions where they prescribe statins and compare with placebo. These are epidemiological studies just looking at relative risk, but that’s a pretty dramatic difference.

And then lastly — and I say “lastly” not because there’s not a lot more research to talk about, but that’s where we’re going to stop! — depression has been shown to decrease with increasing caffeine consumption. Some people call caffeine the happy drug or coffee the happy drug, and it appears that at least some research supports that idea.

A couple caveats: Number one is most of these studies are observational in nature. They’re not, like, double-blind, placebo-controlled coffee intervention studies or coffee experiments. They’re epidemiological studies where they’re looking at different groups of people and breaking them up based on how much coffee or caffeine they consume and then watching what happens to them. Having said that, we can’t prove that coffee is causing these beneficial effects in these studies, but we can say that it’s not causing harm in these studies. We’re not seeing coffee associated with negative effects in all of these studies. We’re seeing it associated with positives. So we could speculate that either coffee does have beneficial effects — and I’m going to speculate on some mechanisms that could explain that in a second — or we could say that maybe people who drink more coffee do other things that are beneficial in terms of all these conditions that we mentioned. But either way, we’re saying that coffee, at least according to most of this research, is not causing harm. So there’s really little reason to avoid coffee from a research perspective. If you’re just looking at things from the perspective of how coffee affects health at a population level, not on an individual level — we’re going to talk about that shortly — but on a population level, coffee appears to be associated with benefit, if anything. That’s what the research says.

Now, in terms of mechanisms, it’s not entirely clear why coffee and caffeine have these benefits, but there are certainly several mechanisms that could explain the effect. Number one is its antioxidant effect. We know that a lot of modern disease, like I said, is characterized by inflammation and oxidative damage, so anything that has an antioxidant effect could very well help prevent and even reverse some modern diseases. Caffeine itself in coffee is an antioxidant, actually, but coffee also has polyphenols, which are compounds that have an antioxidant effect, and we know that coffee components can trigger antioxidant gene expression and even protect against gastrointestinal oxidative damage. And then there was the mechanism that I mentioned earlier as evidenced by one of the studies, which is that coffee appears to be anti-inflammatory. So if it’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, those two things alone could entirely explain the benefits that coffee has because of the role of inflammation and oxidative damage in modern chronic disease.

Steve Wright: And at this point, Chris, is it safe to assume that because of the antioxidants that we can’t separate caffeine and coffee? For instance, if we compare taking a 100 mg tablet of straight caffeine versus a cup of 100 mg standardized coffee, that we’re specifically talking about sort of the added benefit of whatever caffeine might be doing plus the antioxidants and other compounds that are in coffee, which is actually a very complex… product.

Chris Kresser: Substance, yeah. Yeah, I think so. Like I said, caffeine does alone have antioxidant effects, but certainly caffeine alone does not explain the benefit that you get from drinking caffeinated coffee because, as you said, Steve, it’s a very complex substance and we know from the concept of food synergy that you can’t just isolate one compound from a food and expect to be able to understand the effect even of that compound because compounds when they appear together in foods often have synergistic relationships, and therefore, they can have effects within a whole food that we wouldn’t have when you isolate those compounds and feed them individually.

That’s a really crucial concept to understand. It’s one that I think modern nutritional research really needs to learn to get on the bandwagon with because there’s a lot of this kind of isolation that happens in trying to understand the effects of nutrients and compounds in foods, and we don’t eat those kinds of isolated nutrients. We’ve talked about this a lot on the show in the past with things like T. Colin Campbell’s research about casein. Rats that eat high levels of purified casein, which is a protein in dairy, have an increase in cancer, so he used that evidence to not only extend to the idea that all dairy products cause cancer, but all animal products cause cancer on the basis of just this one isolated protein that you would never, ever be able to eat just on its own. I think that’s important, and of course, then there are other caffeine-containing beverages, like black tea and green tea, which have antioxidants and a similar but different profile in terms of how they affect people.

Let’s talk a little bit more about other considerations when it comes to coffee intake and whether it’s healthy.

Steve Wright: Yeah, we have to come back to this lion chasing you.

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Coffee Intake Considerations

Chris Kresser: Right, exactly. And just the notion that I’m always trying to communicate, which is there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. When we ask the question, is a particular food good for you, it’s really the “you” part of that statement that needs to emphasized because even the healthiest food can be toxic or problematic for someone who’s allergic to it, and a beverage like coffee that when you look on the population level is beneficial still might be harmful for an individual based on a number of different factors.

One of those factors would be caffeine sensitivity. That varies from person to person, and it can vary even for the same person throughout their life or depending on what’s happening in their life. I mentioned myself. If I’m going through a period where I’ve been not taking care of myself as well and not sleeping as much as I should and working too much and all that sort of stuff, burning the candle at both ends, I become caffeine sensitive in a way that I’m not when I’m really doing everything I need to be doing to take care of myself, so even just within one person it can vary a lot. And there are sort of biochemical reasons for that that involve the HPA axis and response to stress, but there are also potentially genetic causes that affect how caffeine is processed in the liver that can determine caffeine sensitivity. So that’s one whole piece.

Another piece is, as I mentioned — and I think we did a whole show on this last year — your HPA axis, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, stress tolerance, levels of stress. That all has a huge impact in terms of whether coffee will be appropriate. If somebody is under a ton of stress and they’re really broken down and fatigued, coffee is probably a bad idea with the caffeine. If someone is relatively healthy and robust and they’re managing their stress and sleeping well and taking care of themselves, then they may be able to drink coffee during the day without any ill effects.

Then along the same lines we have health status. If you’re dealing with a chronic illness that’s really taxing your HPA axis and you’re really kind of beaten down from that experience, then drinking coffee, even though it has an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect, the stimulating properties of caffeinated coffee might be too much for somebody in that situation.

There are other factors we’re only just beginning to learn about. I mentioned genotype in terms of caffeine sensitivity, but there are also a few new studies suggesting that the antioxidant response that each of us has to coffee varies depending on our genotype. Some people might be particularly sensitive or sensitized to the benefits of coffee because of their genotype, whereas other people may not get as much of a benefit.

Of course, there’s the question of what you have in your coffee. If you’re drinking schwaggy nondairy creamer and sugar with every cup of coffee, then that’s obviously going to be not as good as if you’re just drinking coffee itself or maybe you’re having coffee with some cream if you tolerate it or some butter or MCT oil if you’re into that sort of thing. So what you have with it and how those things that you’re adding to it fit with your own particular individual tolerances makes a difference, too.

There are a couple more things that I want to talk about related to coffee, and those are mycotoxins and pesticides because we get a lot of questions about how big of an issue are mycotoxins, fungi and mold in coffee, and how big of an issue is pesticide, how important is it to buy organic coffee, for example.

Coffee is one of the most chemically treated crops. One estimate that I saw suggested the average acre of conventional coffee is sprayed by about 250 pounds of chemical fertilizers, so it’s, like I said, one of the more heavily treated conventional crops. But when you look at studies at least in the published literature, most of the ones that I could find showed that roasting the coffee did seem to degrade most of the pesticide residue, up to 85% or more, in fact, in a lot of the studies that I saw. Personally I want to do my best to minimize my exposure to pesticides, and also there’s another concern that doesn’t necessarily have to do with your own health and the consequences of pesticide in the coffee, but it’s the social consequence of coffee that is grown with pesticides and people that are exposed to the pesticides that are involved with harvesting and processing the coffee and the overall impacts of conventional agriculture versus organic agriculture. So whether or not it’s a significant issue in terms of the health impacts of pesticide residue in the roasted coffee, I personally choose organic coffees whenever I can. When I make coffee at home and I buy it, I buy organic coffee for that reason.

There is this whole question of decaf versus regular. As I’m sure a lot of listeners know, conventional decaffeinated coffee is processed with a lot of chemicals, and some of those chemicals are actually known to be carcinogenic, so if you do decaf, water-processed decaf is a better option. I know some people actually who drank decaf and had a reaction to it and they thought they were reacting to even the small amount of caffeine in decaf, but what they found that they were actually reacting to was the chemicals that are used to process the decaf, and they actually feel worse when they drink decaf coffee than they do when they drink caffeinated coffee, at least when it’s processed in a certain way. That’s something to be aware of.

And then the mycotoxin issue. For those of you who don’t know what mycotoxins are, they’re toxins that are produced by fungi and mold. They’re things like aflatoxin and ochratoxin and trichothecene, some examples. It is true that about 30% of coffees contain mycotoxins. The estimates vary depending on what studies you look at. Aflatoxin B1 and ochratoxin A are the main ones, and these are potentially serious toxins. Aflatoxin is no joke. It’s a serious liver toxin. Ochratoxin, less is known about its effects, but it appears to have significant impact on kidney function, cause inflammation, and also be carcinogenic. Roasting does destroy some of the mycotoxins but not to the extent that it seems to degrade the pesticide residue. Mechanical and wet-processed coffees have fewer mycotoxins. This is another interesting thing about decaf: Generally decaf coffees have more mycotoxins than caffeinated coffees because caffeine actually inhibits mycotoxin growth. So in addition to being an antioxidant, it actually inhibits mycotoxin growth. Actually it inhibits the growth of the mold, which produces the mycotoxins, to be more accurate. Instant, low quality, older, and less fresh coffee would have more mycotoxins than fresh, higher quality coffees.

But the thing to understand about these mycotoxins, which is just the same as with any other toxins that we ever talk about, is the dose is what makes the poison. Mycotoxins are found in a lot of foods — peanut butter, nuts, seeds, beer, wine, raisins, dried fruits, chocolate, grains, wheat products, things like that — and there are a lot of foods with higher mycotoxin counts than coffee. We want to minimize our exposure to these things as much as possible, and at the same time, we also know that coffee contains compounds that combat mycotoxins, like caffeine and kahweol and cafestol, and these appear to actually combat mycotoxins. And this is crucial because, again, we talked about this concept of food synergy. Going back to the T. Colin Campbell example where he found that casein fed in high doses to rats caused cancer, well, guess what? Whey, which is another protein in dairy, is anticarcinogenic, so if you’re consuming the whole dairy product instead of just an isolated protein from the dairy, it’s likely not to have any cancer-causing effect because of this food synergy, the way that these things work together. Coffee may have some amount of mycotoxins in it, at least in the case of 30% of coffee, but it also has a whole bunch of compounds that combat mycotoxins, and it has polyphenols and caffeine itself, which play an antioxidant role and reduce oxidative damage and inflammation, both of which are major factors in cancer.

So if it was true that mycotoxins in coffee were a big deal and were causing really significant problems, then we would expect to see that showing up in the research on long-term coffee consumption, right? We’d expect to see an uptick in all kinds of different inflammatory diseases from cancer to cardiovascular disease to type 2 diabetes to periodontitis, and yet that’s not what we see at all. In fact, we see the opposite. This is, again, what I’m often coming back to, is looking at the real effects in humans over the long term with foods like this rather than focusing too much on one single mechanism because we you zero in too much on a single mechanism, you can really miss the forest for the trees. We lose sight of the concept of food synergy and considering the effects of a whole food rather than just a single component of the food. Like Steve said, coffee is a super complex food or substance, and its biochemical effects are just as complex, so it’s a really good idea to keep that in mind.

Steve Wright: It sounds like, Chris, you’re kind of always coming back to individuality, between the different genotypes and phenotypes and based on where your health status is. I know that when I was super sick, let alone the fact that my hormones were at a very fragile point, my gut was so irritated that drinking coffee would actually irritate my digestive tract when I drank it.

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Steve Wright: Obviously I don’t have that anymore.

Chris Kresser: Right.

Steve Wright: So it definitely seems like you’re just going to have to keep testing and just keep trying, and I don’t think there’s any one law or anything like that other than it seems to be beneficial if you can tolerate it.

Chris Kresser: Yeah. If we were to summarize, we’d say the bulk of the research suggests that coffee consumption is beneficial at the population level, but as always, whether it works for you depends on a whole bunch of different individual factors that include caffeine sensitivity, HPA axis status, health status, stress, sleep, general lifestyle, your genetic haplotype, and lots of other stuff we didn’t really even have time to go into, but these are probably the main ones that are relevant for most people who are listening.

I would also say you should purchase the highest quality, freshest, ideally organic, wet-processed coffee that you can. And I would say that everyone should probably go a period of time, a significant chunk of time, 30 to 60 days without coffee and then add it back in to see how it affects you. I talked about this in my book, and the whole concept of a 30-day reset where you don’t have any coffee or alcohol is that a lot of people have been consuming these things for so long, and it’s very difficult to know how you respond to them when you’ve been consuming them for so long. It’s that dirty windshield effect or clean windshield effect, however you want to say it. If your windshield is dirty and you put a little speck of dirt on it, you’re not really going to notice the additional effect of that. But then when you do a 30-day reset, it’s like cleaning the windshield off completely. Then you have a glass of wine or you have a cup of coffee, and if it is affecting you negatively, you’re going to see that a lot more clearly because you’re starting from that clean windshield. That’s why I really suggest that everybody do that.

I’ve gone long periods in my life where I didn’t have any coffee at all, I’ve added it back in, I’ve experimented a lot with dosage, and still on a daily basis I have very high quality caffeinated organic coffee and organic water-processed decaf, and when I measure my coffee in the morning, the mix of caffeinated versus decaf changes almost every day depending on how I’m feeling. One day I might have, like, 6 grams of caffeinated and 12 grams of decaf. Another day I might have the flipside, 12 grams of caffeinated and 6 grams of decaf. I might have completely caffeinated one day or completely decaf another day. It just really depends on how I’m feeling and what going on for me. That’s a little harder to do when you’re ordering your coffee out, but if you make it at home, you can definitely go to that level of personalization if you need to.

Steve Wright: Yeah. I think those are some really great staples. Whenever we’re considering intaking a food that has potential downward effects… or I don’t even have to say it like that. For instance, if you’re going to eat chocolate, eat the highest quality chocolate you can get your hands on. If you’re going to eat beef, get the highest quality beef you can get your hands on. I don’t know why this blew my mind, but when I looked at the antioxidant totals for coffee versus, like, blueberries, I was just blown away. And then I compared them to, like, non-Dutch-processed chocolate, and I was just like, “Whoa.”

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Steve Wright: You can be in Whole Foods or something and looking at some ORAC values or something and be blown away, like, “Oh, my God! Goji berries!”

Chris Kresser: Acai and all that stuff, yeah.

Steve Wright: And then you look at coffee and tea and chocolate, and you’re like, “Wow. This is a magnitude of 10 to 100 times a berry.”

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Steve Wright: There’s something special about those substances.

Chris Kresser: Humble, old coffee. Yeah. It is pretty remarkable, some of the stuff that the research shows. I hope this answered your question, Sheena, and I hope it was interesting to everybody else that was listening. And I’m sure all of you coffee aficionados are probably feeling pretty good about your habit right about now! At least I hope you are! Provided it’s not interrupting your sleep and causing any other problems, keep doing it.

Steve Wright: Chris Kresser stamp of approval.

Chris Kresser: Got it.

Steve Wright: Thank you, everyone, for listening. If you’d like to get your question answered — as you saw by today’s question, if you throw a little attitude in it, it might get to the top of the list quicker! — go to ChrisKresser.com/PodcastQuestion to submit those. This podcast really is for you and generated by you, so we do need your input to keep this going. So thank you so much for listening.

Chris Kresser: All right, everyone. See you in a couple weeks. I’m walking my talk and going off the grid completely, so I look forward to talking to you when I get back.

Steve Wright: If you can figure out how to use that computer.

Chris Kresser: Yeah!

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Join the conversation

  1. As noted here, numerous studies highlight the potential health benefits of coffee. Moreover, science confirms caffeine is a safe ingredient, which is further evidenced by the ingredient’s safe consumption in foods and beverages for centuries. In other words, the billions of people who routinely consume coffee can continue to do so with confidence, and the knowledge that this ingredient may even enhance health.
    -American Beverage Association

    • Moderation is the key – as with alcohol and other “drugs”. Remember caffeine and sugar are both drugs according to the w3ay your body reacts.

  2. Chris or any one with auto immune . I am about to embark on my first auto immune protocol for the next thirty days. In the past when I have tried to quit coffee I would get severe migraines and feel like I was underwater or in a for all day long and it would stay that way for up to a week then I always gave in after that. I am extremely prone to migraines so that doesn’t help. Anyways my question is can I take caffeine pills to replace coffee while on the auto immune protocol? I am guessing caffeine by itself isn’t the problem it’s my understanding that it’s the bean that’s the problem . I know that sounds horrible and bad for me but I can’t deal with the migraines I already suffer a week or two a month with them. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated .

  3. I have been drinking Vanilla nut Teecino in place of coffee for two years. I just started adding a bit of coffee to my teecino for flavor. That seems to be the best alternative for me.

  4. I have read that caffeine acts as a methyl donor in the body. As someone who is sensitive to methyl donors, I am wondering if this is true?

  5. Antioxidants are not a good excuse to drink the devils juice.
    “Our DNA can actually turn on the production of protective antioxidants in the presence of specific signals, and this internal antioxidant system is far more powerful than any nutritional supplement.” Dr Perlmutter.

    • Not that I’ve ever liked the taste of coffee, and it gives me the shakes because of stressed adrenals, but there is a limit to how many antioxidants our bodies can produce. Illness both lowers our bodies ability to produce antioxidants and can greatly increase how many antioxidants our bodies need. Supplemental and dietary antioxidants can have great effect. But the devil’s juice – yeah. I think anyone who relies on coffee to wake them up, needs to quit.

  6. Hi Chris, I really appreciate this piece on Coffee consumption and health… not that I disappreciate any of your other pieces. At the moment I’m experiencing a strange hypotension and forced myself to read…

    I live in Mexico with my wife Margarita. My father-in-law is both an organic and conventional coffee producer in the mountains of Veracruz. Margarita, a few of my 11 brother and sister in laws, and I travel around the country with a coffee bar in search of a better coffee market for my father-in-law etc… During the 12 years Margarita and I are together, I’ve seen my coffee consumption decrease greatly (and yes, it has much to do with issues of stress and health and much of what you mentioned about the personal state of the person) since I fell in-love with coffee in Puerto Rico and New York City in the 90s…

    I’m frequently asked by customers if coffee is bad for you… I generally responded that it is a diarrhetic and that the person must be aware of how much water they are drinking before and after drinking coffee and how much coffee they are drinking, that the caffeine will function as a leaching away of water soluable vitamins and minerals… Then, not long ago, studies came out about coffee high in anti-Oxidents. But, in my studies, I realized that most of the anti-oxidents in coffee are in the flesh of the “coffee cherry” that is discarded in the process of removing the seed (bean)… Years ago my sister and brother-in-law started a business extracting the antioxidents from the discarded flesh of the coffee cherry and invited me to participate in the grassroots part of the process with my in-laws. But, one of their partners took off with the machinery forcing my sister and brother-in-law to file for bankruptcy, ending that project before it started with me… Here in Mexico Nestle ran away with the idea that coffee is an anti-oxidant, promoting their vast line of Nescafes as good pro-health, leaving me (us) with a horribly bad “taste” in our minds connected with the idea that coffee is an anti-oxidant. So, when clients mention anti-oxidants, I respond that it is a big fat lie… We sell wonderful coffee and are trying to help a community “pull itself up from its bootstraps” and we don’t believe in gain by manipulation and lying… As long as coffee doesn’t harm the consumer, that’s fine for us. Granted, if there is a whole slew of new information showing that the actually coffee bean is high in anti-oxidants not destroyed by the roasting process, then that it great too!

    A few years ago I read a Canadian study of female coffee drinkers and diabetes that showed the women who consume 6 cups or more of coffee per day have inverse rates of diabetes… I tell my clients about that study. However, my mother-in-law who was born in the cafetal/finca/coffee plantation and who drank coffee all day long instead of water (since the water in Mexico, even in the mountains, tends to be contaminated) was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. Then again, she gave birth to 13 babies (one died in the first week) which I am certain took a toll on her body… Plus, she lives in a horribly sexist culture where the men believe that the women should eat after the men have eaten (what is left over) even if the women are pregnant… A ton of desnutrition/malnutrition in the coffee ranches; children who grow up with distinct neurological problems/deformaties… that I imagine began in vitro… And lastly, the coffee that my mother-in-law always prepared for the family I called “coffee-tea”… very lightly concentrated light roast coffee that you can drink all day long… and that coffee-tea drunk all day long, like water, she also prepared with a lot of sugar…

    There’s something I wish you and your readers and your (and my) fellow country people (“Americans”) would understand about coffee producers when thinking about organic coffee… When I first met Margarita in 2003, her father’s 5 hectares of coffee plants was 100% organic. Years earlier, representatives of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (#2 buyer of coffee after Starbucks) had visited the community inspiring the coffee growers to convert to organic with the incentive of earning more money and creating stable family economies… Then, suddenly, Green Mountain left Veracruz and didn’t respond to my letters asking about their program, that they mention on their website…talking about Huatusco, Veracruz as one of the projects aiding family farmers… But, that’s clearly not true. And, no, this is not about Green Mountain, but about cultivating organic coffee and who actually gains… If you cultivate organic for a sustainable income in Mexico, you must have a lot of land, since organic coffee produces much less crop than does conventional. Granted, conventional agriculture leaches the soil of its nutrients, requiring a lot of land for rotating the crops… In Mexico, organic toasted coffee does not receive a higher price. So, if you are a small coffee farmer struggling to “pay the bills”, it is much more logical to cultivate conventional coffee… And if you sell unprocessed organic coffee cherries to the middle men who were actually working closely with Green Mountain, “they” were paying you 5 cents more por kilo for that organic coffee… Lets say that they paid you 50 cents per kilo for conventional coffee cherries, meaning that you were being given a 10% increase, although your organic coffee farm produces at least 50% less per year than conventional coffee… So, the appearance of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, while appearing to be helping the farmer was actually sending them further into poverty… Later on I bumped into a woman who worked in Green Mountain’s publicity department and told her about my in-laws’ ranch and the Green Mountain project there and that they just disappeared… And she told me that Green Mountain only works within countries that guarrantee Fair Prices for the farmers… which explains much about why they suddenly disappeared from Mexico. But, this does not justify Green Mountain’s publicity of their project with my inlaws’ community when, truthfully, the benefit is not seen.

    It would be wonderful to find giant organic markets here in the Garden of Eden of Mexico. Truthfully, it is virtually non-existent. Most organic products to be found in Mexico are from the Costco stores and extremely doubtable… It’s wonderful that you the health conscious readers can maintain a 100% organic diet. But, I truly believe that you have no idea just how difficult it is for a farmer, especially organic farmer, to subsist. In Mexico, a pound of conventional coffee sells at $5 USD at the high end, no matter the quality… That’s the price we are selling my father-in-law’s coffee. When I met Margarita 12 years ago, my father-in-law’s anual crop (December-March is the harvest period) 100% organic sold to the middle-man buyer earned him gross $1,500 USD. In order to help the family economy, various of my brothers-in-law worked on construction sites in Mexico City earning the equivalent of $120 USD per week… (This was 2003-2007 in a country that resides in the top 8% of the world’s wealthiest countries). This past year we returned to my father-in-law the equivalent of $8,500 USD for roasted coffee much higher prices than the typical buyer of roasted coffee would pay… and we have 3 of my brothers-in-law working with us 4 months per year at a total pay of $13,461 USD that also includes room, board, transportation, health insurance. We pay my father-in-law in advance for coffee we will use in the future… If you do the math, comparing these earnings with those in the U.S., you will understand why so many Mexicans enter the U.S. “illegally”… And why so many “American” manufacturers put their plants in Mexico… The Swine Flu of 2009 began in the state of Veracruz in the region of the giant Smithfield Foods Pork processing plants (Smithfield Foods is the #1 pork producer and processor in the U.S.) But why must they exist in Mexico? because minimum wage is $5 USD/day and they can break environmental and health laws without legal repercussions…? In the last 6 years, the # of the world’s millionaires decreased a little less than 1% while the # of Mexico’s Millionaires increased 30% But that increased wealth does not filter down in the least bit to those doing the difficult work… Instead, since NAFTA in 1994, there has been an incredible phenomena of Mexican farmers selling their land so that their sons can pay the “coyotes” fees for entering the U.S. “illegally”… I put the word in quotations because the movement of poor mexican farmers to the U.S. was also part of the North American Fair Trade Agreement… but only read between the lines…

    Coffee… a great thing for the consumer who can encounter high quality coffee like what my father-in-law produces and what we sell… A bad thing if cultivating it is your main economic option. What would you, the reader, do if you coffee prices doubled because the 70+ coffee cultivating countries decided to offer the coffee farmer a fair price?

    You may be thinking that this is a different discussion. But, it really isn’t. I’m reading Chris’s wonderful pieces on health and diet and translating it to my wife, in-laws and friends. But, health, diet and economy can NOT be separated… As you all should know, the international epidemic of obesity/metabolic disorder no longer is about “diseases of affluence” but about “affordable” food… and refined carbs are much less expensive today than true whole grain breads, true brown rice and healthier grains, such as quinoa. My specialty is international cuisine and I would love to offer wheatless, soyless, cornless baked goods etc. But, no one in Mexico would pay the cost for those products; quinoa flour costs 10 times that of processed wheat flour… During the 12 years I’ve been living in Mexico, the value of the Mexican Peso against the U.S. Dollar has gone from 10 pesos/dollar to 16 pesos per dollar… Since much of what is sold in Mexico is imported from the U.S., that means that the price of goods has increased minimally 40%. At the same time, minimum wage here has increased possibly 5% and the state and federal declared price of a kilo of coffee cherries remains the same (increasing when there is a drout or a plague, due to scarecity and immediately decreasing the following year when the plantations have returned to health). Since the farmers aren’t generally well educated (horrible rural school systems), they don’t understand about econics and real value of the Peso or true costs of living etc… But, they do understand that the value of their land increases greatly sold for sending their sons to the U.S. to work, instead of producing coffee or tomatoes or sugar cane…

    • Well said. There is more to farming in general. I worked at an organic farm in Oregon which essentially paid us $4.50 an hour, with half the workers being illegals and the other 19 year old WWOOFers who didn’t realize being slave labor 55 hours a week was unusual. If one is going to be super ethical one should grow their own food (easier said than done). NAFTA was bad news for both Mexico and the US. Now the Trans Pacific Partnership which is NAFTA on steroids is trying to get established. I wonder what the solution is. I don’t think it is CSAs either as they exploit workers too. I wonder what the future holds?

  7. Chris I really enjoyed this podcast, and I’d like to know your fave brands of regular and decaf too.

    I see coffee and decaf on some of the “avoid” lists for SIBO, which I don’t understand. Do you know the reason? Is organic regular or decaf bad if you have leaky gut, IBS and/or SIBO?

    I LOVE the aroma and taste of coffee, but gave it up years ago when I was working very long hours and felt it was counterproductive. But now that I’m retired, I’d love to have a cup or two a day or at least on some days, just for the pleasure of it.

    Also, you’re a cold brew guy I think. Is that because you feel that the taste is superior, or are there increased health benefits with that method?

  8. Ahh, coffee, how do I love thee!

    I second the questions about coffee and auto-immune sufferers. I was a 1-4 cup a day drinker (with milk and a teaspoon of sugar) for twenty-odd years before I was diagnosed 6 months ago with Lichen Planopilaris and went Paleo (full AIP) to try to address my hair loss. I was able to cut out coffee completely for a few months, and now enjoy a cup or three per week (no sugar, and black or with coconut oil whizzed in), especially when I’m feeling sad or overwhelmed (it certainly does help to lift my mood), and boy, do I enjoy it!

    If LPP is an inflammatory condition, then it seems the anti-inflammatory properties of coffee would help; if LPP is an auto-immune condition, and coffee is bad for auto-immune conditions, where does this leave my love for moderate, non-daily enjoyment of the magical bean?

  9. I find that most people, nutritionists included cannot give up coffee, they are addicted to the drug and cant function without it, surely there is something wrong this, what happened to natural energy? People say to me I only drink one cup a day, im not addicted, so I say go without it then, within 24 hrs they enter withdrawal and generally feel terrible and have to go back on it. Read the book ‘Caffeine Blues’ for the truth about coffee and the damage it can inflict, one of the best health books I have ever read. If you need something to give you a boost on certain days then Crio Bru – Brewed Cocoa is a great similar tasting alternative, just traces of caffeine but it contains theobromine which is a gentle, non-addictive stimulant and is longer lasting than caffeine, so no withdrawal when you don’t drink it. ‘Welcome to the dance’ is another interesting book on the subject of caffeine and its effect on mental health.

    • You “find that most people cannot give up coffee, … they are addicted”. Really? How do you find this? How did you determine “addiction”? Have you done research? Have you designed a study based on scientific principles to support your “findings”? Or is this just your opinion? So many foods that are pleasurable — coffee, tea, chocolate, wine, red meat, seafood — have been demonized by various groups. It seems that some people are just “sure” that anything enjoyable is bound to be bad for you. Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, they not only cling to their opinions, but foist them on others as fact when, in actuality, these opinions have zero scientific underpinnings. From an evolutionary perspective, people are attracted to foods (and to activities) that provide some nutritional or other health benefit. We evolved to experience satisfaction and pleasure when we consume those foods or perform those activities. But, measuring a pleasure response in the brain to some substance or activity, even if such response is measured objectively in a laboratory, does not equate to addiction. Are you “addicted” to breathing, sleeping, eating? Or, with your strong willpower, could you just give up these silly addictions and live without these things?

  10. As always, thank you! Ironically, just yesterday I decided to research coffee information. My hub & I did a 3 day all shake cleanse with no coffee or alcohol. I had listened to a Dave Asprey presentation & wondered if I needed to buy his special coffee. As consumed with educating myself on health improvements as I have been, I was embarrassed that I knew so little. Yesterday I hit the local nutrition store (“The Hairy Leg Store” as my daughter calls it- insinuating that the very “earthy”, natural type of woman gathers there) & bought my 1st bag of organic coffee & bottle or MCT oil. Had my 1st “bullet proof” cup this morning. So your podcast was not only informative & welcome, but ironically timely. Little confusion over the decaf, though. Sounded bad until later you mention drinking it as long as it is wet-pressed organic decaf. Not sure how to shop for that, but I’ll figure it out. Have a great vacation. (Guess I should talk hub out of getting that new Apple watch that carries harmful technology consequences around with him 24/7! Thanks for all you do.

    • Susan G, wet processed decaf is widely available. Whole Foods carries several different brands. Start with organic, then read the label or go online to confirm. In a few cases, I’ve contacted the roaster to confirm. I’m in the SF bay area and I know that both Blue Bottle and Equator’s organic decaf are, among others. It’s worth the effort IMO.

  11. I love coffee, but gave it up a year ago simply because I was relying on it to wake up in the morning and it felt more and more like I was dependent on it. I didn’t like the idea of being dependent on a substance to get started in the morning.

  12. I started the AIP diet a few months ago after I was diagnosed with Sjogrens Syndrome. I wasn’t a big coffee drinker to begin with; I certainly didn’t do it for the caffeine, but more for the comfort and flavor of the coffee. Giving it up wasn’t that difficult because I didn’t depend on the caffeine to get me going, but I find that I do miss the flavor! I’ve tried chicory and dandelion root, but it’s just not the same.

    Like Santino mentioned above, what is your take on coffee and autoimmune disorders? Is this something that I will have to stay away from completely, or can I indulge in a small cup of coffee a few times a week…or every day?

  13. This is all great as I love my coffee, but what about the studies I’ve seen people citing that coffee beans have substances that people with gluten sensitivity also react to, and if you avoid gluten you should avoid coffee? And that people with Hashimoto’s should avoid it? Real or bogus?

  14. Chris –
    You didn’t really get into whether we should use paper filters or no filters. My understanding is that paper filters remove the terpenes which give the cognitive boost but may raise LDL. Do we want to consume the terpenes or filter it out? Is it true that fats like MCT oil and butter help the terpenes cross the blood-brain barrier?

    Also, which roast is healthier: dark or light? From my research, I found dark roast coffee, such as French or Italian Roast, or roasts used to make espresso or Turkish coffee, are typically higher in neuroprotective agents. One study in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research (http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/roasted-coffee-much-higher-neuroprotective-lipophilic-antioxidants-green-coffee) found that dark roast coffee restored blood levels of the antioxidants vitamin E and glutathione more effectively than light roast coffee. The dark roast also led to a significant body weight reduction in pre-obese volunteers, whereas the lighter roast did not. Another study (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf904493f?journalCode=jafcau) showed that dark roast coffee produces more of a chemical that helps prevent your stomach from producing excess acid, so darker roast coffee may be easier on your stomach than lighter roast coffee.

    So, is dark roast healthier?

    Great podcast. Thanks!

    • Chris,

      What are your thoughts on Purity coffee? It seems to be one of the healthiest coffees on the market. They tested their beans against 49 other coffees, including Bulletproof coffee, and they were the highest in antioxidants and lowest in toxins. They apparently tested for 60 different mold toxins and contained zero detectable levels of these molds.

      If anyone is interested in testing Purity out, I used code EVOLVEDNS for 30 % off ($62 for the 5lb bag).

      I notice a difference in how I feel after drinking it (energy levels are very stable) and am able to drink it black. I’m wondering if it is because it’s higher quality or just placebo effect. Their decaf is really good too.

  15. Coffee made me healthy again, after I suffered from depression very long. But not regular coffee. When I drank regular coffee I had increased energy for an hour, but then crashed again. Loosed concentration again…

    But then I found a special brand (do not want to make advertising here).

    But the thing was: This coffee was approved mycotoxin free organic coffee.

    It made my depression fade away step by step over ca. 2 months. I felt an immediate effect after echt cup, but I also noted a long term effect which builded up slowly.

    After 4 months of drinking 2 cups every day, I got intolerant to many foods and also the coffee. I had to stop drinking it since now 4 weeks. And my depression and brain fog comes back again…

    Also I am left with an flu like reaction to many foods, especially food which is high in beta carotene or vitamin A. So e.g. Ghee (which I drank with my coffee everyday).

    I would love to drink coffee again but I can´t.

    The only explanation I could found for my increased sensitivity was that caffeine may enhance TH2 immune system response.

    Because as soon as I drank coffee my alopecia areata also began to get worse and worse (it was stable over 2 years).

    Have you any idea Chris if Coffee might be bad for some people with autoimmune disorders?

  16. This was one of my favorite podcasts EVER! I started off my morning being “chased by a lion” and feel just fine! :). Love your perspective and honesty!

  17. Chris, you did not say anything about whether or not coffee affects vitamin and mineral absorption. You can find a lot of articles online about how coffee causes a less efficient mineral absorption through the intestine and also about how a larger quantity of minerals is excreted through urine. Is this true?

    • Actually, Chris did address this issue, at least for iron. He also alluded to the dual nature of some nutrients. Too little iron results in anemia; too much results in oxidative stress. Everything we eat is going to interact with everything else. Even “superfoods” like kale will affect the absorption of other substances in food, or react with hormones, enzymes or other substances in the body. We evolved eating foods that have synergistic or inhibitory effects on other foods we consume.

  18. Chris you are a hero! I too love the bean. And to think it is so beneficial in so many ways. Organic rules!