According to the National Coffee Association, coffee is one of the most sought-after commodities in the world. The history of drinking coffee begins with an Ethiopian goat herder who first discovered the effects of coffee beans when he noticed that his goats would dine on the beans and forego sleep. He shared this observation with a monk in a local monastery. The monk boiled the beans, yielding a fluid that enabled him to stay alert through evening prayer. Soon, all the monks began drinking the coffee bean liquid––a secret that spread to the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, and then throughout the world.
Risks of Coffee
Throughout history, dietitians and physicians have warned about the risks of drinking coffee, mainly its ability to cause an increase in blood pressure or hypertension. However, current research does not support this perceived risk. Regular coffee drinkers seem to “regulate” themselves. In a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, after routine consumption of coffee (2 to 3 cups daily) for two weeks, the body adjusts, and the hypertensive effect is no longer observed.
Hypertension is considered bad because it can lead to cardiovascular and kidney disease. The American Journal study, however, found that in women, despite the short-term increase in blood pressure, drinking coffee is associated with a decreased chance of having a stroke. The researchers also noted that the effect does not seem to be due to caffeine, since other caffeine-containing beverages such as tea and soda were not correlated with stroke risk. Instead, the protective effect seems to be due to something else—components aside from the caffeine—but this requires study.
Coffee components can also affect the body’s ability to metabolize drugs; it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or pharmacist about potentially negative interactions.
Benefits of Coffee
The coffee bean is a powerhouse of polyphenol activity. Polyphenols are compounds found in plants that have high antioxidant activity, combating damage-causing free radicals (unstable molecules that can harm DNA and proteins) from the inside out.
Chlorogenic acid, or CGA, is thought to be the most abundant polyphenol of the coffee bean. Unfortunately, CGA is depleted through the bean-roasting process. However, the average medium-roast coffee still contains approximately 50 percent of the CGA present in the original coffee bean. CGA is known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and may be the leading factor behind many health benefits observed in regular coffee drinkers.
Benefits attributed to regular coffee consumption include:
- Improved brain function in terms of memory and thinking skills
- Lower risk of type II diabetes
- Lower risk of dementia and Parkinson’s disease
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower rates of liver and colorectal cancer
Coffee According to Ayurveda
Ayurveda teaches that all plants serve a purpose. Coffee is best viewed as a medicine. Just as with any medication, it is important to monitor its effects and adjust consumption accordingly.
Coffee is known to have a warm, stimulating effect in the body. It may promote energy, stimulate digestion, and raise blood pressure. These characteristics may benefit some doshic constitutions, but should be consumed in moderation by others.
(Not sure of your dosha type? Take the Chopra Center’s online quiz.)
Vata: Individuals with strong Vata constitutions have quick thoughts, and tend to be colder (in terms of body temperature) individuals with airy, gas-producing digestion. It’s best for Vata types to not consume coffee . Coffee may deplete Vatas; ginger tea is an option to help “heat” the digestive fire and stimulate the gut. Drinking coffee may lead to poor focus or difficulty sleeping at night.
Pitta: Pitta types tend to be hot and competitive, with quick thoughts and responses. For them, coffee should also be avoided—perhaps one to two cups as an after-breakfast “rev up,” if at all. Coffee for this dosha type may manifest as overproduction of acid and temper: think gastric reflux, sarcasm, heat, and anger.
Kapha: Individuals with a strong Kapha influence may tend to feel somewhat heavy and slow-moving––not only in the morning, but also throughout the day. Coffee may be a fantastic tool to help stimulate energy in those with a strong Kapha dosha, as well as to promote digestion following meals. On top of providing stimulation and energy, the diuretic qualities of coffee may help dry up some of the heavy, wet nature of the Kapha constitution.
Coffee—A Place at the Table
Due to its medicinal plant properties, coffee seems to have earned a place at the table. Stay mindful, however, that any false energy created through caffeine is ultimately draining to the body. You are generating energy in an environment where your body is naturally telling you there is none. Over time, this false production of energy may create imbalance. If you notice yourself feeling low on energy without your daily coffee habit, take a look at your regular sleep cycles. Sometimes, the body is asking for simplicity, and needs to be met with rest—not caffeine.
The takeaway? Go ahead and pour yourself that daily cup of joe. Just stay mindful of its effects, and consume consciously. As is often the case, choosing organic is a good decision—the less processing, particularly with potentially harmful chemicals—the better. Your taste buds, and health, may thank you.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.