Singaporeans consume on average 2.1kg of coffee each per year or about S$350 million dollars worth in total. Kopi O, Nescafe, speciality third wave coffees, Starbucks – its everywhere and everyone drinks coffee. So what’s the big deal and how can it be making us fat? In this series we will dive into the details, let you know how it works and how to quit it if you think it could be a problem.
First of all what exactly does caffeine do?
Lets look at what wiki has to say about caffeine, “Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant of the methylxanthine class. It is the world's most widely consumed psychoactive drug.” Quite an alarming opening salvo from the wiki entry. Lets see what else they have to say and I’ll cherry pick here:
- Caffeine can increase blood pressure and cause vasoconstriction
- Coffee and caffeine can affect gastrointestinal motility and gastric acid secretion
- Caffeine in low doses may cause weak bronchodilation for up to four hours in asthmatics
- In postmenopausal women, high caffeine consumption can accelerate bone loss
- Minor undesired symptoms from caffeine ingestion are common and include mild anxiety, jitteriness, insomnia, increased sleep latency, and reduced coordination.
- Caffeine can have negative effects on anxiety disorders
- Withdrawal can cause mild to clinically significant distress or impairment in daily functioning
- Caffeine dependence can involve withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, irritability, depressed mood, reduced contentedness, inability to concentrate, sleepiness or drowsiness, stomach pain, and joint pain
And the effects of the coffee bean...
So this is just the effects of the caffeine. What about the coffee? Well coffee, being one of the most widely grown agriculture crops in the world, is grown with huge amounts of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides, rodenticides, insecticides or herbicides in the farming process (RIFFPHs). So along with the caffeine your body has to detoxify this as well. A classic sign that you're not effectively detoxing the effects of caffeine and that your liver is overburdened by toxins is dark circles under your eyes. You can read more about the benefits of removing these toxins from your diet and going organic here.
So how, exactly, does coffee make you fat?
Now you can read the above regarding the detrimental effects of caffeine in many places online but what far fewer people understand is how it contributes to your abdominal girth and no longer being able to fit into those skinny jeans you used to love in your twenties.
Lets imagine a scenario and work our way through a typical day in the life of an office worker. You wake up after having a bad night's sleep. Maybe you had an argument with your boss and couldn’t sleep thinking about work, maybe you were worrying about the kids or maybe you were just up late watching the World Cup! The first thing you do when you wake up is reach for a cup of coffee on an empty stomach. This instantly elevates dopamine in the brain which makes you feel good and reinforces the action so it is more likely to be repeated. The caffeine also blocks the action of adenosine on its receptor and consequently prevents the onset of drowsiness induced by adenosine. Ergo you feel less sleepy and more awake.
In addition the caffeine also stimulates your adrenal glands, which are responsible for releasing adrenaline and cortisol to jack you up to get you ready for emergency situations where extra energy is needed such as jumping a ravine, lifting heavy tree trunks or running away from a tiger. Cortisol prepares the body for a fight-or-flight response by flooding it with glucose, supplying an immediate energy source to large muscles. Cortisol inhibits insulin production in an attempt to prevent glucose from being stored, favoring its immediate use. That’s awesome if you’re a caveman doing seriously physically demanding stuff but what if the only strenuous activity you’re doing in the next 20 minutes is taking the elevator down to your car? What happens to all that muscle you’ve just cannibalized to turn into sugar for your elevator journey? That’s right! Its all going to get turned into fat. I’ll sum it up here in a TLDR picture:
And that’s not the end of it…
So you get into your BMW, or Mercedes, and drive downtown to work. You’re hungry and there’s not much time to eat before work so maybe grab a croissant or a yakun kaya toast set and another coffee. Now you’re jacked up on caffeine, white wheat flour ( essentially sugar + gluten) and possibly some additional sugar. Your body is seriously wired and you’re ready to go, seize the world and get stuck into your job with a laser like focus. However you now have so much released glucose in your blood stream you’re in danger of getting into hyperglycemia so your pancreas starts pumping out insulin to start storing the excess glucose in your muscle cells. However if you haven’t been using your muscles then there’s no glycogen stores (sugar storage) left so your body tops up your liver glycogen stores and then stores the excess as ….? Yes fat!
Now your pancreas has produced way too much insulin as an emergency response to the coffee, white bread and morning snacks and its starts mopping up all the glucose and you’re in danger of swinging the other way into hypoglycemia and a blood sugar crash. This is often why people crash in the afternoon after lunch - they literally have no fuel available to keep the lights on up top. You then reach for another coffee, bread, sugary snack or something else that jacks you back up and again unless you’re about to engage in some extremely strenuous activity you’re just setting your self up for more muscle cannibalisation, adrenal exhaustion and fat storage.
And then finally you may even have a cup of coffee after dinner. You go to bed exhausted but because caffeine is still in your system and your adrenal/cortisol/stress hormones are all over the place you get another bad nights sleep, reach for the coffee again the next morning and the cycle repeats itself.
Do you have any of these symptoms?
Now not everyone is affected by caffeine, the stress response, and blood sugar dysregulation the same way but if you’re suffering from any of these systems then this could be an indication that you want to review your lifestyle choices:
- An accumulation of fat around the midsection
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low energy
- Pains in the neck, shoulders and back
- Weakened immune system as evidenced by frequent colds and minor illnesses
- Difficulty recovering from injuries
In part 2 we’ll take a look at the top tips for quitting coffee and some sensible alternatives to boosting your energy naturally. If you're not subscribed to our newsletter already you won't want to miss this so click here to sign up.
To you health, happiness and longevity,
The Levitise Team
P.S. If you love this blog post then do check out our fortnightly newsletter where you'll get the freshest content on health, nutrition and fitness delivered straight to your inbox. Don't miss out and sign up here with just your name and email.