When you arise in the morning,
think of what a precious privilege it is
to be alive, to breathe,
to think, to enjoy,
- Marcus Aurelius
I grew up in the Mediterranean, where it was a custom to enjoy an afternoon coffee with family and friends, or an early morning coffee in a local café on the boardwalk while reading the news or watching the stillness of the sea and getting ready for the day. Coffee was a ritual connected with pleasant times with loved ones or just by yourself. It was, in a way, a free daily de-stressing psychotherapy. No one ever suspected there could be something wrong with that.
Nowadays I hear claims that coffee is a toxic stimulant, increases stress, depletes the body of nutrients, and can be harmful to thyroid and overall health.
What does coffee truly do to the body?
I looked for research on this topic in the US National Library of Medicine and these are some of the conclusions:
1. There is no association of coffee intake with cancers of the stomach, pancreas, lung, breast, ovary, prostate, esophagus, small intestine, gallbladder and biliary tract, skin, kidney, brain, thyroid, as well as for soft tissue sarcoma and lymphohematopoietic cancer.
2. Coffee consumption may play a protective role against development of benign or malignant thyroid neoplasms.
3. Coffee might protect liver in different ways: by lowering liver enzymes, protecting against fatty liver disease, and protecting against liver fibrosis.
Liver dysfunction is closely related to hypothyroidism. Any beneficial effects on the liver indirectly benefit the thyroid.
4. Caffeine intake may decrease risk of breast and ovarian cancer by protecting against estrogen dominance (lowering estrogen and increasing progesterone levels).
This is very important for thyroid health since estrogen is one of the most thyroid-suppressive hormones.
The list can go on, but I believe this gives enough scientific evidence to coffee drinkers that there is not much harm in coffee to be afraid of, to say the least.
Coffee is an herb with a long history of medicinal use in medical-dietary systems of old cultures. It has been used as a respiratory, gastric and renal stimulant, efficient diuretic and antilithic, it assists in digestion, promotes intestinal peristalsis, increases mental activity, etc.
In Chinese Herbology it is classified as an herb that “dredges the Liver to regulate the flow of Liver qi, purges the Gallbladder, opens the Heart orifices, warms the blood circulation, detoxifies, and gently tonifies”. In its medicinal properties it is very similar to bupleurum (chai hu).
With all this being said, let’s not forget that moderation is the key to healthy balance. While moderate amounts can serve as a valuable therapy (as with any herb, food, or medicine), excessive amounts can have harmful effects. Overindulgence or adding artificial sweeteners and creamers to coffee can alter its benefits.
It’s important to note that some people cannot tolerate coffee because of health conditions like blood sugar instability, insomnia, gastric issues etc. Each of those underlying conditions were not caused by coffee itself.
For the best advice regarding the use of coffee, or any other herbal teas and medicines, ask your Traditional Oriental Medicine physician as they are officially educated and Board certified in Medical Herbalism. Be aware that just because something is natural and has helped someone else (or is currently popular!) doesn’t mean it is good for you too.