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Caffeine: Macronutrient or Harmful Illusion? Reflections after ten years of additional research

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Many people ask me what my opinion is about coffee, and today one of my students asked me my personal ideal.

I’m always careful in answering as there are many reasons a person would be drawn to drink coffee and caffeine, and there is a whole culture built up around it.

Serious money is to be made from upholding a certain image around coffee, and as has been the case with cigarettes, weight loss medications, certain foods (fast foods or new products, or otherwise).

As with these other products, there have been more than a few (caffeineated-product-company) attempts to fund research that supports use of caffeine for health.

Adding to this, many individuals have serious emotional and psychological connections to coffee, which can even be considered a way of life, a ritual for starting the day, or more. When confronted with even the prospect of giving up, it can feel like losing a best friend. Indeed, like other substances of abuse, caffeinated products may provide a stable connection when it seems the rest of the world cannot. It’s complicated, right?

But there’s always a singular thread in my book. “There are few things more stimulating to a human than another human”

Human connection is a far more potent substance than plant friends.

The cure to boredom is not coffee, but rather an exciting life.

What do we give up when we say yes to the comfort of coffee?

Are we aware that it’s even a ⭐️ choice⭐️ ?

(Trust me, it’s culturally-reinforced

dependence-producing Nature

  • - - Makes it seem less of one.)

Healthy Habits take energy to keep up with.

The danger of dependence-producing substances is that they take energy,

without it seeming we have to put in effort.

[Without vigilance, it’s possible for them to gradually replace other things such as movement, social connection, and ones very sense of meaning in life. Instead of adding value it can gradually take it - a comfort that hides our true Worth). In other words, socially-reinforced dependence comfortably and easily takes the space that may go to other things;

And it can also be challenging to give up; even coming with a host of withdrawal symptoms.

What else could we be doing

with that time,


and money?

-> - > - Ris it worth it?R

III. . . Awareness as Freedom . . .

Here, my intention is and has always been one of awareness.

Are you aware of the choices that you are making?

Do you know the value of what you gain and what you give up in a cup of coffee?

If the focus in your life is on sufficient community, meaning, well-balanced diet (now this can take some fine-tuning, discipline, and education) and movement - in that context, how does coffee feel? For me, it feels less and less good, and even a crutch, a comfortable friend that’s not really a friend, that takes energy out of the bank for true friendships (and genuine self-connection), and/or expansive growth in any interest - each of which require some consistent effort.

While the advantage of coffee is that it can help me dig my feet into something I have aversion to at first . . . . . (per haps the “strong flavor” allows me to deal with the “Bitter things” in life more easily.... though the same can be said re: moderately challenging hiking and movement - which can be ultimately more effective) -

Over time, continuing to use coffee may hinder progress; taking me out of momentum and clarity (IF I persist in thinking I need it once the sails are lifted).

This is because - with enough depth - it is common for the natural momentum of the activity to become rewarding within itself = making the added stimulation of coffee/caffeine no longer necessary - and perhaps even detrimental! -> (in my paper "Understanding Caffeine: Macronutrient or Harmful Illusion? Your research-based guide to optimal use" we discuss Arousal Theory and how the effects of caffeine on performance may relate to the level of arousal simple vs complex tasks (requiring more working memory) requires). -> Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (pron. chick-sent-me-high}, the famous father of positive psychology writes about this self-rewarding state of engagement aka "flow.")(2008, referenced in linked paper).

It is well known in neuroscience that achieving short term goals triggers release of reward hormone Dopamine; which gives us more focus positive feeling motivation. . .

Personal reflections

As a holistic health provider who has spent thousands of hours researching caffeine, in Western and Eastern sciences, having even designed and run an undergraduate research study on the topic - I have a negative bias towards caffeine-containing products. For the most part, I feel there are things in life that offer greater rewards. And that focusing on those things are ultimately better for health. Still, I also recognize the vast complexities of a substance as enculturated and socially re-inforced as coffee and caffeine-containing products - including their use as a form of self-suppression or medication against the deeper emotional realities of life.

Often times it is healthier to deal with these emotions directly, either in a safe container with licensed counselor or trusted health practitioner, and/or through consistent spiritual practice or authentic relationships. However, many of us find ourselves in times and places where for whatever reason, we need to ignore certain emotional realities - grief, abandonment, betrayal, or even joy - in order to do what we think is necessary in order to survive and thrive in our present. The danger of this is that we subconsciously repeat the cycles of suffering not transformed in the light of awareness.

The power of chemical suppression is that we are able to function and do what we need to survive. It makes it easier to focus on what's nourishing and allows us to remain grounded enough to choose when to focus on healing what. (Sometimes things heal on their own in deepening connection with Now)! So it can On the one hand we ingest something which takes residence inside of us, changing the terrain we are working with in a specific way. When these terrain changes fit what's needed/what seems most important to us now, it's powerfully effective and creating the calm focus we need to move forward.

On the other hand, chemical suppression can have serious side effects. In the best scenario our positive lifestyle choices counterbalance any negative impacts (and maybe even reduce the need for that compound later).

In the worst case, those negative impacts outweigh the positive and we are worse off than when we started; some side effects can be debilitating. (As discussed in my larger paper; when considering caffeine, long-range hormonal changes are possible - ie cortisol response stimulated in caffeine's presence may limit the moisturizing and energizing effects of sex hormones such as testosterone, DHEA (the so-called anti-aging hormone) among others).

When chemical suppression limits our emotions - we may miss important opportunities to get closer to ourselves, and/or to others, who may be benefitted from our emotional vulnerability.

At the same time, we may find certain types of thinking - such as making business decisions easier while influenced in context of caffeine.

In the end, it is only through awareness that you can optimize caffeine's potential benefits; while limiting it's potential consequences.

We discuss some concrete and time-tested tools for creating more awareness in your caffeine-relationship in my papers here:

A Note on Coffee and The Scientific Revolution (1700s)

*Some have theorized the effects of coffee on collective consciousness (favoring the thinking over the feeling mind) - perhaps in combination with social leaders meeting in coffee houses - to have been at the birth of Western Science in general.

The second page of this article will explore the view of Coffee and Caffeine through the lens holistic and Classical Chinese Theory . . . A long time of carefully collecting and reflecting on the words of practitioners who have carefully worked with thousands of patients. IT is a good chance for you, the reader, to gain clearer understanding of how the Chinese view the body and the effects of plant substances in general. You'll find, for the most part, it is able to simplify Western research without compromising it's essence, offering viewpoints that are practical and easily understood by wide audience of patient and practitioner alike.

Read the whole scientific research paper:

Read more . . . A Holistic Understanding on Coffee's Psycho-Physiological Effects. . . (Coming Soon)

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