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The Dangers and Side Effects of Drinking Coffee

Dr. Mercola recently wrote an article on why he’s changing his mind on a popular beverage: coffee.

I rarely agree with Dr. Mercola on anything, as I think his advice is delivered with hype and often lacks substance.

But at least I agreed with him on coffee.

Mercola often warned against the regular consumption of coffee, and said it should only be used occasionally as a “drug” (because caffeine is a drug) in certain circumstances when you really need it. He gave the example of traveling across many time zones. One way to beat jet lag is to consume caffeine to stay awake and fit right in the new time zone, instead of falling asleep and messing up your sleep cycles.

But now in a recent article Mercola is changing his mind on coffee.

He now thinks that black dark roast coffee is good for you, and has a number of health benefits. He quotes studies that show that coffee may help with the following diseases:

– Type 2 diabetes
– Parkinson’s disease
– Alzheimer’s disease
– Prostate cancer
– Liver cancer
– Kidney cancer
– Etc.

Now in a moment I will give you what I believe is a more balanced view on coffee. But first, let me be clear that I absolutely LOVE coffee. I totally understand the love affair that the world has with coffee, and other caffeinated beverages, like tea.

But for me coffee has always been a love/hate relationship.

I love caffeine and its immediate effects on my body. However, I also know that I’m very caffeine sensitive and I know the short and long-term effects of caffeine effects on my body.

If I consume coffee one or two days in a row, I will inevitably get headaches as a result. I will also get depressed and lack energy a day or two after I stop coffee.

If I keep drinking coffee and make it a habit (I have done that at times in the past), I experience the following symptoms:

– Irritability
– Clouded thinking in the morning until I have coffee again
– Regular migraine headaches
– Back pain
– Extreme symptoms of depression that would be diagnosed as “clinical depression”

I know that I am more sensitive to caffeine than most people. Therefore, I treat coffee with respect. I don’t underestimate its effects as a drug and I stay away for the most part.

Like I said, I LOVE coffee and caffeine in general. So once in a while, I can’t resist having a cup of tea or coffee.

When I do, I love the immediate effects. But I know there will be some consequences.

I have found that if I don’t consume caffeine more than a couple of times a month (say 2-3) then I can manage with it.

There are times, for example when traveling, when using a little bit of a boost is not a bad idea.

After all, certain circumstances in life are unnatural to begin with, like traveling across multiple time zones in minutes or hours.

But what’s important is that I treat coffee for what it is:

Not a beverage like fruit juice, or an innocent little habit, but like a DRUG.

Just read the Wikipedia page on caffeine to understand why it’s truly a drug and what are its effects on the body ()

Caffeine Blues

One book that I read years ago and talked about many times on my website is “Caffeine Blues.”

To my knowledge, it’s the only comprehensive book that’s ever been published on why coffee is bad for health. (to purchase the book, click here)

On the first page of the book, you can read:

– Caffeine can’t provide energy, only chemical stimulation and induced emergency state that can lead to irritability, mood swings, and panic attacks.
– Caffeine’s ultimate mood effect can be letdown, which can lead to depression and chronic fatigue.
– Caffeine gives the illusion of heightened alertness by dilating pupils, quickening heart rate, and raising blood pressure. In fact, caffeine does not increase overall mental activity.

Caffeine blues lists many of the side-effects of coffee, some that are rarely talked about.

The negative effects of caffeine on the body include:

– Energy swings or periods of fatigue during the day

– Mood swings or periods of depression


- Gastrointestinal distress, cramping, diarrhea

– Constipation and/or dependence on caffeine for bowel movement

– Tension or stiffness in the neck, shoulders, hands, legs or stomach

- Premenstrual syndrome, menstrual irregularity, camps, sore breasts

- Painful/sensitive lumps in breast

- Insomnia

- Anxiety

– Irritability, including inappropriate fits of anger

- Irregular or rapid heartbeat

– Light-headness/dizziness

– Waking up feeling tired

– Generalized pain (back, stomach, muscles)

– High blood pressure

– Ulcers

– Anemia

– Shortness of breath

- Difficulty in concentration

- Ringing in ears
- Coldness in extremities

- Hand tremor
Now, to put things in perspective, not every coffee drinker will experience these symptoms, and for some the symptoms will only occur after a certain level of sustained consumption.

For some people, any consumption of any caffeine will lead to serious health consequences.

For others, like me, the limit is very low, perhaps a few cups of caffeinated beverage per month.

Some other people are sensitive to the high levels of caffeine in coffee, but can drink green tea every day. (Personally if I drink green tea every day I still experience many negative side-effects, including irritability).

Others seem to to process caffeine better and do well with a certain amount of coffee per day, like a cup of espresso.

But everybody has a caffeine “breaking point.”

But here’s what worries me with all those “pro-caffeine” articles: nobody talks about the fact that caffeine is a drug, that people self-medicate with it, and few are aware of the side effects.

Many people live with “clinical depression” that is in fact a consequence of drinking coffee. Nobody ever told them that depression can have physical causes and be as simple as the regular consumption of coffee, when one is very sensitive to caffeine.

I knew a guy who complained to me that he’d been depressed for years and didn’t have the energy to meet the day anymore. He thought his depression was caused by his marriage.

This was about 5-6 years ago. I suggested to him at the time to quit drinking coffee and read “Caffeine Blues.” He did and his depression went away in about 3-4 weeks after drinking coffee, but he told me that he only went back to his “true self” about 60 days after quitting coffee.

If caffeine is a drug, and we know that it is, then it may well have some benefits, like many drugs do.

I’m not questioning this research on how coffee may help with some health problems like diabetes or may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

I have no opinion about those studies because I’m not an expert doing the research.

However, if caffeine is a drug that has same benefits, then it also has side-effects. And some individuals are more likely to develop those side-effects, just like with any other drug.

But nobody likes to talk about the side effects. It’s just not popular to question America’s most popular drug.

I’m not saying that there’s no place for caffeine in the world, and that everybody should quit drinking coffee. But you have to find out how your body can operate at its best, and for many people, that means drinking no coffee or caffeinated beverages at all.

But I want to hear from you. Do you consume any form of caffeine? Do you consider yourself sensitive to caffeine? Did you quit coffee or caffeine?

I’d be curious to hear your story! Let me know in the comment section below…

Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.