32

votes

Caffeine: What is its place in a Paleo paradigm?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created February 22, 2010 at 8:36 PM

My training, nutrition (food and supps), sleep, and overall stress management are all pretty tight, but I often find myself in a borderline abusive relationship with coffee. I will be candid: I don't need it. I just love it. LOVE IT.

It appears to me that many of the current ancestral fitness luminaries are regular consumers of caffeine. I sense that this is a blind spot in the emerging paleo template, considering the significant hormonal implications of constant (over)stimulation. I'd rather not discuss whether or not HG man has regular access to stimulants. I think it is much more important to discuss the real health implications of chronic caffeine consumption. Additional thoughts...

  • Is it possible that this collective omission is due to the fact that the paleo meme is a bunch of stimulus junkies?
  • Intermittent Fasting and caffeine use go together like peas and carrots. In the short-term, this is kickass for work and training. What is the long-term tradeoff?

I appreciate any remarks. Thanks also to Patrik for having the vision and work ethic to set up this venue.

-Cam

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on August 12, 2011
at 06:18 PM

iced coffee abuser, I cannot give it up!

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on August 09, 2011
at 09:33 PM

i'm not sure that taking supplements is much more 'paleo' than drinking coffee, but interesting suggestions!

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on May 04, 2011
at 01:48 AM

Wow; I hadn't realized there was "cult-like adoration," but then, I don't get out much, lol. I drink it just because I'm hooked and have tried dozens of times to quit. I just keep failing. Anyway, great question; I'll be reading the answers avidly.

9bc6f3df8db981f67ea1465411958c8d

(3690)

on October 21, 2010
at 03:01 PM

One of the best questions I've seen so far. I think it's very true the caffeine has developed a cult-like adoration in the paleo circles, to the point of putting it on t-shirts. I don't believe caffeine to be healthy, just like alcohol isn't

Efb905b1d4d10c18c4a1ae7912baeb45

(190)

on October 21, 2010
at 02:58 PM

The LSD treated spider wove a perfect rendition of Jerry Garcia.

8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5

(2433)

on October 21, 2010
at 11:30 AM

Absolutely agree.

D31a2a2d43191b15ca4a1c7ec7d03038

(4134)

on September 05, 2010
at 08:57 PM

Tiger, I agree about the alert energy from animal protein and fat. I think you put it very nicely. The page at caffeineweb.com doesn't load today on my computer.

1a8020e101199de55c1b3b726f342321

(1973)

on July 23, 2010
at 06:40 PM

I drink it like a fiend, great vehicle for heavy cream =D

A89f9751a97c3082802dc0bcbe4e9208

(13978)

on July 23, 2010
at 12:48 AM

Thanks Chris! Dialog about coffee is certainly encouraged. ;)

1a8020e101199de55c1b3b726f342321

(1973)

on July 22, 2010
at 03:34 AM

This is pretty much a cherry picking of some fairly unsubstantiated ideas about the dangers caffeine. There are quite a few benefits of regular consumption that you've not mentioned. Good roundup here http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2007/02/what_is_the_best_and_healthies.html

1a8020e101199de55c1b3b726f342321

(1973)

on July 22, 2010
at 03:33 AM

One thing to keep in mind here is our consumption of coffee is dramatically different than indigenous people. The same goes for cocaine, which is chewed as leaves, and results in similar plasma cocaine concentrations as people who smoke it.

52cae90a114ca8f0404948e2b7ccb7ef

(1595)

on March 04, 2010
at 02:43 PM

Thank you! Thank you!

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on February 24, 2010
at 08:04 PM

@Cameron Glad you like it and great question BTW. I am also self-confessed espresso abuser too. :)

52cae90a114ca8f0404948e2b7ccb7ef

(1595)

on February 24, 2010
at 12:50 PM

Never heard that one before. Got a source?

F7123907e4286d31c513ddb0ccdeea7d

(160)

on February 23, 2010
at 03:55 PM

Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful reply. I did not realize that Robb had addressed this on a recent podcast. I will certainly investigate...while highly caffeinated. Thanks again!

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23 Answers

11
A89f9751a97c3082802dc0bcbe4e9208

(13978)

on February 22, 2010
at 08:48 PM

When I drink coffee, 99% of the time, it's decaf. My understanding is that caffeine from coffee hinders the ability of the immune system to function.

UPDATE: Based on speno's question below, I'll include a few sources. My apologies. I should have done this initially.

Basically, in layman's terms, I need both rest and magnesium (among other nutrients) for my body to function right (ie. process food and deal with stress and other stressors such as exercise and environmental attacks). The caffeine from coffee causes my body to have less of both.

From the article, Enhancing Your Immune System the Natural Way, comes this quote:

Caffeine is a diuretic that contributes to the body's loss of important nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Caffeine places stress on the adrenal glands (already stressed out from our hectic lifestyles) and adversely affects the nervous system, resulting in anxiety, hyperactivity, and insomnia.

Healing occurs when the body is relaxed... Regular consumption of caffeine deprives the body of this relaxed state. The acid in coffee eats away the villi of the small intestine, reducing their effectiveness in supporting nutrient assimilation. Thus the acids in coffee may cause as much problem as the caffeine.

This article, listed on paleodiet.com gives a little more insight into the calcium-leeching:

Coffee reduces inositol levels in the blood. Inositol is a regulating factor in calcium metabolism. It inhibits formation of the cells (osteoclasts) that draw calcium from the bones into the bloodstream (14). It also exerts a direct influence on transport of calcium into cells (16,17).

Teeccino, on their website, list a number of articles that cite the relationship between caffiene comsumption and stress and the negative effect of their combination on the body's health.

From the article, Caffeine: The Socially Accepted Killer, comes this quote:

Excessive caffeine intake overworks the glandular system and can quickly deplete the body of vitamins B, C, magnesium, and several micro nutrients, according to nutritional psychologist Marc David MA (David, 2005).

There are lots of references at the bottom of this one.

From the article, Caffeine and the Adrenal Glands, comes this quote:

...caffeine keeps the cortisol levels high preventing the body from resting when it should and preventing the adrenal glands from operating as they would.

Basically, if I want my body operating optimally, I will try to throw as few stressors at it as I can.

That said, perhaps my body is more sensitive to caffeine than others' bodies.

ANOTHER UPDATE (05/06/11): "That Paleo Guy" just did a blog post that essentially says that coffee can contribute to insulin resistance and glucose tolerance. It also increases cortisol levels. Check it here.

52cae90a114ca8f0404948e2b7ccb7ef

(1595)

on February 24, 2010
at 12:50 PM

Never heard that one before. Got a source?

52cae90a114ca8f0404948e2b7ccb7ef

(1595)

on March 04, 2010
at 02:43 PM

Thank you! Thank you!

1a8020e101199de55c1b3b726f342321

(1973)

on July 22, 2010
at 03:34 AM

This is pretty much a cherry picking of some fairly unsubstantiated ideas about the dangers caffeine. There are quite a few benefits of regular consumption that you've not mentioned. Good roundup here http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2007/02/what_is_the_best_and_healthies.html

A89f9751a97c3082802dc0bcbe4e9208

(13978)

on July 23, 2010
at 12:48 AM

Thanks Chris! Dialog about coffee is certainly encouraged. ;)

1a8020e101199de55c1b3b726f342321

(1973)

on July 23, 2010
at 06:40 PM

I drink it like a fiend, great vehicle for heavy cream =D

7
154bf5c84f7bd9f52b361b45d05dbc3a

(1215)

on October 21, 2010
at 10:25 AM

Coffee drinkers are looking for reasons to justify their habits.

If you want to have a vice, go ahead but don't waste your time trying to find benefits to caffeine.

Saying that coffee gives you energy and makes you alert is the same as saying alcohol makes you more sociable and that pot makes you relax.

Be honest with yourself and accept that it is a vice that has costs and benefits.

8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5

(2433)

on October 21, 2010
at 11:30 AM

Absolutely agree.

6
F0978a2a1c37d2a3d4ec6344c0c4ff82

on February 22, 2010
at 10:17 PM

I have no hard and fast answer to this but I agree with the OP's observations, especially regarding caffeine and intermittent fasting. In Robb Wolf's most recent podcast, The Paleolithic Solution - Episode 15, he addresses this very issue of caffeine. I encourage you to listen to it for yourself but what I took away from it was the frustrating answer of "it depends." What it depends on is mostly dose and the individual's response to CNS stimulation. Some people will physically respond to the stimulation with higher cortisol output which is decidedly bad while others won't and will enjoy the increased concentration and appetite suppression with little to no downside. Knowing which camp you will fall into depends greatly on your insight into how you handle stress and how well you can gauge your cortisol secretion symptomatically.

A blogger biochemist I know only as Stargazey at his "Low-Carb for You" blog, in his February 16, 2010 post, Caffeine and Weight Loss, says that the research is mixed but leans toward a very modest beneficial effect on weight loss:

To summarize, from the literature, it appears that caffeine does not provide much help with weight loss, but on the average it does not hinder it either. Caffeine increases insulin resistance in the short term, but it may or may not do so in the long term. For those who get their caffeine fix by drinking coffee, it is possible but by no means certain that the coffee itself contains one or more compounds that have a beneficial effect on glucose metabolism. As of this writing, the use of caffeine on a low-carb diet is up to the dieter. The science is far from settled.

Dr. Kurt Harris in his PaNu framework recommends only decaf coffee although I don't recall him stating a reason why. I've noticed too that the Drs Eades in their 6 week Cure for the Middle Aged Middle book also restrict caffeine in the first two weeks of the program. I think their reasoning had something to do with decreasing the load on the liver.

F7123907e4286d31c513ddb0ccdeea7d

(160)

on February 23, 2010
at 03:55 PM

Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful reply. I did not realize that Robb had addressed this on a recent podcast. I will certainly investigate...while highly caffeinated. Thanks again!

6
95ab15c8ef50ff0daf87ccbdd52cd3b8

(2384)

on February 22, 2010
at 09:20 PM

Studies on the pros and cons of caffeine are mixed. I drink coffee and tea -- usually one cup of coffee in the morning, and a cup (sometimes two) of tea after lunch, all black.

I used to mainline the stuff, but I have found that eating in the paleo style greatly reduced my need for caffeine... I was clearly using it to try to overcome carb-induced stupid-headedness for many years.

4
26b7615ef542394102785a67a2786867

on March 23, 2011
at 01:13 PM

There has been a ton of research on caffeine, and none of it I've seen has indicated moderate intake is harmful. Good enough for me. I seem to be somewhat insensitive to caffeine as even massive amounts (don't do this anymore) have little physical effect on me - I've never had a 'buzz', and I can usually sleep just fine after a cup of tea or whatever. It does make it easier for me to focus, which as someone with un-medicated ADD-PI and serious procrastination problems, is great. Coffee is also a vehicle for heavy cream.

There are few things more paleo than addiction to plant-based stimulants, BTW. Very very common in 'primitive' societies, and most of them don't bother to worry about not using too much!

2
02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on October 21, 2010
at 08:26 AM

It's pretty clear that most Americans are SERIOUSLY addicted to coffee. This is not a bad thing in itself, but I think it's worth acknowledging. Now, I seem to be blessed with a lack of addictability. I've quit smoking, tea, coffee cold turkey without a problem. Whatever makes people hooked on stuff, I just don't have. I'm not saying this to sound superior. It seems to me a good rule of thumb to take with food is never to consume something every day (except water, and people even overdo that). As with most things, we probably don't know for sure what the effects are of consuming as much coffee as the typical westerner does are. For myself, since completely going off coffee and tea about a week ago I've gotten better sleep. Don't know if these are related, but that's been my experience. In the future I plan to drink coffee and tea on occasion, but not every day. I guess my take on it is: Why become physically dependant on something when you can not be, unless there's a huge benefit? (which, in this case, I don't think there is- at least in my experience, coffee creates the need for itself. That's how addiction works.)

2
Cb2415c2aef964ab499a09dc92ae7e01

(783)

on February 24, 2010
at 08:19 PM

Hi,

I'm recently into Paleo but as the weeks go by I am more and more on board. I gave up caffeine (usually had an espresso or tea in the mornings) a couple of weeks ago. For some reason today had a taste for some coffee, maybe due to all this rainy weather in the Bay Area CA. All I can say is that caffeine, even from the good stuff as I am very particular, is highly over-rated. The pure, clean, stable and mentally sharp energy from protein and fat (once your body gets used to it) in the morning is far superior than this scatterbrained wiry caffeine buzz. And if you want to be extra smart just take some fish oil along with breakfast. Now I look at everyone lining up for their latte and laugh. Hurried, borderline ADD and spazzy energy to start the day - no thanks!

Perhaps two exceptions are when you are trying to IF (coffee seems to have an energy enabling one to 'run across plains for hours without food' but maybe just me) or perhaps before a workout when you want to push yourself more than usual.

Anyway I wanted to add this post to encourage anyone thinking about de-caffeinating their lives to give it a try just for a few weeks and then see. You'll sleep better too!

Lastly anyone familiar with this study?

http://www.caffeineweb.com/?p=15

NASA measured how spiders spun their webs on different drugs including caffeine. One might say that there is not much similarity between spiders and humans but the image of the spider's web on caffeine is exactly how my mind feels today. Too bad they don't show the pic of the LSD, if I remember correctly from some other image that web was perfection :)

cheers, TigerJ

D31a2a2d43191b15ca4a1c7ec7d03038

(4134)

on September 05, 2010
at 08:57 PM

Tiger, I agree about the alert energy from animal protein and fat. I think you put it very nicely. The page at caffeineweb.com doesn't load today on my computer.

Efb905b1d4d10c18c4a1ae7912baeb45

(190)

on October 21, 2010
at 02:58 PM

The LSD treated spider wove a perfect rendition of Jerry Garcia.

2
Fbbbdf1d0a7d6d5067a106af062c7ce6

(745)

on February 22, 2010
at 11:50 PM

Caffeine's connection to a Paleo lifestyle more than likely stems from the fact most folks who adopt a Paleo diet are also extremely physically active (assumption on my part, it pretty much goes hand in hand). Caffeine is a proven, effective and safe ergogenic aid; it pretty much stands without reason that people are going to want it prior to a workout.

Downsides? Sure, with any form of stimulant, negative side effects are possible, but this can easily be alleviated through intelligent timing and dose.

There's some significant health issues with drinking (conventional) non-organic decaf, so I see no point; on that note, I wrote a caffeine guide a while back:

http://confessionsofacrossfitcoach.blogspot.com/2009/11/caffiene-definitive-blow-your-head.html

2
B4313b18cc03036a6147543d7b0872d6

(566)

on February 22, 2010
at 09:13 PM

I've found my use of coffee has gone down of late. I drink 3 espresso shots a day--either with half and half in a latte, or with coconut milk. I used to drink at least a pot of very strong, dark coffee.

This was not intentional, just a result of more sleep, a new-found love for hot matcha in the morning, and a reluctance to roast beans (being a bit of a coffee snob, I roast my own). I think I'm feeling better without so much, but it's a bit early to tell.

1
A8ddd54bd5284341622e9a1211b07dcc

(95)

on August 09, 2011
at 08:38 PM

I switched over from coffee to teeccino a few weeks ago and I really enjoy the lack of jolt in the morning. Coffee kind of always hit me and while it gave me the morning shits, I think it wore me down. But, since teeccino is made from barley and chicory, I'm curious if that's essentially like consuming grain? It does have high levels of potassium which I like, since I seem to have had more leg cramps since I went paleo....come to think of it, I haven't had so many in the past three weeks, which is about how long I've been off of the caffeine and on the teeccino.

Thoughts anyone?

1
Cef9e473e0869fc2e68db69e43d996dc

on May 22, 2011
at 02:30 PM

I quit coffee and all caffeine cold turkey over a year ago, and was one of the best decisions I have made. Before this I would consume roughly three cups of coffee a day. The first three or four days after quiting were the hardest, with headaches and very low energy. Then for about two weeks my energy started to come back but I still had pretty severe body-aches, high anxiety, and (TMI WARNING) my digestive system had stopped digesting food (although some ACV with meals helped this). After about a month from quiting I started to feel normal and actually better then before. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Smooth energy all day and only start to become tired around 10pm
  • Sleep like a baby almost every night and no longer wake up for half an hour at 2am
  • Very easy to get going in the morning
  • Anxiety levels have decreased
  • No more coffee breath
  • Digestion has significantly improved
  • Heart burn is gone
  • Frequency of heart palpitations has decreased
  • No longer need a drug to function
  • At $2 a coffee per day, thats a savings of $730 a year
  • Laughing at all the suckers lined up at the Tim Hortons drive-thru :)

I'd say try to give up caffeine for at least two months as there is quite the transition to getting off this drug. If you can make it through this I'm sure you won't go back, as there is no point.

I think of caffeine as a tool and will have some tea occasionally if I really need to focus.

1
Ed983a42344945b1ff70fd9597a23493

on May 22, 2011
at 06:14 AM

For people who use coffee for the energy boost, try replacing it with L-tyrosine, right under the tongue for quick absorption into the bloodstream. For people who LOVE coffee, add some DLPA to boost endorphins.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on August 09, 2011
at 09:33 PM

i'm not sure that taking supplements is much more 'paleo' than drinking coffee, but interesting suggestions!

1
5ebeec76e20738d0a17cd724d64b1e0f

on March 06, 2010
at 01:32 PM

According to Nephropal, limited amounts of caffeine can have a positive health impact by increasing adiponectin (reduced insulin resistance) and decreasing TNF-alpha activity (less inflammation):

http://nephropal.blogspot.com/2009/10/beans-coffe-and-cacao.html

1
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 28, 2010
at 02:28 AM

coffee sometimes irritates my stomach. i like to experiment with diet and one week i was eating only seafood for lunch and dinner. i also gave up coffee. i don't know if there was a connection, but i had awful aches and pains for 2 days. i was going to take aspirin, but had a cup of coffee instead to comfort myself, and the pain went away. i don't like to be addicted to anything, so right now i have measuring spoons by the coffee. this week i'm down to the small spoon. i've been tapering off slowly ( i also add coconut milk). it's been working. after this small spoon week, i will start skipping a day between drinks. robb wolf also talks about the concept of 'diversifying your toxins'. if there is something wrong with coffee, dampen its effect by rotating it with black tea and green tea.

1
954dbd7efe0e7653e8efd377d7776d38

(457)

on February 23, 2010
at 06:02 PM

I was drinking 6 bags of caffeinated green tea a day. Now with better sleep patterns, sustained energy(from diet), I am down 6 decaf green tea a day.(Roughly 10mg caffeine) Now I don't require nearly as much water each day and I am not visiting the bathroom as often.

1
587538a2db229b2ec884ea04cc3dc75e

(462)

on February 22, 2010
at 11:49 PM

I can't speak to whether it's a good idea or not. I drink lots of tea, and don't worry about it, but, like everyone else, I have noticed since starting paleo that I am far, far less dependent on caffeine.

As far as vices go, I think my caffeine habit is better than my drinking problem.

0
7f2a21bd9f9ef81db6d8217316e0b40a

on August 09, 2011
at 11:02 PM

The worst I've heard on coffee is its tendency to raise homocysteine levels. Not saying that means coffee is necessarily bad for that reason, but as homocysteine is at least associated with so many evils, it makes me wary.

0
9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

on May 06, 2011
at 01:46 PM

I actually gave up coffee and caffeine a few weeks ago. I had the stomach flu, and couldn't touch the stuff for a few days, and by then I was past the withdrawal symptoms that I usually get when giving it up, so I decided to use it as an opportunity to drop it altogether.

I am surprised at how different I feel, notably my digestive process is a lot better than it was. I used to get slight intermittent heartburn or GERD symptoms, and that is completely gone. I think that coffee in particular (vs. other forms of caffeine) has something in it that irritates my stomach.

I have never been a good sleeper but I am sleeping much better, at bedtime I'm ready to fall right asleep and sleep longer and better.

I was not drinking that much coffee, one large cup in the morning and sometimes another half cup, and never after about 10am. But dropping it really had an impact.

Some mornings (like today) I am moving a little slow and I miss that added umph for mental tasks. I think in 30-60 days I might introduce modest amounts of non-coffee caffeine such as green tea.

0
Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on May 04, 2011
at 12:19 AM

I am clearly addicted, and need it to feel "normal". I've quit from time to time, done decaf only, tea only and so on. The main reason I tried was that I just felt bad after long periods of time drinking it. This last time around I made a discovery: it's not caffeine that is bad for me (as in 'makes me feel bad over time') but it's coffee.

Now I drink a very strong tea in the AM (two black bags, left in for ~20 minutes), and a double-espresso in the late AM. I often but don't always have an espresso or another tea in the afternoon. There's none of the 'yuckiness' I had always associated with caffeine but was really coffee - and I've felt totally fine (except when I don't drink it) for the past several years I've accepted the caffeine addiction but stopped the coffee.

I do notice that I drink a little less since starting paleo, since I now rarely get that 2PM crash caused by my sugar/insulin cycle.

But I wouldn't generalize this all to everybody/anybody - I've been addicted since high school - about 30+ years ago. So it's 'bred in the bone' for me.

For the record, I rarely get sick. And I have no trouble sleeping. If there's a problem, I'd say it makes me less willing to go to sleep - I'll waste time when I should be sleeping and ultimately sleep less than I should. But when I finally try it's no problem.

I'm definitely curious where it fits in the diet/health/insulin picture, but think a lot of the vilification is based on assumptions and not much on data.

0
Fe33d1321dad116f6fedd60266d0498b

on March 24, 2011
at 03:04 AM

I use caffeine to help me wake up in the mornings. I literally take a no-doz (100mg of caff) with my supplements when I wake up. It's also part of my migraine medicine- which is sweet.

I think caffeine's pretty awesome.

On the downside, though- there's the withdrawal headaches/symptoms when you don't get enough. So, eh. If it works for you, it works for you.

0
2f931662684a7747be36255c8b486228

(1049)

on March 23, 2011
at 02:14 PM

Well, well. Coffee seems to be a problem doesn't it.

Now, I buy the cheapest, crappiest coffee I can find. No more drip coffee maker (I threw it out), no more expresso machine (stored it away for guests) Instant is all there is. Max 2 cups a day for me does it and I only drink half of those.

The best tasting things in my house are veggies, meat and water. (good mineral water in glass bottles) Then, why I am I drinking coffee? You just don't tire of coffee do you?

We need a Paleo coffee substitute. And the fact is it can't be too tasty. Because if you really think about it, coffee tastes like mud. No kid would ever drink it. Even whiskey tastes crappy.... that's what makes it last a while. These are both acquired tastes. They just permit a good, long, relaxing sippable EXPERIENCE. If it's too good you guzzle it.

So, I do think anyone who says they are not addicted are wrong. Otherwise why would we drink it? Many things taste better, especially if your main concern is health. It never seems to have any effect on me, but there is absolutely nothing else that I enjoy FOR NO GOOD REASON......so it must be for an obscure not-so-good reason.

So we need a Paleo coffee substitute that: makes us feel pampered, is inexpensive, a bit bitter, warm, relaxes us while giving us a kick and is EASY............

(Sounds like a scorned lover) I Wonder if unfaithful partners drink coffee?

0
5a726c5fe988a1783a39a75ff2ce82f7

on March 23, 2011
at 09:34 AM

"I don't need it. I just love it. LOVE IT."

Sounds like an addict to me!

I also love coffee, tea, and red bull (I didn't think I needed it). A couple weeks before I started the Paleo diet, I decided to cut out caffeine entirely. I started getting headaches (and I never get headaches). I finally realized the headaches were coming from a lack of caffeine; I was having withdraws! So maybe you DO need it, and you just don't realize it because you drink it so often.

:)

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