Rob Heppell: Welcome to the Your Best You Today show. I’m your host, Rob Heppell, and I am joined with health expert, Dr. Kevin Jackson.
Kevin is a naturopathic doctor and has been helping people find natural solutions for their health issues for over 25 years. With the Your Best You Today online radio show, we’re going to dive into common health issues and explore natural solutions to them.
Welcome back to the show, Dr. Kevin.
Kevin Jackson: Hi Rob, thanks for having me.
Rob: Now, the last couple episodes, we really hit sugar hard. A lot of that was about things that we consume, especially in drinks and things like that.
Kevin: Yes, that’s right.
Rob: What we’re going to talk about today continues on the topic of beverages. What are we going to talk about?
Kevin: It’s going to be about caffeine and its effect on human health. Hopefully, break some of the myths about caffeine out there. There’s so much information now about caffeine and most of it’s not good. We should probably dive into that.
Rob: Great. Why caffeine? Why is it such a health concern?
Kevin: There are a number of issues about it, and that’s really what we’re going to talk about over this show and the next. It’s a central nervous system stimulant. For a lot of people, that’s a good thing, because it makes you feel more alert. You’re a little faster to pick up on things.
But there are so many down sides to this particular substance, to this drug, caffeine. That’s really what I’m going to talk about today. It’s the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive substance. In North America, 90 percent of all adults consume caffeine daily.
56 to 60 percent consume coffee daily and then the rest would be black, green and white tea, yerba matte as well as chocolate, soft drinks and energy drinks. Those are all the main sources of caffeine.
Rob: Besides a little burst of energy that peps you up, is there anything good about it? Would you ever say, “Hey, this is a good idea to have caffeine?”
Kevin: What I usually say to people is if you’re completely healthy, if you can really look at yourself in a mirror and say, “I really don’t have any health concerns,” and you drink two, three cups of coffee or two to three cups of tea a week, it’s probably not going to hurt you.
There is some evidence to show that some people with asthma may benefit by ingesting caffeine. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, really.
People will tell you that it’s good for you. For example, coffee, apparently has antioxidant qualities. It’s true that coffee has some antioxidants in it, but the benefit of the antioxidants is far outweighed by the negative effects of the caffeine and some of the other substances in coffee.
It’s a multi‑billion dollar industry. There’s a lot of proprietary interest at play when we hear some of these stories. There’s a lot of press out there to prop it up and say, “Coffee is not that bad for you.”
When you really look into what caffeine does, I say “coffee,” it’s really anything with caffeine in it. The negative implications are spread all over the place.
We really want to take a closer look at caffeine and analyze how it’s impacting the individual because I see it constantly in my practice. People are negatively affected by caffeine and they don’t have a clue.
They don’t make the connection. Until you cut it out completely, and then watch the benefit. That’s most important.
Rob: What really is it? What’s happening inside our bodies that’s so negative?
Kevin: There are so many different things that it affects. The first thing about coffee or caffeine is that it gets broken down in the human body at different rates. When you’re 18 years old, the half‑life of caffeine is around 5 hours.
That means that you drink, say, 200 milligrams of caffeine in your coffee. In 5 hours, half of it is gone from your body. It’s eliminated through the urine. Then in another 5 hours, half of that half is gone and another 5 hours half of that quarter is gone.
It’s eliminated from your body in about 18 hours. As we age and as different things happen to us, that half‑life changes. That means that it stays around in the body for a lot longer. For example, women taking an oral contraceptive, the half‑life is up to 10 hours.
In pregnant women, the half‑life is usually 9 to 11 hours. That means it’s staying in your body longer and having more of a negative effect on you.
In infants and young children, the half‑life is around 30 hours. This is one of the reasons that women who are pregnant should never ingest caffeine, because although they all tell you, “Oh, you can drink 300 milligrams safely per day,” you don’t know what the impact is on the fetus.
Because this poor little baby is hanging onto your caffeine for up to 30 hours. The implications are pretty serious. It’s not something that we want to be doing. Another really interesting thing is there’s an antidepressant medication, commonly prescribed, it’s called Luvox.
If you’re taking Luvox, and this is one example because so many people take so many different medications, but Luvox takes the half‑life of caffeine from 5 hours and moves it up to 56 hours. And there are lots of other antidepressants that have similar effects to this, but Luvox is really well known because of this specific effect. That means if you drink 300 milligrams of caffeine and you’re taking Luvox, 56 hours later. half of it’s gone from your body.
Rob: Over two full days, it’s still in your system.
Kevin: It’s still in your system. More than 50 percent of it is in your system up to that 56 hour mark. The other thing is as we age, our liver’s ability to remove caffeine changes, too.
Part of it is because we tend to take more medications as we age but also our liver has had more use over the years. It’s not working necessarily as efficiently as it used to. I see this all the time. People say to me, “I used to be able to drink three cups of coffee right up to bedtime. And it never bothered me. Now, I couldn’t have a cup of coffee after 11:00 in the morning. I know I’m not going to sleep.” That’s a great indicator right there that the half‑life of coffee or caffeine has changed in your system.
It probably is due to medications and the aging process and the fact your liver is not functioning as well as it used to. This is a really important piece of information that lot of people don’t look at.
When you look at the studies on caffeine, they’re not taking this into effect. They’re looking at the average 18‑year‑old who can get rid of this stuff really quickly, and it’s out of their system in relatively short period of time. As a result, the health implications are lessened.
Let’s take a look at how it can affect the human body. These are things that I see in my practice frequently. The first thing is that it stimulates your heart, your respiratory system, and your central nervous system. Your heart tends to beat faster.
You’re pumping more blood through your blood vessels faster. It puts a little more strain on the heart. It makes your blood a little more thick, if you will, for lack of a better term, by increasing the amount of fatty acids in the blood.
This is another concern, because obviously, if your blood has more fatty acids, there are some indications that, especially if you have more of the bad cholesterol, the LDL, or something called Apo lipoprotein A and B, those are indicators of increased risk for stroke and heart attack.
That’s one of the things that comes up with caffeine, and yet it typically gets overlooked and said, “Oh, no. There’s really no concerns about heart function long term.” We haven’t really had a lot of great studies long‑term because there isn’t enough interest in it.
A lot of that is because it’s so widely consumed and people love it. There is definitely a love affair with caffeine and coffee out there. Probably the most difficult thing I see regularly with my patients in removing foods from their diet is getting rid of coffee.
People complain bitterly about having to remove it, because it’s probably the only substance that we ingest that has a great aroma, that tastes good, that’s warm, that’s comforting. It’s almost rewarding, it’s usually involved in a social situation, and it makes us feel good. There’s probably no other food that does that.
Rob: It’s even part of your daily routine. I remember, when I drank a lot of coffee, the first thing I did in the morning, I even prepared it the night before, go to the coffee maker, put in six cups, I’d make six cups, I’d fill it all up.
And either have the timer on or at least when I woke up, go on the kitchen, flip the switch, go to the bathroom, get ready. As soon as I come out of bathroom, it’s already perking.
You get that smell. It end up being three mugs of coffee or six small cups. It’s a routine. It’s a way you start your day.
Kevin: It’s a routine. The other thing that I see, especially with my female patients, is that if their spouse or partner makes it for them and brings it to them, there’s a connection there that people make with, “Oh, somebody’s done something for me.
I can’t not drink that, because somebody’s done this wonderful thing for me.” That’s another little thing. You wouldn’t think of it as being a big deal, but that’s one of the things I see.
Especially in female patients that say, “Boy, that’s so hard to give up that, because my husband doesn’t do a lot, but he does that for me.”
Rob: Hey, Kev. It’s one of the only things we can get right. You flip the switch, you pour the coffee, you put a nice amount of milk in there. You can’t really screw that up too bad.
Kevin: I agree. Boiling water, maybe, as well. Some other things that are indicated as far as caffeine consumption, it stimulates blood circulation. For some people, that’s a good thing. In other cases, you don’t want your blood circulation to be stimulated necessarily.
Especially if you’re trying to sleep or if you’re trying to relax or calm down. You know what? Your heart pumping at 120 beats a minute and blood coursing through your blood vessels, which leads me to the next thing. It elevates blood pressure.
The third most commonly prescribed medication in North America right now are blood pressure medications. So many people are on these BP meds. And they’re drinking four or five cups of coffee or tea a day or eating chocolate or soft drinks that contain caffeine, even energy drinks. There’s a real tendency to pump up your blood pressure.
If you can stop all forms of caffeine, you’ll often find your BP, your blood pressure comes down. I’ve seen it come down 20 points on the systolic in a very short period of time.
That’s one little thing. I have a number of cases of patients that I have helped get off their BP meds by having them stop caffeine. These are situations where people sometimes have been on these meds for 10 to 20 years.
The thing about blood pressure medications is most of them have some side effects. Some of them are quite severe side effects long term. Anytime you get a person off their medications (assuming they no longer require them), you’re always ahead of the game.
If you can get them off caffeine, which has all these negative implications on health generally, which we’re talking about tonight, it’s a double win when you can do that.
The other thing that caffeine does is that it causes your stomach to produce more acid. If a person has acid reflex or if they have a hiatal hernia, or GERD (acid reflex disease) caffeine can be a major cause. One of the top prescribed medications in North America are what are called PPIs, proton pump inhibitors.
These are medications to stop your stomach from producing acid, which certainly works to stop heartburn and reflux disease. But if you stop your stomach from producing acid, you don’t digest your food very well.
There are also implications on these drugs (PPI’s) that they may cause bone loss and may be a proponent in osteoporosis, which is becoming a huge issue.
If you’re drinking caffeine, it might be the cause of your GERD or of your acid reflux because it’s causing your stomach to produce more acid. Not only does it cause your stomach to produce more acid it irritates the lining of the stomach and the small intestine. If you’re prone to ulcers, this can be an exacerbating factor for ulcers. It can make your ulcers worse. It can perpetuate your ulcers and prevent your body from healing.
These are a couple of things with the gastrointestinal tract that certainly can play a role in people’s health. Also, it makes digestion less effective by relaxing the muscles of your gastrointestinal system.
The muscles in the GI tract are involved in something called peristalsis, and that can be very important in proper digestion. If that goes down, I can play a role in reducing your body’s ability to digest effectively.
Rob: We’ll probably talk about this in a future episode… but when you separate certain foods for example don’t eat proteins and carbs together some people benefit. If people aren’t going to cut out caffeine completely, is there a better time to consume caffeine?
Do you drink it on your own? Is it better to have it with something else alongside it to help absorb it?
Kevin: That’s a good question, Rob. A lot of people, even when they listen to these couple episodes and realize how bad it is for them, are still going to drink it. If they’re going to drink it, it’s definitely best to drink it on a full stomach.
A lot of people get up in the morning and they have a coffee for breakfast. That’s one of the worst things you can do because you’re tearing the lining off your stomach and your duodenum.
You really should put some food in there because it buffers the negative effect of the caffeine on the gastrointestinal lining.
It’s an important thing to not be drinking beverages or ingesting caffeinated substances, even chocolate. You really shouldn’t ingest chocolate on an empty stomach because of the caffeine.
Rob: If they were going to have it with or after breakfast, having a coffee…this is how it was at our house when I was growing up. Mum would serve coffee to the guests after dinner. Although she’s not doing a great thing, having it at that time was better than everyone having coffee before the meal.
Kevin: Absolutely, unless they were taking Luvox. If they’re taking Luvox, then it’s going to be a bad night and maybe a couple bad nights. You’re right. That’s the way to do it is to make sure you’re ingesting it with some form of food. Fattier food is better, but any food is better than none.
Rob: Kev, we’ll wrap things up here. We’ve really looked at the digestive association with caffeine and how it’s affecting us. What are some of the things that we’re going to talk about in the next episode?
Kevin: There are still a number of other negative effects that caffeine has on health. I want to talk a little bit about bone density and osteoporosis. I want to talk about anxiety. I want to talk about sleep.
I also want to go through some of the other specific ailments that people can find that are caused directly by the ingestion of caffeine. We’re going to talk about a few drinks to give an idea as to how much caffeine there are in these drinks out there that people are drinking.
For example, energy drinks versus drip coffee versus green tea, black tea, chocolate. To put it all into perspective so people have an idea of what they’re dealing with.
Rob: Between now and then, the recommendation would be try to be maybe be at least aware of what you’re ingesting that contains caffeine. Maybe with a couple of these tips one can reduce it or even eliminate it if possible.
Maybe give the warning that’s it’s going to be hell for a couple of days if you go cold turkey. When I’ve done it, quitting sugar versus quitting caffeine, quitting sugar for me is way easier than quitting caffeine for myself.
Kevin: You’re right on. I never got it because I have not ingested any caffeine myself for years. I once had a patient. This was about 15 years ago. I told him that he had to get off caffeine because of all his health‑related issues.
A month later he came back in to see me and he said, “I got off of it.” He said, “It’s probably the most difficult thing I ever did.” He said, “You know, I used to be a cocaine addict.
It took me two years to get off coke and it was difficult. But getting off coffee was way more difficult than getting off cocaine.” That really struck me at that time. I would tell people, “Oh, just get off of it.”
I really started to understand how many people have such a connection to coffee especially. Caffeine, green and black tea, people are connected to it in a similar way as they’re connected to cocaine or Coca‑Cola or energy drinks or chocolate.
I absolutely understand that it’s not an easy thing to do, but if you can get off of it and stay off of it, you’re going to be so much healthier for it. We’ll be talking a lot more about the health implications of staying away from caffeine in the next episode.
Rob: Can they switch to decaf? Is that going to be a good alternative?
Kevin: Decaf is better than drinking coffee, but decaf still contains other psychoactive chemicals, methylxanthines that still have negative effects on health. What I recommend is that people get off of all caffeine altogether.
As you mentioned, when you get off, you’re going to have two, three, maybe even four days where you’re going to have headaches. You’re going to feel lethargic, you’re going to be feeling moody perhaps. Not everybody, but certainly the vast majority of people I see who get off it experience this.
What I recommend is take some Tylenol, take some Advil, some Aleve. Whatever it takes to get the individual through those two to four days. Once you come out the other side, you don’t have to take pain meds anymore.
Rob: This has been really eye opening, Kevin. I’m really looking forward to the next episode as we dive even deeper into this. We thought that sugar was bad.
Here we’re finding out that something that we consume in coffee, tea, and chocolate, people love those things. They don’t like to give them up.
The purpose of our show here is to give you the information and provide you some tools to make better choices and different ways of changing up your lifestyle, to wean some of these things out of your system and replace them with things that are good or a better choice.
Kevin: Absolutely. At the end of the day, if a person can use some of this information to change up their diet to some extent and see the implications of those dietary changes in a positive way, then we’ve succeeded at what we’re trying to do here.
Rob: This has been great, Kev. Thanks a lot for listening to the “Your Best You Today” show. Check back soon for another episode. If you find that this helps you, please tell someone else. Thanks for listening.