By Danisha Bogue, L.Ac. - May 16, 2022
Categories: General

Coffee. It makes our modern world go round. In fact, 80% of people over the age of 18 drink coffee in the United States. On average, each USA adult drinks three cups of coffee a day. If you’re paying attention, since 20% of adults drink zero cups a day, that means there are a lot of people out there drinking MORE than 3 cups a day. 

Guilty. Is that a bad thing?

That depends on who you are, and who you ask. The Western medicine perspective tends to tell us that the benefits of drinking coffee in moderation (typically defined as 2-5 cups a day, which does NOT seem moderate to me) outweigh the downsides. Coffee has been indicated to lower the likelihood of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver and endometrial cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and depression. 

BUT, it can also increase your blood pressure and anxiety, and cause symptoms like heart palpitations, heartburn, and even depression. And high consumption of coffee can lead to insulin resistance and abnormal retention of fat. Plus, the actual quantity of coffee needed to cause these negative side effects varies from person to person, so the 2-5 cup guideline is extra vague. 

So what does Traditional Chinese Medicine have to say about it?

So glad you asked. Like everything in TCM, that depends on your disposition and symptoms. Let’s start with how coffee acts on your body. Coffee is warming, drying, bitter, and sweet. It’s a stimulating herb (duh), so it’s associated with Yang energy. It has the action of stimulating the movement of Liver Qi, and purging the gallbladder. The problem is that it doesn’t smooth the Liver energy, which can cause things like jitters and heart palpitations. 

Who does coffee benefit?

People presenting with Liver Stagnation can definitely benefit from coffee. Symptoms of Liver Stagnation include:

  • Pain along the ribs
  • Fullness in the upper abdomen
  • Irritability
  • Moodiness
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • PMS
  • Muscular pain
  • Irregular periods

Additionally, people with Damp, Cold constitutions, or people presenting with Yang deficiency can benefit from a cup or two. Those symptoms include:

  • Coldness & clamminess in the skin
  • Pale skin
  • Pale and frequent urine
  • Low energy
  • Poor blood circulation
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Cold painful joints
  • Menstrual pain
  • Head pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Sluggishness
  • Inflexibility
  • Sticky phlegm
  • Cloudy urine

It’s important to note that even if you are experiencing these symptoms, the dosage in Traditional Chinese Medicine only allows for 1-2 cups of coffee per day. AND it’s important to pay attention to how your body is reacting. If your condition balances out, then you may need to cut back or stop coffee altogether so you don’t risk swinging out of balance in the other direction. 

What does that look like?

People on the other end of the spectrum who will NOT benefit from coffee include people who have too much heat or dryness, or insufficient Yin Energy, particularly of the Kidneys. Here’s what that looks like:

  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Hearing problems
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Hot flushes
  • Sweating in the palms and feet
  • Anxiety
  • Premature aging
  • Weak or brittle bones
  • Night Sweats
  • Insomnia

It turns out that coffee can have the same effect on stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) as overworking. If you’re already someone who’s burning the candle at both ends, coffee could very well be doing you more harm than good. Additionally, if you have any issues with your Stomach, you’ll want to avoid coffee. It can increase the acidity and cause inflammation. 

What do you recommend, then?

When it comes to coffee consumption, I recommend that you pay attention to your body and how you’re feeling. Do you already have anxiety and trouble sleeping? Then stay away. Do you frequently have cold hands and feet? You might try adding some coffee to your day. If you’re really not sure, I’m always happy to help you evaluate whether or not coffee is a good fit for you. 

If you ARE going to drink coffee, then I have a few recommendations for you. Black coffee is the best way to go. If you’re going to add to your coffee, then use natural sweeteners like honey or stevia instead of sugar or (even worse) fake sugars. Instead of using regular creamer, I recommend using something non-dairy like almond, oat, or soy milk. And with summer coming up, you’ll be glad to know that cold brew can be less inflammatory than traditional coffee, but be careful not to consume a lot of cold beverages as it can bind up your digestion. 

I would also recommend that you go for organic, free-trade coffee. Not only is this better for the environment and the communities that grow the coffee, it’s free from the harmful chemicals and pesticides that traditional coffee uses. Coffee beans can also be prone to mold, so it’s best if you buy your coffee in small amounts and store it in an airtight container. 

I think I can handle that.

Good. I know it’s a lot to ask for most of us to cut out coffee (I certainly love my morning cup), but for most people cutting back has the potential to really improve your life and help balance your Qi. Like I said, if you’re not sure which camp you fall into, come see me and we’ll figure it out together (along with any other recommendations that might help). 

Be well.