Coffee Fix?

Posted on: 9th May 2018

a picture of a cup of coffee that is sitting on a wooden table.

95 million cups of coffee are sold each day in the UK. [1]. “We have moved from a nation of tea drinkers and occasional instant coffee drinkers to a nation of coffee lovers and even coffee geeks,” says Jeffrey Young, the chairman of the Allegra Foundation food organisation behind UK Coffee Week, which runs each April. Britain now has one of the most vibrant coffee cultures in the world, which was showcased by the 2010 World Barista Championships held in London. However, is it good for you?

There are two main nutritional benefits. Firstly coffee has a high antioxidant status. Antioxidants are important for health as they prevent our cells from being oxidised by toxins, chemicals and inflammation. The second is the stimulant caffeine, although this also presents potential risk factors if consumed in excessive amounts and for certain people who may be vulnerable to its effects (see below). Coffee also contains some B vitamins, magnesium and potassium.

Recent research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine [2] suggests that having three cups of coffee per day could lengthen lifespan by lowering the risk of death from several key conditions including heart disease.

Coffee can also help some people to to feel less tired and more energised due to its caffeine content. When coffee is consumed, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels to the brain where it ‘fires up’ certain neurons which can improve memory energy, mood and cognitive functioning when consumed in moderation. Researchers have speculated, that caffeine may show promise in the treatment of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and obesity. Coffee has also been associated with a lower risks of several cancers, including prostate, endometrial, skin and liver cancer, as well as type-2 diabetes, gallstones and gout. Further research is however required before definitive links and benefits are found and treatments formulated.

It must be remembered that caffeine is a stimulant and everyone reacts differently to it. Caffeine also acts as a diuretic which can cause the body to produce urine more quickly. People who are sensitive to caffeine or who drink a lot of caffeinated drinks, often report dizziness, tremors and insomnia as side effects.

Other side effects are a potential increase in blood pressure, worsening of acid reflux/heartburn and risk of miscarriage. Caffeine may also have an adverse impact on those predisposed to anxiety and panic attack. Several randomized studies show that coffee has anxiety causing properties and that consumption increases measures of anxiety [3].The potential for caffeine to cause panic disorder and social anxiety have been under investigation for decades.

One particularly convincing study was a randomized, double-blind experiment analysing if coffee can make anxiety worse [4 & 5]. This study featured 98 participants:

72 patients suffering from panic disorder or social anxiety.  26 control subjects. After taking a 480 mg dose of caffeine, 31 out of the 72 patients with anxiety problems suffered a panic attack. Out of the 26 control subjects, no-one had a panic attack. One week later, participants had a second test and, unknowingly, they received a placebo (caffeine-free solution). No single participant had a panic attack from either group. It’s therefore fairly clear that caffeine, and coffee, can induce panic attacks and stronger feelings of anxiety in those at risk. In moderate amounts, there shouldn’t be any concern for individuals not prone to anxiety.

Caffeine is a drug and can affect people differently just like any other substance. It’s important to understand how caffeine interacts with your body. If you are concerned about your caffeine intake you should speak to your GP. If you feel that counselling may help then please get in touch on 07891593571 or by email sheelaghward@protonmail.com

References

  1. Centre for Economics and Business Research, (April 2018) Coffee and Its Impact on the UK.
  2. Marc J. Gunter, PhD; Neil Murphy; et al. (August 2017) Coffee Drinking and Mortality in 10 European Countries: A Multinational Cohort Study. Annals of Internal Medicine.
  3. Vilarim MM, Rocha Araujo DM, Nardi AE. Expert Rev Neurother. (2011 Aug) (8):1185-95. Caffeine challenge test and panic disorder: a systematic literature review.
  4. Nardi A.E et al (2009) Panic disorder and social anxiety disorder subtypes in a caffeine challenge test. Psychiatry Res. 2009 Sep 30;169(2):149-53. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2008.06.023. Epub 2009 Aug 20.
  5. Boulenger J.P et al (2009) Increased sensitivity to caffeine in patients with panic disorders. Preliminary evidence. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1984 Nov;41(11):1067-71.