Let’s Talk About Coffee

Part 2 In the “I’m Quitting Coffee” Series

I’m not a doctor. I’m not even medical field adjacent. However, I can do research (thank you internet) and make decisions for myself based on my findings. I’m not trying to give anyone health advice; this blog is mostly about telling you what works for my body and lifestyle with the hope and intention that my adventures will give you something interesting to think about. If you implement one of my lifestyle changes or experiments in your own life and it works for you, that’s awesome.

That being said, the research on caffeine and its effects on anyone with a menstrual cycle who is not planning on having a baby are discouragingly minimal. Shockingly, research on caffeine and the “human body” in general, is everywhere. We’ve all heard that too much caffeine could mean increased heart rate and blood pressure, more anxiety, maybe some irritability and headaches, a touch of stomach issues, and then usually there’s a slight mention of “pregnancy and fertility” issues. None of those reasons inspired me to look into quitting coffee… at first glance. My husband and I aren’t having kids, and the other reasons just weren’t enough of a concern to get me to quit my beloved and delicious coffee. Then I started thinking about it. Women have hormonal cycles that can be significantly disrupted by many things (including stimulants) who may NOT be trying to get pregnant. Pregnancy and fertility are not a concern to me, but obviously there is an underlying issue there that is specific to women.

To summarize the readily-accessible mainstream data: unless I’m planning on being pregnant, I shouldn’t worry about what coffee is doing to my body even though something about regular caffeine consumption could alter my hormones enough to make it hard for me to get pregnant.

Why isn’t women’s health important to study outside the context of our ability to grow babies? Most of us know the answer to that question. The good news is that the research is slowly being done, but because there is so little data many of the findings are considered anecdotal or unsubstantiated. We need more information, but I’m fine with that. I’m willing to roll the dice on something like this. If it helps, that’s excellent. And quitting won’t hurt me.

Here are the three reasons I am quitting coffee:

1) Blood Sugar

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you know that I quit eating refined sugars over two years ago. I noticed that every time I ate sugary foods I would get extremely tired and lethargic, and my anxiety levels would skyrocket. I almost never felt hyper or energetic; I went directly to having an exhausted body with a huge amount of anxiety and mood swings. I did some basic research and concluded that my body can break down and benefit a lot from natural sugars (I still eat a ton of fruit throughout the day and get plenty of clean energy from it) but anything too high on the glycemic scale causes my blood sugar to get too high. For anyone who may not know, this means that in response, the pancreas releases insulin (a hormone) into the bloodstream to help cells absorb the sugar.

What I didn’t know, until recently, is that these spikes in insulin production can interfere with ovulation, which interferes with progesterone production and can lead to estrogen dominance. I will let you do your own research from here, but estrogen dominance and progesterone deficiency (essentially hormonal imbalance) are some of the major contributors when it comes to any and all “PMS” symptoms like cramping, headaches, bloating, moodiness and depression, chronic exhaustion, etc.

The other thing I didn’t know is that studies have been done that show that caffeine, just like sugar, can have similar effects on the body, especially if consumed in the morning before food. Even without the sugary creamer, coffee on it’s own causes blood sugar levels to rise, which in turn causes insulin and cortisol (stress hormone) spikes, and therefore, hormonal imbalance.

2) PMS and Estrogen Imbalance

Even though I’m breaking this down into my top three reasons, there will be overlap because all of these issues are so interconnected – that’s kind of the point.

As long as I can remember I have gotten headaches, or even migraines, right before my period starts. Recently, I’ve also started to experience increased cramping and lethargy, which I haven’t had for many years. The flood of estrogen into my system is what I’ve found to be the culprit and I’ve done several things to help. I increased my intake of flax because the omega-3s help reduce inflammation in the body, I take b vitamins to help with energy, and I upped my magnesium consumption with dark leafy greens and cacao in my smoothies almost every morning. Magnesium helps convert food into energy, helps regulate blood sugar levels, increases cell’s ability to absorb sugar from the bloodstream, and has anti-inflammatory properties, among many other benefits.

I have definitely noticed an improvement in all of my PMS symptoms after quitting refined sugars and increasing my omegas, b vitamins, and magnesium consumption, however, I have begun to wonder if caffeine consumption is somewhat sabotaging my results as it works actively against all the progress I’m making by contributing to hormonal imbalance.

3) Magnesium and Micronutrient Absorption

This last point sealed the deal for me. Caffeine, plain and simple, drains the body of hormone-balancing minerals and nutrients. On the one hand, the acidity in coffee can create an imbalance in your gut flora which can make it harder for you to absorb all the nutrients in a healthy diet. In turn, this makes it harder for your endocrine system to balance hormones. Additionally, caffeine doesn’t necessarily leach magnesium and b vitamins (amongst other nutrients) out of the body, but it may reduce the intestine’s ability to absorb the nutrients in the first place. Therefore, it can lead to deficiency’s over time.

So, in conclusion, I’ve made many changes over the last several years to heal my mind and body, and for some reason I feel like I’ve hit a plateau with my PMS symptoms. It’s not a surprise when I look at these findings and realize that caffeine (something I consume on a daily basis) is contributing to blood sugar spikes, hormonal imbalance, and less absorption of hormone balancing minerals and nutrients. Caffeine is actively working against my efforts to improve my symptoms in pretty much every area. So it goes!

I begin my transition out of coffee drinking today. Instead of two cups, I’m having one. And then I’m going on a mushroom latte adventure.

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Useful Resources:

http://www.Floliving.com

https://moonjuice.com

https://us.foursigmatic.com

I’m Quitting Coffee, For the Reasons No One Told You About (Part 1)

So, here’s the thing. I’ve been drinking coffee since I was about fifteen years old. Back then, going to the coffee shop was a social event and the drinks were in blended form, covered in whipped cream and chocolate syrup, but they were still coffee. Today, seventeen years later, I drink coffee as I write this. I drink it every morning when I wake up at four or five AM to read, and meditate and start my day. Now it’s a delicious french roast from one of our favorite coffee makers, brewed at home, with some sugar-free, vegan Nutpods brand creamer added – Now it’s “healthier” coffee.

Sidebar:

Shout out to the Big Blue Bear Cafe in my home town of Kernville, CA. That place has been turning out delicious coffee under the same woman owner since before I was in high school. No Starbucks necessary. And they had soy milk before it was cool.

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My high school boyfriend was three years older than me and he loved “coffee.” I credit him for introducing me to fancy, sugary, blended concoctions that pass as coffee and that weren’t my parent’s Folgers. I remember my mom actively pushing against my new found addiction. Of course, at the time I thought she was unreasonable. I was a straight-A student with a history of nothing bad. Let me have my coffee. Only now do I realize how problematic it is to market caffeine to kids, by making it into a dessert you become addicted to for essentially your entire life. Oh, and it’s expensive. We’d take refuge from the triple-digit heat and visit whatever friend of ours was working that day while drinking the equivalent of venti Frapaccinos with two, four, and even six shots of espresso. I shudder to think of the amount of sugar in something like that (but that’s another discussion).

In college I finally lived in a town with a Starbucks, but went there rarely. My schedule didn’t allow for many trips outside of campus and work, so I would start my day with a sixteen ounce something (like a caramel or vanilla latte) from one of the coffee shops on campus. I’d have another sixteen ounce something with lunch, and then another sixteen or even twenty ounce regular coffee with half and half from the food court in the mall on my way into work. Some nights when I had to work past ten or eleven, I’d make sure to grab another gigantic coffee from the food court before they closed so I could microwave it around midnight. I drank coffee constantly throughout my day as a way to stay alert in class, to study in the middle of the night, and to work long hours.

Once I graduated and started working full time, coffee just became a ritual, social and otherwise. I worked with an amazing group of women and we’d get coffee every day before work or on a break at the local shop down the street. Our boss would constantly bring us Starbucks. It was the height of Starbucks becoming a cultural phenomenon in my world and I fully embraced it. At this point I was drinking sugar-free, dairy-free lattes, more out of concern for my weight than actual health. My dad bought me a coffee maker for my apartment. Like a very early, archaic version of what the Keurig would eventually end up being one day. So sometimes I would even make my own coffees at home. And that’s how it went during most of my early to mid twenties.

Then I met my husband. The first time I drank coffee at his apartment I think I almost had a heart attack. It was so strong. He ground his own whole-bean coffee and brewed it in a regular coffee pot like my parents had. I remember just wondering: Why? The first time we went through the Starbucks drive through together, I asked him what he wanted and he said: “Regular.” I’ve never forgotten that one.

He is five years older than me, but I would introduce him to his first peppermint mocha, pumpkin spice latte, and frapuccino. Mocha Frapuccinos are his favorite now.

Between being married to Kanan and being a business owner, my coffee habit has completely changed and evolved into what it is now. We brew coffee at home, in a regular twelve-cup coffee pot. We have three different places we prefer to purchase coffee from, and I only use sugar-free, dairy-free creamer. Also, I do want to clarify, when I say “sugar-free” that means no sugar, no sugar-substitute chemicals either. Simple and delicious. I drink exactly two cups per day, and make sure not to drink any after 9am. On a special or rare occasion we will go to Starbucks and Kanan will either get a tea with no sweetener added (which is what I get) or he’ll be in a mood and go all in with his venti mocha Frapuccino. Between cutting refined sugar and dairy and not wanting to spend the money when we have delicious coffee at home, I rarely drink coffee elsewhere. And I thought I was being pretty dang healthy about it.

Then I was taking an online webinar (not at all about coffee) and the woman hosting it mentioned in a passing comment that drinking coffee (or consuming large quantities of caffeine through any method) completely disrupts the female cycle and hormone levels.

FULL STOP.

I had never, until that very moment heard a truly compelling reason for me to quit drinking coffee. I actually did quit drinking coffee for about a six month period of time in college, just to see what would happen. I didn’t notice much of a difference in my health or quality of life, so I promptly added the habit back in. Looking back on it now, I’m sure all the college food, booze, and sugar I was consuming would have made it impossible to notice how much better I felt without the coffee in my diet, but at the time I thought it was pointless not to drink it, and it helped me maintain my lifestyle of not sleeping for four years.

The only reason for potentially quitting that had peaked my interest in recent years was the notion that caffeine was making my anxiety worse. However, I rarely feel anxious immediately after or during my coffee drinking time, so almost three years ago I quit drinking alcohol and about two years ago I quit refined sugars, two things that I absolutely knew were contributing to my anxiety. That helped with my energy levels and mood tremendously (and basically changed my entire life), and I will continue that lifestyle for what I assume will be forever. But lately, I’ve been tracking my mood and physical symptoms, in relation to my cycle all month long, every month, and there is still plenty of room for improvement.

I’ve written about it in the past, but just in case you’re not all caught up on my cycle and the ailments that befall me because of my hormones (haha), I still struggle with headaches, occasional (but very intense) cramping, tiredness, hot flashes, and irritability. And I know what you’re thinking if you’re an individual with a period: yeah, duh. But here’s the thing. I am convinced it does not have to be this way, we’ve just been taught and conditioned to believe our cycle is an unfortunate inconvenience at best, and at worst, a curse that woman-kind brought on ourselves from that little misstep in the Garden of Eden. Which is turn causes us to eternally suffer. But hey, either way we’re supposed to suck it up and deal, and do it silently and pleasantly in order to make those around us comfortable.

I’m so over that. After reading Alisa Vitti’s book In the Flo, listening to her on several podcasts, and using her app I started doing my own research and came to the conclusion that our cycle is an advantage if we make it so. However, because we’ve been conditioned to believe our pain is inevitable we rarely try to heal ourselves. And because controlling woman’s bodies and health is currently and has historically been politically valuable to those in power, helping women to understand our health in order to empower ourselves has almost become a niche or alternative movement. The research and information is simply scarce and hard to find. But it’s there, and it’s growing. And I’ve been going down the caffeine (as it pertains to the female body) rabbit hole.

*Note from the editor:

Shortly after this article was published we were informed by Mr. Kanan Wilson that his favorite Starbucks drink is in fact a caramel Frappuccino. In the original article we incorrectly stated that his favorite Starbucks drink was a mocha Frappuccino. We regret this error, and are correcting it for the official record.

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Mentioned:

Coffee Creamer: https://www.nutpods.com

Big Blue Bear Cafe: https://www.bigbluebearcafe.com

In the Flo, Alisa Vitti: https://intheflobook.com

Monthly Resource Collection: April 2021

I haven’t felt creative lately. I’ve had little motivation to write or explore new topics, and my attention span seems to have shrunk substantially. January and February I felt like myself. March and April have been harder to navigate. Creativity and my desire to learn ebb and flow, and I’m trying to remember that. Every time I stray from my routines and rituals I feel like I spiral away from the things that truly ground me, like writing. Like reading and learning – sharing what I’ve found with you.

The good news is that I’m working on it. I think that this world is beautiful, but full of dark things. For those of us that recognize it is in fact our individual responsibility to help make the world a more equitable place for everyone, the task is daunting. But underlying our criticism and incessant desire for change, is hope. The belief that the future can and will be better.

Living my life consciously on this level can be mentally and emotionally draining, and without proper introspection, reflection, and care for myself the fight for what’s better becomes destructive. I start to burnout and become ineffective and unhappy. No one can fight all the time.

How do I practice self care in ways that are genuine and kind? What exactly is self care and how do I redefine it to be inclusive and align with my values? Why has the health and wellness community become so toxic and how can my own practices help to change that? Who has access to self care and who has been systematically or intentionally excluded from the health and wellness conversation? How do we resist while resting? Is it manifestation or is it my privilege?

Currently these are the questions I’m trying to answer. As part of the “self care” and “health and wellness” communities, but also just as a person. I want to identify the inherently problematic nature of the popular self care community and actively construct a practice that is aware and looking to change that. So we can keep doing the work.

Until then, enjoy the few resources I was able to make it through this month. Next month I hope to have more than ever to share as I delve into this big topic.

Books:

Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America, Maria Hinojosa

As a Mexican / American woman with a journalism degree, I LOVED reading Maria Hinojosa’s memoir. Hinojosa was born in Mexico City and moved to Chicago with her parents in 1962. She is the anchor and executive producer for NPR’s Latino USA, and has does extensive reporting with a focus on Latinx issues for PBS, CNN, and CBS. This wonderfully written account of her life (so far) critically examines what it takes to “succeed” in a media career where Latinx and female-identifying individuals are vastly underrepresented, and where the stories of people from similar backgrounds are also consequently ignored or invisibilized. Her feminist and intersectional approach to journalism and storytelling is refreshing and imminently relevant.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

This book is literally for anyone and everyone who wants to better understand their own brain and body after experiencing any type of trauma, or who wants to better understand the trauma and behavior of others. Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. explains the physical, chemical changes the brain undergoes due to trauma and how this translates into behavior and physical ailments. Then gives practical solutions on how to move forward and heal.

Podcasts:

I listed to A TON of Code Switch by NPR this month. I will list the episodes I found particularly relevant and notable below.

On xenophobia, anti-Asian & Asian American hate, and racism:

-Episode 7/26/16 A Letter From Young Asian Americans, To Their Parents About Black Lives Matter https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000373164987

-Episode 3/3/20 When Fear of the Coronavirus Turns into Racism and Xenophobia https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000467407698

-Episode 3/23/21 Screams and Silence https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000514178489

On the disparities Covid-19 has exposed:

Episode 4/6/21 Spit a Verse, Drop Some Knowledge https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000516081462

-Episode 1/26/21 Stepping Out of the Shadow of ‘Killer King” https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000506707487

-Episode 2/23/21 A Shot in the Dark https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000510423251

On Reparations:

-Episode 2/2/21 Who’s ‘Black Enough’ For Reparations? https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000507523031

-Episode 2/25/21 Payback’s A B**** https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000510715382