(Originally published Sept. 9, 2013)
I drink coffee. I usually brew a cup at home or get one from the local coffeehouse across the street. On Wednesday morning I went to Starbucks and ordered a medium coffee (Grande Pike Place) and I was so jittery I could hardly function! I felt like my heart was going to come up through my throat and I couldn’t sit still. (Any Wednesday patients, I apologize). How much caffeine was in there?
Well, in a 16oz Grande Pike Place there are 330mg of caffeine, so 20.6mg per ounce. To compare apples to apples there’s 13.5mg in an average brewed coffee, 5.25mg in an ounce of black tea, and 3.13mg in an ounce of green tea.
What about decaf? Decaffeinated coffee isn’t devoid of caffeine, it’s just lower. Caffeine is a natural component of coffee beans; therefore it is very difficult to completely remove. The United States set standards and regulations that define the maximum amounts of caffeine permitted in decaffeinated coffee. In the U.S. it is three percent. In the world of naturopathic medicine, sometimes it’s not the caffeine I’m concerned about, it’s the process the beans go through to become decaffeinated. There are four methods of decaffeination: water, ethyl acetate, supercritical or liquid CO2, and methylene chloride. Generally, the harder your liver has to work to process residual chemicals the harder it is on your body.
In 2008, Harvard looked at the relationship of coffee consumption and overall mortality and found that even people drinking up to six cups (48 oz) of coffee a day were not at any increased risk of death from any cause, death from cancer, or death from cardiovascular disease.
Caffeine works on the body in several ways. Caffeine increases heart rate, increases urine production, and constricts blood flow. It binds to the adenosine receptors in the brain speeding up the nerve signaling (very interesting article here). The increased nerve signaling affects the adrenal glands, stimulating the production of adrenaline. If your adrenal glands are already tired, it makes sense that jolting them into producing more adrenaline isn’t the most healthful decision.
If you find you must have that cup of coffee in the morning, consider getting some adrenal support or your cortisol levels tested.
(UPDATE MAY 2015 – I finally tested my own adrenal function and it was very sad. For the time being I’m helping my body to heal by (mostly) staying away from caffeine. Just in case you were wondering…)
 Harvard School of Public Health. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/coffee/