Do you drink coffee for a bit of a heart starter, to give you a jolt, or before you tackle an important job?

Many of us can’t start the day without that first cup of coffee, but let me tell you why you should not do so on an empty stomach.

As you know caffeine is a stimulant. Caffeine stimulates your adrenal glands to produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. These hormones trigger a “fight or flight” response, great when you are being chased by a wild animal, but not necessary when you are sitting  at your desk or breakfast table, worrying about something, your body doesn’t discriminate between one assault or the other. These hormones flood your body, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, and your liver releases blood sugar to provide energy to muscles so you can run away. Your digestive system also shuts down to divert energy to where it is needed most.

When blood glucose rises, (in response to the stressor)  another hormone; insulin is triggered, causing blood sugar to drop below normal.   You enter a mild hypoglycaemic state, and need a quick sugar fix to feel normal again. You begin your day on a blood sugar roller coaster. With blood sugar and insulin levels going up an down, so does your energy levels and mood.  Caffeine provides chemical stimulation, not real energy, so it won’t be long before you are looking for another cup of coffee or a snack to give you another jolt.  This can go on all day leaving you feeling drained and unable to concentrate by 3pm. If you follow this pattern day after day you could bring on adrenal exhaustion, that’s when your body simply can’t deal with stress anymore and you feel tiredness  and irritability that nothing can fix.

need more coffeejpg Luckily there is an easy solution!

Don’t drink coffee or caffeine products (coke, chocolate, tea etc) on an empty stomach. Have breakfast or a bite to eat first.  As mentioned before caffeine on an empty stomach disrupts digestion, leading to a bloated feeling and other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome like pain, wind and irregularity. Caffeine also reduces stomach acid. It is low stomach acid that leads to heartburn, not high stomach acid as some might think. A lack of stomach acid means that your next meal will not be broken down properly leading to absorption problems. One mineral that is especially relevant here is iron. Iron must be converted to an absorbable form by stomach acid. As you know low iron stores lead to anemia, and a symptom of anemia is  low energy!  It’s a vicious circle.

What to do

Enjoy a coffee or two a day, but eat something first. Start your morning with a glass of warm water and a squeeze of lemon juice instead. This wakes up your digestive system and cleanses your blood. You will feel fresher and your body will work more efficiently.

If you stop coffee altogether, (which I’m, not saying you should) you may have withdrawal  symptoms, like headaches and grumpiness for a number of days. Make no mistake caffeine is a drug and your body will crave it. Wean off slowly, or push through this stage as the feelings do pass. Increase your intake of water, vitamin C and green leafy vegetables to help the detox process along. Foods rich in vitamin B will help increase energy availability to your cells, and also support your adrenals. Vitamin B rich foods include whole grains, brown rice, oats, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms,nuts and seeds, dairy and meat.

In other words eat a balanced diet containing all the food groups, and limit processed foods with added sugar.   If you like this article you might also enjoy my next blog, “Stabilising your blood sugar as a first step to  hormonal health and renewed vitality”.

Enjoy coffee responsibly – this is a public service announcement !