Coffee: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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You went out for drinks last night and made the intelligent choice of drinking red wine at a dive bar.

Your headache was already starting when you collapsed into bed around midnight. At 6am you woke up to the sound of your evil neighbor’s vacuum cleaner.

The only way to start this day without nodding off or going off on someone every five minutes is a venti red eye, preferably made by the hot barista who always calls you by your first name.

Are You Addicted?

This pattern might sound familiar: the caffeine in your favorite Starbucks creation is absorbed in the body within 30 to 45 minutes, where it works as a stimulant on your central nervous system. At this point, you’re pumped up, productive, and full of creative energy. After about three hours, the effects of caffeine diminish, which is when you find yourself running out for another fix.

Experts call this behavior caffeine ”dependence” rather than addiction. Even so, withdrawal from caffeine dependence can be a nasty experience.

We’ve all been there:

  • headache
  • fatigue
  • anxiety
  • decreased energy
  • depressed mood
  • difficulty concentrating
  • drowsiness

The good news is that these symptoms only last for a few days. So once you’ve conquered your caffeine withdrawals, do you need to kick your caffeine habit completely, or can you still enjoy that occasional cup of joe (or Cappuccino Almond Dream)?

Everything In Moderation


There have been more than 19,000 studies on caffeine and coffee in the past 30 years in an attempt to determine its exact effects on the human body.

“There is certainly much more good news than bad news, in terms of coffee and health,” says Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Besides increased alertness and concentration, recent studies show the potential benefits of caffeine including:

  • improved immune function from caffeine’s anti-inflammatory effects
  • a decrease in allergic reactions due to caffeine’s ability to reduce histamines
  • lower risk of dementia
  • reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes
  • greater endurance during workouts

The upshot? For most healthy adults, moderate amounts of caffeine (about three cups of coffee a day) do not cause harm, and may even have a positive effect. One caveat: if your heart pounds and you get the “java jitters,” you may be caffeine-sensitive, so check with your doctor.

And if you find yourself going on Starbucks benders every time you’re stressed or tired, you may want to find another way of boosting your energy, like going to bed earlier, for instance.

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6 Responses to “Coffee: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”

  1. August 20, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    I had major caffeine withdrawals after a recent juice cleanse I did. A killer headache from hell consumed me for a full 24 hours. I’ve laid off caffeine a little since then… Just a little though! http://thehealthycollective.com/2013/07/15/the-juice-box/

  2. August 20, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    Whew! It’s good to know that there are more “good” news than “bad” when it comes to coffee. I completely cut it from my diet once to kick my dependence a bit- and it was MISERABLE. Caffeine headaches are no fun. Now I have 1-2 cups per day max.

  3. August 21, 2013 at 7:24 am #

    I’m surprised that three cups is acceptable. Is that three measuring cups worth? There is a big difference between 3 measuring cups and 3 venti cups from Sbx.

  4. August 21, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    I gave up coffee for Choffy: http://www.drinkchoffy.com/

  5. August 21, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    It’s good to know that caffeine is actually good for you, since I love it and crave a cup or two of coffee or tea to get my juices flowing each morning!
    If coffee can help prevent dementia and other diseases then bring it on!

  6. September 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    This is too funny. Yep, red wine at the dive bar = bad mornings. But I agree with Sarah, is three cups really ‘moderate’? I have one cup (esp from Starbuckys) and I go apeshit. Coffee is STRONG medicine. But I think tea is better all around– less caffeine, likely less sugar (when was the last time most of us put sugar and coffee and vanilla caramel syrup in our tea?) and better for our health. Just a thought!

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