What’s wrong with your morning cup of joe?

A mother, Anne, who was taking one of my courses on stress and our hormonal health emailed me this question,

“I start my day with steamy hot coffee and half & half.

The morning ritual is so comforting to me. Sitting, cozy on the couch with hot coffee, a blanket, and my Bible. Love it!

But, I need to ask the question, is this caffeine contributing to the [stress] problem? What are your thoughts on coffee and caffeine?”

Coffee, and whether it is friend or foe, is a hugely popular question I get from many women, and I can understand the confusion.

So let’s take caffeine – and in particular the question, “Should I give up my morning cup of joe?” – and work through the three-step strategy I use when women are confused about health information.

First Seek to Understand

In this case, without demonizing caffeine, let’s just understand how our bodies are made and what caffeine as a chemical does when we ingest it.

Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant. As such, it has certain basic impacts on our biochemistry.

To keep it simple, it primarily stimulates the nervous system, which is closely aligned to our adrenal system (aka our stress response).

This means that caffeine triggers our brains to become alert, our adrenals to produce cortisol, our digestion to engage and clear out, and our liver to release sugars to increase our energy.

Apply the Understanding to Your Own Situation

Since caffeine essentially triggers a biochemical stress response, the first line of exploration is to take an honest assessment of how you are doing on the stress continuum.

If you are showing signs of adrenal fatigue or chronic stress, it may be a no-brainer that coffee simply is not moving you in the right direction.

Additionally, consider what is happening in your life when you drink your cup.

A cup of coffee savored in quiet time is WAY different than a few cups thrown back as you are running around like crazy trying to get everyone to school in the morning and skipping breakfast. It’s a totally different experience.

And the impact it has on your mind and body will be different in each of those scenarios as well.

An already stressed out mind and body is primed and ready to be especially vulnerable to the impacts of caffeine.

A calm, peaceful mind and body are much more able to handle the caffeine intake, and process it without throwing your hormonal equilibrium off.

But let’s dig a little deeper.

Some other questions to explore would be:

1. How are your moods about 2-3 hours after your coffee?
If you are able to maintain steady, balanced and resilient emotional health after the caffeine leaves your system, that is a great sign it is not significantly causing imbalance.

2. How are your bowel movements when you don’t drink caffeine?
If you find your body is relying on your cup of coffee in order to “go” regularly, that’s a red flag.

3. How is your hunger?
One thing that caffeine will do is decrease your hunger – which can cause many women to skip breakfast all together. This has been an issue in my experience and I’ll share how I adapted to it later in this article.

4. How is your energy level 2-3 hours after you drink your coffee?
Similar to your moods, if caffeine is becoming an energy crutch you’ll know by a significant crash 2-3 hours after you’ve had it.

5. Finally, how is your sleep?
This question is important because caffeine can very quickly mask underlying adrenal fatigue or burnout. If you aren’t getting proper restorative sleep, have issues with insomnia or broken sleep, and feel you just “can’t get going in the morning” without your coffee, take notice! Now is when you may want to start digging deeper and getting to the root causes.

Seek Your Right Solution

Caffeine impacts people differently because every body is different. It is always useful to check in with yourself and see what your body is telling you.

A few years ago, I was in adrenal fatigue and I quit coffee all together in order to nurture my hormones back to health and resiliency.

Now, I can tolerate a small amount of caffeine under certain circumstances.

Here are my personal guidelines:

1. I eat something substantial very near to when I have my coffee– caffeine on an empty stomach does NOT work well for me.

2. I also drink a good amount of water in the mornings, it helps me stay hydrated and keeps the jitters and anxiety that can happen if I drink too much coffee from happening.

3. I regularly take a day or two off caffeine to be sure I’m not experiencing clear “withdrawal” side effects and to give my body a proper break from the stimulant from time to time.

When I read Anne’s question, my first reaction was to revel at what a beautiful ritual she had established for her mornings. For thousands of years we have connected food to meaningful rituals in our lives.

If you look at the research, the anti-coffee drinkers and avid coffee drinkers both have science on their side. What works for some people, doesn’t work for others.

This is the beauty of coming to a place with food and health information where you can assess it on your own terms, you know your body and how to read its language, and so can determine when shifts need to be made and when things are working just fine.

An Invitation: If you’d like to learn more about your amazing hormonal body, I’ll be sharing a free teleclass soon called Clearing Up the Hormone Confusion. I’ll be sharing how the five major hormone systems all work together, the biggest mistakes we make to cause our hormones to go haywire, and specific concrete ways you can bring more harmony to your hormonal systems.  If you’d like to sign up, click here.

How about you? Do you know how caffeine or coffee impacts your body and mind?

top photo source
Lisa Byrne

Lisa is the bestselling author of Replenish and founder of WellGrounded Life. She's got a big-hearted vision of a world where moms are fully equipped to live calm, healthy, and vibrant lives. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three kids, and 110 pound yellow lab.

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  1. Thank you for putting into words what I have experienced! On the days I drink coffee, my anxiety spikes and I am shaky and stressed almost all day. I do love it, but you gave great guidelines for how to use it. I usually have de-caf, but know I can handle the caffeine only if I have it with a good breakfast. Great stuff!

    • Yes! This is exactly what happened to me. Before I had kids, I could chug 5 cups of coffee a day no problem. After my first girl, 1/2 cup would have me shaking and having panic attacks–both not normal for me and causing me great concern. I cut out the coffee (I do drink decaf when I read my Bible in the morning though!) and decreased the sugar and I was back to my old self!

      Thanks, Lisa! You always have great and helpful info!

  2. Lisa – I really appreciate your balanced approach! I will be a naturopathic physician very soon, and I applaud your balance and accuracy of information. I do want to add that coffee can actually help to prevent colon cancer — there was even new research published this year on that. But I know that wasn’t the purpose of your post. I am actually taught in my training to recommend that patients avoid the use of coffee when there is any type of adrenal issue. Good work, Lisa!

    • Thanks Archer and congratulations on your upcoming matriculation! Very true with other research indicating more of coffees benefit/risks…it really is a person by person decision I think.

  3. I love love love my coffee. I found huge difference when i stopped drinking instant coffee (which is the worst kind imo) and started on espresso/cappuccino. It doesn’t even affect my sleep.
    Other good choices are filtered and greek coffee

  4. How does drinking black tea relate to this? Does tein affect our body in similar way on all these levels? Or maybe the effect is milder?

    I drink coffee maybe five times a year, so it doesn’t really affect me… But I do love to have a cup of tea once or twice a day.

    • Ewa, There seems to be a significant difference in some areas of impact between coffee and black tea- in particular around insulin sensitivity…so many times tea is a nicer option for some.

      • HOwever Black tea is caffienated unless stated on the package. Same with Green tea and any other tea that you drink. You ahve to make sure and DE-CAF on the package. It is amazing how many people give their kids Iced Tea and do not even think about how loaded Iced tea is with caffiene. You have to make sure the label says DE-CAf!

  5. Hi Lisa. Sounds like great advice. I love it when people are advised to listen to their own body. If coffee brings such joy, as it does to many, and is not causing medical issues then the health benefits of the joy would surely out-weigh the slight negative effects of a cup or two a day.

    I do have a question about your warning that it causes many to skip breakfast. What are your thoughts on intermittent fasting? I know there is a link between skipping breakfast and being overweight, but there is evidence that one does not cause the other. Maybe it is just that many people that skip breakfast simply have many other “bad” nutritional habits. There is a lot of building evidence that intentionally skipping breakfast a few days a week greatly improves insulin response, growth hormone levels, and testosterone levels. It seems to work pretty well for me.


  6. I am prone to anxiety, and there are definitely times when I know coffee is having a direct impact on that. I typically will end up cutting out the coffee gradually over a week and move to a season of herbal tea. Then after several weeks of only drinking tea, I start drinking coffee again, a little at a time. It seems to be a cycle for me 🙂 I find that in the winter, when our heat is super low and we are all bundled up, I will drink herbal tea throughout the day to keep me warm. If I tried to do that with coffee, I might look like that the woman who tries 30 caffeine patches in Meet the Robinsons 🙂

  7. I definately know how caffeine affects me. 2 cups a day is my limit or i get palpitations and the jitters. I drink it because i enjoy it, but i know my limit.

  8. Like the previous poster, I’m prone to anxiety and caffeine has a huge impact on that. It didn’t use to but now that it does I’ve cut it out almost 100% – it’s just not worth it to ingest something that makes life harder.

  9. Susan Mitchell says:

    I would love to hear more about adrenal fatigue. I have been having so much stress and anxiety over the past 6 months…even longer. I feel like I’m losing my mind. Constantly tired, dragging, foggy. I’ve stopped exercising and eating right. Any GOOD resources to look to? I’m ready to feel BETTER.

  10. I also love my morning cup of coffee a quiet sit down adn relax.
    However my coffee is not caffienated!. I have to regulate my caffiene.
    I know it races my mind. My mouth does not stop after 2 hours of drinking coffee in fact I am not even sure it even gets to 2!. I know Caffiene in my migraine medicine is very necessary for my headaches which are few and far between so I know my body cna tolerate that. I do get grouchy and grumpy after about 4 hours and I also try very hard to make sure I drink loots of water.
    I find it hard to believe when people say oh caffiene doesnt do anything to me!. Then stop it and see.
    I also know from experience that too much of it in a weekly period for me, causes anxiety and panic attacks. I am not dissing it either, I know in certain times for me I actually do need it. Tylenol does nto even come close for my headache and rather than take a full day of meds to kick a eadache. one migraine med will do the trick!
    Just my two cents!

  11. I think caffeine has gotten a bad rap. Most studies coming out these days show that it may help prevent heart disease and dementia. Coffee and tea are also good sources of bioflavonoids. As long as you don’t get stressed or can’t sleep, a little bit of caffeine everyday, especially if you drink organic coffee (regular is full of pesticides) it is much better for you than snacking to keep your energy up.

  12. What about decaf coffee? Anything wrong with that?

  13. I’m wondering about negative effects related to acidity and how much that can be countered with organic coffee? Anyway, great tips! I really enjoyed this article.

  14. I love how you recognize that the effects of coffee are different for different people. I have realized over the past several years just how much of an impact coffee can have on me…anxiousness, nervousness and then the fatigue that hits later (I didn’t realize this affected so many others!). I am slowly learning to listen better to my body and to avoid those things that drag me down. Slowly, with a deep breath and self-control. Thanks for this post!

  15. Great post! One cup of coffee a day is my max (I used to drink much, much more). I also drink a lot of water in the morning to counteract the dehydrating effects of coffee. It’s really important to take a look at our coffee intake every once in a while because it’s easy to get carried away.

  16. I also love coffee, and my husband sells coffee! However, in addition to the side effects you mentioned, caffeine also increases fibrous breasts and hot flashes.

    I’ve learned that cold-brewed coffee is less acidic and may contain less caffeine (probably depending on the brewing time, I suppose).

    In all things, moderation, I tell myself!

  17. You make some nice suggestions!
    As a physician (MD), I also advise my patients of the following, and agree with you that whether a person should drink coffee depends on the induvidual.
    – Caffeine can increase your blood pressure, so i advice my hypertensive patients to avoid it.
    – Caffeine in the first trimester of pregnancy (as many of you know) is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, so I advise women to avoid it or at least keep it under 100mg/day when trying to concieve or in first trimester. (note that there are MANY other factors in miscarriage so if you have grieved through a pregnancy loss, know that it likely had nothing to do with your habits)
    -On the flip side, a recent very large and powerful study revealed that women who drink 2-5 cups a day actually had around a 15% lower mortality rate over a period of time than those who drank none–that HUGE! (For men it was 10% lower during same period and coffee intake)
    There is really a lot we know about coffee intake now that is super interesting. I’ll be posting about it later this month on my blog, along with a review of the latest (massive) study about running, and my personal top ten list on why to kick the diet soda habit (i’m trying!).

  18. Nice post. I’m a physician (MD) and I also very much individualize my advice to patients regarding coffee and caffeine intake. I advise my hypertensive and pregnant patients to avoid it (of course) and advise my Hepatitis C patients to drink coffee. For people without contrainidcations, I tell them about a recent (massive) study that found that women who drank 2-5 cups a day actually had almost 15% lower mortality rate during the study period, and for men it was 10% lower. Wow! I’ll be posting about coffee’s health pros and cons on my blog later this month. Very interesting stuff!

  19. Thanks for this post. I love my coffee. I love my coffee so much that when I go to sleep at night, I’m looking forward to waking up in the morning to have my coffee. But I do find my jitters are much worse when I don’t eat with my morning cup. I’ll have to make this a priority.

  20. Nice article. I like this tips you gave, they surely can help. The fact is that good breakfast and a lot of water is a good way to avoid bad some o the bad sides of coffee. The one thing I don’t like is that I I don’t think that we should only blame coffee. Chocolate and different drinks also have a lot of caffeine inside. Even though I never skip my morning coffee I do avoid drinks like coca cola and pepsi. I think that’s also a good way to reduce caffeine consumption.

  21. My aunt used to own a coffee-roasting business and claims that the fresher and better quality the beans, the lower the caffeine content and accompanying jitteriness. Can anybody else attest to this?

  22. i find its the sugar was affecting my energy swings more than the caffeine

  23. I can’t stand coffee, but I’ve been a huge fan of diet coke since college. I didn’t drink a ton in the few years between graduating and having babies, but once I had little ones keeping me up constantly I started hitting it hard. Last month I decided to stop it cold turkey, just to see if it was causing any problems. Oh. my. goodness. I was so addicted to caffeine and didn’t realize it. The first week was hard, but the 2nd week I felt better than I had in years. And then after 3 weeks w/out caffeine I started talking like a drunk – I’m sure I can handle a little bit every few days, I’m not gonna drink much, I’m still in control of how much I need it, etc. Of course I’m now all screwed up again from the caffeine I’ve been taking in over the last week. I know pop isn’t great for me for so many reasons, but I honestly did not realize how much of an effect the caffeine was having on me.

  24. I have ALWAYS been sensitive to caffeine in coffee (but strangely, not usually from other caffeinated things). I discovered it in high school – I had a paper due the next day, and I broke down in tears from the anxiety/stress (which is unusual for me!) I discovered I can have it only on a full stomach with water or I have stomach problems and anxiety. Thanks for the info!

    Your telecast: will it ONLY be Friday the 14th? I work then, but am super interested!

  25. I have a different side to my coffee addition than most. Caffeine calms and slows my mental processes down. Those of you who have A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. know what I am talking about. I think nothing of brewing a half a pot of coffee right before I turn in for the night. I drink it in the morning as well, not for a pick-me-up but because I truly love the many different flavors of coffee. I do drink tea some days instead when I get the urge but coffee is my #1 favorite beverage by far. On days that I don’t have school (I’m going back to school to complete my degree at the ripe age of 38, well 39 as of 9/9) I find the caffeine in coffee is enough to calm me down and keep me on task. I never, ever drink decaf due to the processing methods used to remove the caffeine. NOT GOOD AT ALL!

  26. So I’m drinking a cup of coffee at almost 11:00 at night…… Maybe not the wisest choice. Coffee and I are still trying to figure eachother out. I can drink it at almost any time of day and not feel stress, energized, awake, sleepy…. I don’t drink it everyday, I am trying to recoginize the effects caffeine on my body. Thanks for sharing.

  27. I so enjoy a cup of coffee as a special treat on occasion… but I have to keep those treats few and far between as my body does not respond well. My heart rate immediately increases dramatically and maintains that quick rate until the caffeine is out of my system. A definite sign to me that caffeine is not my friend! So anytime I do partake, I get decaf (I can still feel it, but it’s not as dramatic), and I also make sure it’s not going on an empty stomach.

  28. Me and caffeine don’t mix well together, so I stay away from coffee, whose taste I thankfully never found appealing (even though I worked in a coffee shop!). But I do like some caffeinated drinks like tea and boba. I can take both of those before noon; anything after that time and I am wired at night, as in I can’t sleep until 5am.

  29. I use when women are confused about health information.

  30. I use when women are confused about health information.

  31. I know that you put much attention for these articles, as all of them make sense and are very useful.

  32. Once they board his bed their world is transformed into a magical vessel, sailing the seven seas on dangerous and exciting adventures!

  33. Now is when you may want to start digging deeper and getting to the root causes.

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