Coffee! The Good, the Bad, and the Ayurvedic Perspective.

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In recent years, we have seen an astonishing amount of research being published touting the health benefits of coffee. The question is:  do these studies negate the health risks reported in studies past?

In this article and in the video below, I will dive into this very controversial issue of coffee—when it comes to our health, is coffee a friend, or foe? I will also discuss how different bodies may react to coffee differently based on their constitution, and take a look at coffee through the Ayurvedic lens.

Let’s take a look at some of the research on both sides before we can begin to judge for ourselves.

The Good

Recent findings show that if you drink one cup of coffee a day, you can reduce your risk of diabetes by 13% (1), but if you drank twelve cups a day, you could reduce the risk of diabetes by 67% (2). Twelve cups!

Six cups of coffee a day had an 18% reduction on prostate cancer and a 40% reduction of aggressive lethal cancer (3).

Four cups of coffee a day could reduce your risk of liver cirrhosis by 84% (4)!

Five cups a day for five weeks began to reverse Alzheimer’s damage in the brain by reducing levels of amyloid-beta, both in the blood and the brain (5).

One to four cups reduced the risk of Parkinson’s by 47% and five cups a day reduced it by 60% (6). In this study, the greater number of cups of coffee per day, the lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

And while there are many more studies citing the cardiovascular risks posed by coffee consumption, a recent study showed that women who drank 1-3 cups of coffee a day had a 24% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (7).

High blood pressure—once the holy grail of anti-coffee publicity—is now being questioned. Studies have shown for years that coffee will raise blood pressure(8), but new studies  show that while the blood pressure will go up initially, if you continue to drink it daily for 8 weeks, the blood pressure will normalize (9).

What’s the secret ingredient?

If you take the caffeine out of coffee, the benefits cited above remain relatively the same. So, if it isn’t the caffeine that is responsible for these benefits, then what is it?

There are about 1000 active constituents in the coffee bean and only a few of them are understood. We do know that the coffee bean, the seed of the fruit, is loaded with antioxidants.

Perhaps the most powerful known antioxidant in the coffee bean is called chlorogenic acid, a compound that is most concentrated in the green, unroasted coffee bean but dissipates somewhat in the roasting process. The weakening of this compound in the coffee bean’s journey from bean to beverage may be why we need such high amounts of coffee to reap its many benefits. Today, green coffee extracts are available to deliver the benefits of chlorogenic acid without actually having to drink the dark roasted brew.

The Bad

Most of the negative research on coffee can be linked to its impact on the nervous system. Coffee is a stimulant and increases the release of stress hormones, which are usually reserved for life or death, fight or flight situations (10). The elevation of these hormones is detectable hours after consumption. Interestingly, the release of the same hormones occurs with decaffeinated coffee (11).

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a steroid hormone that decreases with the consumption of coffee. DHEA is responsible for cellular and tissue repair. It also enhances memory and cognitive function, protects against stress, and supports numerous physiological processes (12).

Coffee consumption (including decaffeinated coffee) releases an addictive neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is a pleasure hormone and when the brain is bathed in dopamine, it never forgets the source. After the coffee rush wears off, the brain starts thinking about its next cup, so that when a coffee drinker drives by a coffee shop, they may be compelled to stop even if they were not previously thinking about coffee. This is the effect of dopamine on the brain—it’s the addictive “I’ve gotta have it” hormone (13).

Dopamine may only be one mechanism for the addictive nature of coffee, however. Withdrawal symptoms such as painful headaches, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, depression, anxiety, and fatigue are common when a coffee drinker tries to stop (14).

In addition, coffee:

• Raises homocysteine levels – a major risk factor for heart disease (15).
• Raises blood pressure (16).
• Raises cholesterol (17).
• Is associated with heart irregularities (18).
• Increases inflammation (19).
• Damages the nervous system (20).
• Interferes with neurotransmitters in the brain (21).
• Alters DNA repair (22).
• Increases risk of kidney stones (23).
• Lowers bone density (24).
• Interferes with sleep (25).
• Is linked to erectile dysfunction (26)
• Increases gastric reflux and heartburn (27).

The Ayurvedic Perspective

It seems that most of the negative research on coffee stems from the damaging effects of the increased production of degenerative stress hormones. Because these effects seem to be true for both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, it would be logical to assume there must be other stimulating elements in coffee.

If you are using coffee as a stimulant to get energy, that in itself creates an imbalance. Using a stimulant to create energy you do not naturally have can potentially push you into debt, sometimes referred to as adrenal exhaustion.

Also, coffee, via its dopamine activation, is a very addictive substance that creates highs and lows in energy. In turn, these highs and lows can affect mood and physiological function.

It is also recognized in Ayurveda that coffee has an effect on the quality of mind, stimulating it into a “rajasic”, or overly active, state. This goes against the volumes of teachings that expound on the health benefits of stilling the mind, as in meditation.

Our world is already over-stimulated to the point that many of us cannot keep up. Taking a stimulant on top of that will quite possibly drive us to exhaustion.

Food or Medicine?

That said, I am a believer that all plants have a purpose and we must try to understand them rather than pass judgment on them. Some plants are meant to be used as a food and are safe to eat regularly, others are more like medicines.

We also have to consider that the way we process coffee may seriously alter its properties. There is a long process from bean to brew, and many factors along the way that can change the effects of the original plant as nature intended it. Until more studies are done on the raw green bean, the research we have to work with is based on the coffee drink, and it’s clear from this research that coffee has medicinal properties. But is it safe for regular long-term use?

Sometimes the best way to understand a controversial substance is to look at how it was traditionally used. Before coffee became widely grown in so many parts of the world, it was considered an elite drink. In Europe as early as the mid-1600’s, coffee was only used in very small quantities after the large meal in the middle of the day. Being very acidic, coffee may stimulate the digestive process and act as a digestif. There is also research that suggests that coffee may help control after-meal blood sugar spikes. However, even using coffee in this way can have undesirable effects in the long-run:

1.    It is an intestinal irritant that can inflame the digestive tract.
2.    It is overly acidic, which can congest the lymph and detox pathways.
3.    It can desensitize the mucosa of the gut, causing chronic constipation.
4.    It is extremely dehydrating and can dry out the skin, gut, and respiratory tract.

For these reasons, I wouldn’t suggest an espresso with every meal, but in moderation and for the right body types, coffee may be supportive for digestion. However, that same cup of coffee on an empty stomach in the morning will stimulate the adrenals to make excess energy and stress hormones that may deplete the body’s reserves. As I mentioned, the boost one feels from coffee is in fact stimulating the body to prepare for an emergency.

It is possible that coffee has the capacity to create a higher state of health for a short period of time, so as to help the body best cope with the “emergency state” of an illness such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s, to name a few that I mentioned earlier (see “The Good” section, above).

My concern is the long-term effect of stimulating the body in this way. Given the facts, it seems more logical to recognize coffee as a drug or medicine: it boosts dopamine and drives degenerative hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine,  and inhibits calming GABA. These changes may be helpful in an emergency state or illness, but whether you would want your nervous system affected in this way in the long-term is questionable.

As for the reported health benefits, I attribute them to

–    Stimulating the body into a medicinal/emergency response to deal with a potential health threat, and
–    The wealth of antioxidants present in coffee, which certainly can’t be ignored. But has the roasting process altered the natural blueprint of coffee’s delicate balance of caffeine and antioxidants?

A Constitutional Approach

Ayurvedically speaking, certain constitutions will tolerate coffee better than others:

Vata types: The hyper-metabolic vata types will be easily over-stimulated by coffee and quickly become depleted by the over-stimulation.
Pitta Types: The already over-competitive pitta types will be driven even further by the coffee boost. Coffee is also very acidic and heating. This can be too much for the already hot pitta body type.
Kapha types: The hypo-metabolic kapha types are easygoing and heavy by nature. Coffee may in some instances offer a medicinal boost to stimulate or enhance metabolic function of the body.

*What’s your body type? Take our easy quiz and find out now.


Coffee as a drug or medicine may have its place. But how long will the benefits last?

If you find yourself depending on coffee for boosting energy, mental clarity or keeping your bowels regular, this may be a problem as the benefits may be short-lived.

Soon, more coffee may be needed to create these “benefits,” eventually leading to over-stimulation, adrenal exhaustion, negative side effects and even addiction. And, as with any addiction, it will ultimately leave us and our health at a disadvantage.

The green coffee extracts on the market may show some promise as preventative and healing agents, and I look forward to more studies about their efficacy. If we could harness the amazing benefits of this plant without risking the negative side effects, that would of course be ideal.

1.    Diabetes Care. 2006 Feb;29(2):398-403
2.    Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2011 Jun;21(6):418-23
3.    J Natl Cancer Inst. 2011 June 8;103(11):876-84
4.    Aa Epidemiol. 2001;(7):458-65
5.    J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 1:S117-26
6.    Mov Disord. 2007 Nov 15;22(15):2242-48
7.    Amer J Clin Nutr. 2006 May;83(5)1039-46
8.    J Human Hypertens. 2006 Dec;20(12):909-12
9.    Hypertens Res. 2009 Niv;32(11):969-74
10.    Am J Ren Phys. 2003. 284(1):F32-40
11.    Pharmacology of Biochem and Behav. 2000 66(1):19-28
12.    The Endocrinology of Agig, Science. 1997. 278(5337):419-24
13.    Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 Oct 13. Epub2011 Oct 13. PMID: 22019894
14.    JAMA. 1994. 272:1043-1048
15.    Amer J Clin Nutr. 2001. 73(3):532-8
16.    Amer J Hypertension. 203. 16(11):919-24
17.    J Internal med. 1991. 230(4):299-305
18.    Scand J Social med. 1996. 24(2):140-4
19.    Amer J Clin Nutr. 2004. 80(4)862-7
20.    Neuroendocrinology. 2003 38(2):227-31
21.    Mol Pharm. 1988 May;33(5):481-85
22.    Euro J Epidemiology. 2003 18(4):289-98
23.    J Urology. 2004 172(2):555-8
24.    Life Sciences. 1990 47(6):557-64
25.    J Amer geriatric 1995 43(8):860-4
26.    Inter J Impotence research. 2003 15(suppl 1:S8-14)
27.    Gastroenterology 1995 108(1); 125-31


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Dr. John Douillard

Dr. John Douillard, DC, CAP is a globally recognized leader in the fields of natural health, Ayurveda and sports medicine. He is the creator of, the leading Ayurvedic health and wellness resource on the web with over 7 million views on YouTube. LifeSpa is evolving the way Ayurveda is understood around the world with over 1000 articles and videos proving ancient wisdom backed by modern science. Dr. John is the former Director of Player Development and nutrition advisor for the New Jersey Nets NBA team, author of 7 health books, a repeat guest on the Dr. Oz show, and featured in USA Today, LA Times, and dozens of other national publications. He has been in practice for over 30 years and has seen over 100,000 patients. —————————————————————————————————–
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anonymous Oct 4, 2013 3:10pm

That is an incredibly comprehensive explanation John, you clearly know your stuff. Thanks for sharing.

anonymous May 9, 2013 9:40am

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up new webpage or even a weblog from start to end.

anonymous May 4, 2013 9:04am

I've been searching the internetz for why coffee is bad for you for motivation to quit caff completely, (except for that of organic loose leaf teas and fair-trade organic dark chocos, those items are too good to give up and the amount of caff in them is fine as long as they aren't overindulged in) this article and video here crushed any desire i had left for coffee or energy drinks, nothing else helped me stay off caff for more than a couple days. After watching and reading this I honestly am repulsed by coffee and caffeinated bev's. Such a great piece of information, I will save to look back upon if a craving hits in a few months and I start forgetting this info! Thanks so much Doc!

anonymous Apr 30, 2013 9:02am

hi there! , Nice creating so lots! ratio we all communicate further about your document in AOL? My partner and i demand a consultant on this household to eliminate our trouble. Can be that is certainly you! Having a look toward appearance you actually.

anonymous Apr 28, 2013 9:11pm

thanks for the straight scoop!

anonymous Mar 3, 2013 11:27am

[…] I’ve been more of a coffee drinker for most of my life, in recent years I’ve been craving (and started to appreciate more and more), […]

anonymous Mar 2, 2013 12:36pm

[…] results in a higher amount of daily calories compared to green tea. Substituting green tea for that cup of coffee will make a big difference in the size of your […]

anonymous Feb 17, 2013 1:47pm

That was a great video, John. Very intelligent and well researched, I learned a lot!

anonymous Feb 16, 2013 6:54am

For ten years, every morning I woke up, lay in bed and said I wasn't going to drink, then got up and started drinking, continuing all day. When I could finally quit, I got up and immediately made coffee. I still do. Far better, even if I drink a bit too much of it. As long is it isn't immediately going to kill me, I'll continue the practice, as my former practice was going to kill me much sooner.

anonymous Feb 15, 2013 7:42am

[…] considered giving up my morning coffee, but that was a real […]

anonymous Nov 28, 2012 11:56am

[…] hearty enough to replace a meal and contains enough caffeine to kick your ass when you’re feeling […]

anonymous Nov 21, 2012 6:50am

[…] >>Put a dash in your coffee […]

anonymous Nov 21, 2012 5:02am

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anonymous Oct 22, 2012 5:15am

Chlorogenic acid isn't the only antioxidant or health promoting substance in coffee by far. Two of coffee's components in particular, kahweol and cafestol, block DNA changes and tumor formation by revving up enzymes involved in the work of glutathione, the body's star defender. Coffee is a potent detoxer. In 2011, a meta-analysis of 59 prior studies revealed that individuals who drink coffee are less likely to be diagnosed with cancers of the breast, mouth and throat, colon, rectum, endometrium of the uterus, esophagus, liver, pancreas, and prostate.

It's also not addictive in the true sense of the word. It does stimulate the release of the "addiction" neurotransmitter, dopamine, but not in the nucleaus accumbens, the key brain area for addiction. Rather, it releases dopamine in the frontal cortex responsible for executive planning and cognitive function. The "addiction" you speak of is actually tolerance – some of the physical effects, like those short term blood pressure phenomena, resolve with tolerance – then when you "withdraw" there is a rebound effect that can lead to irritability and headaches – not the massive withdrawal picture described – and not withdrawal in the true sense as from an addictive illegal drug.

Also, while coffee does stimulate the sympathetic nervous system to temporarily increase blood pressure, heart rate, and work force of the heart to supply more oxygen to the brain and the rest of the body, it's blown out of proportion to the actual effects. Exercise also does all of those things (and releases other stress hormones as well) and no one is saying not to exercise because of it. There is absolutely no evidence that drinking coffee can lead to "adrenal exhaustion." It does not lead to an increased incidence of hypertension (chronic high blood pressure) or heart disease – the predominant fears associated with coffee drinking before the evidence to refute them was available.

In 2012, researchers at the NIH published a report in the New England Journal of Medicine about the coffee drinking habits of more than 400,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 71. Theirs was the largest study ever looking at the relationship between coffee consumption and health. The investigators found that the more coffee an individual consumed, the less likely they were to die prematurely from a variety of diseases including diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, infections, and even injuries and accidents.

Two Harvard studies also confirm that it helps with weight loss. It stimulates adiponectin, a hormone that helps the body to burn fat.

Overall, the predominance of studies show that drinking coffee is good for you. Of course you can get too much of a good thing, but moderate consumption, a cup or two a day, is a healthy habit.

anonymous Sep 27, 2012 9:45am

[…] I’m not here to bang you over the head with the rights and wrongs of caffeine. […]

anonymous Sep 7, 2012 11:35am

[…] you are already pretty caffeine saturated, I don’t know that it would help. Step one is have a small cup of coffee in an Ayurvedic-theraputic sort of way. Step two is lay down for about 20 minutes. By the time you get up, the coffee will have kicked it. […]

anonymous Aug 3, 2012 6:42pm

[…] Here's a related article about coffee I read the other day. Hopefully it helps support your caffeine-kicking initiative! Coffee! The Good, the Bad, and the Ayurvedic Perspective. | elephant journal […]

anonymous Aug 2, 2012 7:51pm

At a White House staff meeting, Obama said, “Tell Rahm we’ll get back with him, then shut the door and pull the drapes. Joe just came up the back steps with the Chick-fil-a.”

anonymous Aug 1, 2012 8:54pm

[…] […]

anonymous Aug 1, 2012 5:36am

i love this. while i am far from an expert on ayurvedic medicine, as a holistic nutritionist, i learned about biochemical individuality, which compliments the idea of doshas. there is no ONE answer regarding diet, exercise, lifestyle, etc. that will work for everyone. we each have different biochemical needs and regardless of any study, if it doesn't feel right for you, it probably isn't. thanks for such an objective, well researched, and helpful article!

anonymous Jul 31, 2012 7:31pm

Here's the deal…I am very much in the pleasure/pain principle when I am in the throws of my "joe"…it feels so good but the come down is like great sex…a slight melancholia when the buzz is over and hmm wouldn't it be nice to do that again… it also messes with my sleep something awful and I get a little too primal…I switched to decaf 10 years ago and have never looked back…aw coffee….you are so seductive but so dang naughty xxoo

anonymous Jul 6, 2012 7:24am

[…] just 24 hours after roasting forty percent of these beneficial chemicals have already left the bean with the remaining 60 percent leaving in diminishing increments in the […]

anonymous Jun 3, 2012 10:43pm

I recently took coffee out of my diet, and have seen amazing benefits to all aspects of my life, a better yoga practice, better clarity, more motivation, the list abounds. I have found that I drank coffee to get a boost, but it is a boost only needed when I am fighting with one of the other foods that my system does not agree with. For example sugar makes me crazy sluggish, and then coffee is needed to give me that am zing. But when I listen to what my body needs, coffee is not a necessity.

anonymous May 7, 2012 5:37pm

[…] […]

anonymous Mar 26, 2012 7:36am

As someone who recently reduced my coffee consumption to about 10% of previous levels, and as someone with a vata/pitta nature, I have definitely noticed a difference in my clarity of thought and energy levels. That being said, I try to get a couple of cups in per week for medicinal purposes. I'm sure I'll end up watching this video again to absorb everything Dr. Douillard said.

Bob Weisenberg Mar 25, 2012 2:46pm

Just posted to "Featured Today" on Elephant Health & Wellness homepage.

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anonymous Jan 27, 2012 3:22pm

[…] I enjoyed Dr. John Douillard, DC’s recent article “Coffee! The Good, the Bad, and the Ayurvedic Perspective.” […]

anonymous Jan 27, 2012 2:02am

[…] Coffee! The Good, the Bad, and the Ayurvedic Perspective. ( […]

anonymous Jan 20, 2012 2:51pm

[…] Coffee! The Good, the Bad, and the Ayurvedic Perspective. ( […]

anonymous Jan 20, 2012 12:04pm

[…] […]

Yasica Jan 15, 2012 11:20am

Posted on EJ Health & Wellness Facebook.

Jessica Stone Baker
Co-Editor, Elephant Health & Wellness
The Mindful Body

anonymous Jan 13, 2012 5:41pm

Thank you for this thoroughly researched article. I especially appreciated the cites.

anonymous Jan 13, 2012 1:18pm

As someone who is perhaps predominately Kapha in nature, I've found the daily cup is just what I need to role out of bed and onto the mat for a strong yoga practice. Before committing to daily practice and getting the rest of my life in order, Coffee made me very anxious and stressed out. There are many lifestyle factors that can influence how our bodies respond to the almighty Bean. For the past two years, by relationship to the morning Coffee has been only positive (capitalized on purpose, like God in the bible), and has provided the energy to make many other positive changes and actually reduce the amount of necessary stress.

anonymous Jan 12, 2012 9:28am

What a great, useful piece! Love it, thanks. As a Pitta, I limit my coffee consumption, but do enjoy it (always after eating and always with whole, organic milk to offset the acidity).

anonymous Jan 12, 2012 8:11am

I would love to learn more about recovering from coffee addiction. I have been trying throughout the year, and give myself permission to have the odd Americano. It does create a lasting anxiety, and recently I've noticed leads to a lingering malaise that can last a couple of days. In those two days following I need a lot of sleep – and yes – like Pavlov's dog, I salivate at the smell.

    anonymous Mar 26, 2012 7:38am

    I feel ya, I learned to love teas and took the time to learn more about them. That, and a bad liver infection forced me to rethink my coffee habit.

    anonymous Aug 12, 2015 1:05pm

    My malaise upon quitting coffee lasted in some form for several months. I had a horrible migraine for a few days and vertigo for a week or two. I drank some black tea, just to make sure that quitting coffee was creating the symptoms, and they immediately went away. Going off was horrible–but it was a reminder to me how I had been drugging myself for years. I love not feeling like I HAVE to have coffee first thing in the morning. I feel free! I like mint tea. Sometimes I drink a cup of decaf at a café if the coffee smells good. Generally I'm staying away from caffeine, but now and then I'll have some green tea or chai. It really all does come down to feeling happy that I'm not addicted to a drug anymore.

anonymous Jan 12, 2012 6:49am

Loved it! Singing Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee…" 🙂

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anonymous Jan 12, 2012 5:30am

Thanks, John. It's very interesting and may actually cause me to rethink my coffee habit (sob!).

Posted to Elephant Food Facebook and Twitter.

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anonymous Jan 11, 2012 6:36pm

Learned a few things here.
Doesn't surprise me that coffee gets so much attention. Thanks for this!