Last month I tackled the nasty habit of smoking but what about that morning cup of coffee that we can’t seem to do without? Whether in the form of coffee, tea, Coke or energy drinks, many of us enjoy a regular caffeine fix. For most people one cup of coffee or two cups of tea a day is fine, but like all habits, moderation is key, and that is where some of us fall short. What does the science say? Well numerous studies have simply produced a whole lot of conflicting results showing impressive benefits on the one hand but nasty side-effects on the other. Benefits of caffeine include:
Reduces sleepiness and improves alertness
Enhances mood and increases energy levels
Improves productivity and task performance
Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia and Parkinson’s
Reduced risk of gallstone disease and cirrhosis of the liver
Reduced risk of oral, oesophageal and pharyngeal cancer
Side-effects of caffeine:
Nervousness, jittery feelings
Upset stomach, acid reflux, etc.
Intestinal cramping or other muscle cramping
Diuretic effect, dehydration
Many people find that while caffeine does pick them up, at least for a while, it may induce deeper fatigue later on, and the drop off in energy finds them reaching for more caffeine. This rebound effect interferes with normal sleep patterns and disrupts natural circadian rhythm. The caffeine buzz also comes at the expense of the adrenal glands, which are prompted by caffeine to pump out more of the stress hormones norepinephrine, adrenaline, and cortisol. As the adrenal glands become overworked, the daily rhythms of cortisol release are thrown off and we get both lasting fatigue and insomnia. This is how the caffeine habit often backfires: the more you drink, the more it saps your energy. Meanwhile, another ingredient in coffee, cafestol, has been named by food scientists as “the most potent cholesterol-elevating compound known in the human diet.” But cafestol is found only in unfiltered coffee, the kind that’s made with an old-fashioned percolator or a French press (plunger). Fortunately, cafestol is mostly removed by paper filters, such as those used in drip coffee makers and is absent in instant coffees. What about decaffeinated coffee? Sad to say this coffee may have more adverse effects on your health depending on the extraction process used: some harmless such as the expensive patented Swiss water process but others using potentially harmful chemicals. I know Jacobs Kronung is made using the Swiss water process (no I don’t get paid for this commercial) and there may be others but generally the rule is cheap coffee implies harmful processing where the beans have been subjected to several chemical soakings - and most will still contain a small measure of caffeine. Perhaps the fact that one does not derive the benefits of caffeine, as listed above, could also be seen as a negative against decaffeinated coffee. However if you are drinking more than 4 cups of coffee a day then a good quality decaf is probably the way to go. So do you or don’t you? I haven’t been much help here, have I? Ultimately it’s between caffeine and you. Some people tolerate caffeine better than others so you need to ask yourself:
Does caffeine make me feel jumpy, jittery, anxious, wired or fatigued?
What are my specific health issues, especially with regards to cardiovascular and adrenal function?
Does caffeine affect my sleep patterns?
Am I socially or emotionally attached to caffeine?
And if you’re drinking four or five cups of strong coffee a day just to function and you’re still feeling “spent,” it may be time to look at your overall health picture. Some people who fit this category notice intense and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit caffeine.
Warning! If you have been diagnosed by a doctor and told that you should not drink coffee or have caffeine in any form, please listen to your doctor! This article should not be construed as competent medical advice to persons who are dangerously sensitive to caffeine or coffee. And I would definitely caution against coffee consumption during pregnancy. A Danish study of over 18,000 women linked heavy coffee consumption during pregnancy to significantly increased risk of stillbirths. Furthermore, if you really need to ditch caffeine entirely, remember that it’s also found in tea, soft drinks, chocolate and green tea.
TEA AFTER MEALS
You may have heard that you should not drink tea immediately after a meal and are wondering why. Apparently the tannins in tea are to blame. Yet tannins belong to a group of compounds called phenols, which are found in plants and have antioxidant properties, which means they can protect our bodies from harmful compounds by tightly binding with them and preventing their absorption in the gut. Unfortunately, tannins also chelate non-haem iron. This means that they form an insoluble bond with some of the iron molecules, making it indigestible. The degree of chelation is dose-dependant: the more tea you drink during a meal, the less iron is absorbed. But notice this applies to non-haem iron only i.e plant sources of iron. Animal sources or haem iron absorption will not be affected by tannins. So, if you eat meat and are not diagnosed as anaemic, then you will have no problems drinking tea after meals. However, if you are vegetarian/vegan and/or are diagnosed anaemic, then you may want to place some restrictions on your tea drinking and also leave at least a 30 minute gap between eating a meal and drinking tea to make sure you have the best chance to absorb the iron from your recent meal. The good news is that Vitamin C in fruit and vegetables and some other acids (such as lactic acid in milk and malic acid in pumpkins and plums) aid in non-haem iron absorption and can help to counteract the interference with absorption caused by tannins, simply by adding an electron and changing it from its ferric form (which is harder to digest) to its ferrous form (which is easier to digest). Some studies have shown a threefold increase in non-haem iron absorption due to an increase in vitamin C intake during a meal. Simply put, a little lemon or milk in your tea goes a long way.
SUPPLEMENT OF THE MONTH - MELATONIN
Sleep has important benefits for health and wellbeing, but not everyone is able to get as much sleep as they’d like. One particular problem encountered by a few unfortunates is what is termed ‘delayed sleep phase syndrome’ (DSPS). Here, individuals can take hours to get off to sleep. They, perhaps not surprisingly, find it difficult to get up in the morning too. Sound familiar?
A useful treatment for DSPS is melatonin. This can promote sleep, and might even help to ‘re-set’ the sleep-wake cycle, perhaps by helping to normalise melatonin secretion. 3-6 weeks of melatonin therapy can have a long-lasting effect on individuals’ ability to sleep soundly. This re-setting of the sleep-wake cycle one of the reasons why melatonin can be of use in the treatment of jet-lag. Using supplemental melatonin is a natural treatment because it is, after all, a natural body constituent.
Disorders of melatonin secretion may not just impact on sleep either – there is evidence that they can be a factor in depression – so if you should suffer from both, then 3-5mg melatonin 20 minutes before bedtime is worth a try.
WATCH OUT FOR AMINOSWEET
Sold commercially under names such as Canderel and Nutrasweet, aspartame has been wreaking havoc on people’s health for the past 30 years. Truth is there have been more reports to the FDA about aspartame reactions than all other food additives combined. No wonder it’s gotten so much bad rap over the years. In order to avoid the stigma, Ajinomoto, the company that produces Aspartame, has changed the name to AminoSweet. It’s the same toxic stuff just with a healthier sounding name. It is unbelievable that aspartame continues to gain approval for use in new types of food despite evidence showing that it can cause neurological brain damage, cancerous tumors and endocrine disruption, among other side-effects such as headaches, change in vision, convulsions and seizures, hallucination, nausea and joint pain. Most consumers are oblivious to the fact that Aspartame was invented as a drug for peptic ulcers and that upon the discovery of its sweet taste, it was magically transformed from a drug to a food additive. Please beware of this wolf dressed in sheep's clothing.
Last month I asked you to tell the smokers you know about the new supplement I have imported and send them to www.quitsmokingnaturally.co.za. Thanks to those who did, we now have a few smokers in possession of a bottle of Vice-Breaker, some have started taking it and after one week we already have a success story. Next month I hope to report on this and others. Won't it be wonderful if we can turn a whole lot of heavy smokers, smoke-free and healthy.
It was brought to my notice recently, by a few of my readers, that a health newsletter has just done the rounds disseminating the most astonishing claim that fish oil can cause blood blisters! Well I was going to pay this hogwash the attention it deserves, i.e. no attention at all, however a few of you have pleaded with me to respond. Where the writer gets her information I would love to know. If you search http://www.pubmed.gov/ using “fish oil” as search words you will find every one of the over 16 000 studies done on fish oil listed. (More studies have been done on fish oil than any other nutrient, vitamin or mineral.) Instead of going through all 16000 plus studies, change your search to “fish oil blood blisters” and you will find one study comes up showing why fish oil reduces sunburn which of course has nothing to do with blood blisters at all. If this is the writer’s own theory based on personal experience with her clients then I suggest she rather looks into improving the integrity of their blood vessels (high dose buffered vitamin C will help here), rather than blame the blood-thinning action of fish oil for the seepage of blood from the vessels.
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil simply restore a normal level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, sufficient to strike a healthy balance between blood "thinning" and healthy blood clotting. The only time one needs to be wary of taking fish oil is if one is already on a blood thinning medication such as Warfarin and then I say for heaven sakes rather ditch the drug and all its nasty side-effects and take the fish oil and derive all its other benefits.
The unending list of benefits of fish oil to the body, joints, cardiovascular system and brain have been well documented in thousands of scientific journals and the fact that flax oil does not offer these same benefits is no longer disputed by the most respected natural health practitioners. Please scroll down to see the article on Flax versus Fish Oil in my July 2009 Newsletter.
The offending newsletter went on to talk about the fact that some fish oil supplements are not entirely free of contaminants. Well I am right behind her on that one and my suspicion around the purity of many of the brands available in SA is the very reason why I import the purest quality fish oil with an IFOS 5 star rating, the highest standard of quality in the world. To my knowledge there are no other brands available in SA with this rating. This is not to say that there aren’t other fish oils on the market that are pure enough for safe human consumption but there certainly are some cheap and nasties out there, so please do your homework on this. For one I would definitely avoid cheap salmon oil.
The newsletter in question quotes from CBC news reporting lawsuits against some of the well-known fish oil companies. On this, in spite of my passion for purity, I am inclined to agree with Andrew Shao, SVP of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition who dismissed the complaint as a lawsuit “looking for media attention” - not “a public safety concern”. OK on that fishy note I bid you a fond farewell and look forward to our chat next month. In the meantime, stay happy and healthy.