Coffee and Adrenal Fatigue

Coffee and Adrenal Fatigue

Do I have to Give up Coffee because of Adrenal Fatigue?

If you have been told to stop drinking coffee and you are about to act on it, please read on.

There is increasing concern that our high-stress and fast-paced lifestyles might be influencing our health. Is modern life too stressful for us? Are we burning ourselves out? The growing popular concern is that pushing our bodies past our limits and not listening to our natural day and night rhythms could have a potentially negative impact on our health.

Coffee is used by many people as a functional beverage, giving us a mood boost and keeping us going when we are tired. The question is, does it provoke a stress response that we should be concerned about? If caffeine is a culprit here, and you are interested in cutting it from your diet, there are good options to enjoy coffee and its range of health benefits without the caffeine. Coffee has many beneficial compounds and should be seen as more than just a beverage that contains caffeine. Giving up coffee would be a shame if it is not to blame.

A Stressful Lifestyle can be a Concern

The popular press and health conscious communities are focusing more these days on negative effects a high stress lifestyle may have on our bodies. Chronic stress is potentially damaging to the body in various ways. Stress is solidly correlated with reduced immune function, obesity, inflammation, depression, sleep disorders, digestion problems, infertility issues, hormone imbalances, and even cognitive dysfunctions.

It is absolutely sound advice to reduce stress on the body, but I am here to tell you that coffee may be more helpful than harmful.

Time Out: Anatomy and Science Check-in

You have two adrenal glands that sit on top of your kidneys. These are endocrine glands and they manufacture and secrete hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone, estrogen, adrenaline and testosterone that are essential for life. They play key roles in the human body regulating blood pressure; metabolism, the way the body uses digested food for energy; and the body’s response to stress. Cortisol is normally produced in a diurnal (daily) pattern, with a peak around the time of waking then declining gradually over the course of the day. It is lowest during your early phases of sleep. This cycle is important in maintaining optimal bodily function. increased basal levels of cortisol can be tested and are considered a valid marker for sustained stress response activation.

There is a rare case, called Adrenal Insufficiency, that can occur when the adrenal glands don’t make enough cortisol and sometimes aldosterone. This uncommon disease occurs when the adrenal glands are damaged and cannot produce enough of the adrenal hormone cortisol, known as Addison’s Disease. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle weakness, decreased appetite, and weight loss. Some people experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Adrenal insufficiency is treated with hormones that replace the hormones not produced by the gland.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Those who are concerned over stress and their body’s response are growing more aware of the adrenal gland and its function and interaction with foods and lifestyle. The term “adrenal fatigue” has been used to explain a collection of symptoms that are said to occur in people who are under long-term emotional, mental or physical stress. This term was originally coined by chiropractor and naturopath James L. Wilson in 1998 “to identify below optimal adrenal function resulting from stress and distinguish it from Addison’s disease.” If you have a demanding job, are a working student, are a single parent, work different shifts or abuse alcohol or drugs, you may exhibit symptoms of what some refer to as adrenal fatigue. Common symptoms include being tired, lacking energy, and sleeping all day long, but these could also be signs of other illnesses or common complaints, like depression, sleep apnea, or fibromyalgia. In fact, low or high cortisol levels are found in many conditions, including cognitive disorders. This concerns many endocrinologists, who fear people may waste precious time treating “adrenal fatigue” when there might be another serious diagnosable health issue.

Although the conventional medical community does not recognize adrenal fatigue, it remains a pervasive topic online and in alternative medicine circles, as many naturopaths have taken up the diagnosis . However, the public education arm of the Endocrine Society, representing 14,000 endocrinologists, recently issued an advisory that adrenal fatigue was not a diagnosable medical condition. Wilson’s website notes that “conventional medicine does not yet recognize it as a distinct syndrome.”

It is not my intention to weigh in on the debate, but rather to figure out how coffee became part of the conversation.

What is cortisol and is it affected by caffeine?

Cortisol is often called the "stress hormone", but it is much more than just a hormone released during stress. Cortisol affects dozens of functions in the body that protect health and well-being, like blood sugar levels, metabolism, reducing inflammation, balancing salt and water, and helping to control blood pressure.

Studying the human body is always complex, and evaluating the interaction between diet, stress, and health outcomes is challenging. There have been many studies which try to understand how coffee impacts stress hormones, but due to infinite confounding variables (lifestyle factors) and different methodologies, results have been mixed. This means that we still don’t have a great understanding of if and how caffeine, the substance in coffee on which most researchers focus, might affect stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. What is important to note when we dive into this science is that most of the published research on caffeine and its relation to adrenal function and cortisol have not studied coffee.

The scientific evidence investigating the effect of caffeine ingestion on cortisol levels in the body is still conflicting and therefore inconclusive:

  • Many studies have found that ingesting caffeine with or without coffee does not affect cortisol.
  • Multiple other studies have shown that caffeine increases stress hormones like cortisol in the body both at rest and during stress.
  • Another group of studies have found no cortisol response to ingesting caffeine at all.
  • Caffeine consumption combined with mental stress has been shown by some to increase cortisol in the body.
  • One study found that normal caffeine consumers exhibited some tolerance for caffeine’s effect on cortisol secretion. This means there is some evidence to suggest that if you drink coffee normally, your body will get used to it and not produce a stress response.
  • There is a lot of research supporting that simply eating food, or exercising also elicit cortisol production responses from the body.
Certainly, this topic needs further study.

So, should you stop drinking coffee?

The most important thing is to watch your body. We are all different people with individual genetics and lifestyles. It is important how you feel and pay attention to your body. Unless your doctor orders otherwise (again, listen to your doctor), before you give up your coffee, try the following:
  1. Purchase a clean, pure, high quality organic coffee like Purity Coffee, that is free of pesticides and other contaminants. Sometimes just this step can make you feel better. It may not be that you need to give up coffee in general, but rather give up drinking a particular brand or type of coffee.
  2. If you still have issues, switch to an all-naturally processed, high quality organic decaffeinated coffee (available October 16th, 2018), like Purity, and see how you feel. Any better? If so, slowly blend in little by little amounts of regular coffee, changing the ratio of decaf to regular over a few weeks. If caffeine is the offender, this will likely help you become aware of it.
It would be a shame to abandon all the proven health benefits that coffee has to offer because of mixed science and mixed messages about caffeine and its impact on adrenal gland functionality. Coffee has more to offer than caffeine, which can be demonstrated by drinking an excellent decaf. In a couple of weeks I will explore caffeine a bit deeper and give an overview of decaffeination methods.
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