The Coffee Connundrum

by Dave on June 5, 2009

As first appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, May 14, 2009:

by Lisa Harkins

To drink or not to drink…that is the question.  Why does it seem as if everyday a new study comes out that says how horrible coffee is for you, and then another comes out right after extolling its benefits? I call it the coffee conundrum, because I have seen my clients wrestle with the choice to quit coffee cold-turkey, or to continue consuming. Most drink it because they enjoy the taste, or they love the fact that it’s the one thing that gets them going in the morning. But some complain of feeling tired and sluggish in the afternoons, or some are so wired they can’t sleep at night. What’s a café craver to do?

First, let’s look at the research. Moderate amounts (one to three cups per day, or up to 300mg of caffeine) have been shown to increase exercise performance, and to even possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It has not been shown to be a causative factor for heart disease, or even hypertension. Specific research has concluded that caffeine consumption does not cause colon cancer or bladder cancer. Contrary to popular belief it is NOT a strong diuretic, and in various studies it has been proven to NOT have a significant dehydrating effect in athletes or regular joes. (I always tell my clients, if you drink any type of liquid in excess to what your bladder can hold comfortably you WILL need to go – just because a fluid has a diuretic effect does not mean it is causing dehydration – two different concepts at work here).

BUT – there are detrimental health effects that can occur with over-consumption (greater than three cups per day) that of which individuals need to be aware. These side effects include: anxiety, stressful feelings, trouble sleeping, and reduced bone density, especially in females. The jury is still out regarding pregnant women and caffeine consumption, but most research, including a large study published in the British Medical Journal in 2008, suggest even minimal consumption can lead to low birth-weight babies and increase risk of spontaneous abortion.

I quit coffee about three months ago. I wanted to see if I would feel any healthier by doing so, plus I started to resent my addiction!  I found it easier than I would have suspected, since I absolutely love the taste and looked forward to waking up with a cup (or two, or three) every morning.  I have taken to drinking green tea once or twice a day, so I am not completely caffeine-less.  But I have to say, I don’t have that 3 PM slump anymore, and I sleep through the night, every night, something I never used to do.  I do encourage my clients to cut back, especially if they are female, of a certain age, and drinking far too much a day.  But I suppose out of all the vices a person can have, a little java ain’t so bad.

Lisa Harkins is a clinical registered dietitian with Bayhealth Medical Centers and the owner of Ideal Nutrition and Fitness LLC ( You can reach her at

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