Coffee is produced in more than 70 countries and is one of the worlds most popular beverages. America’s number one source of antioxidants, more than 50 percent of Americans over the age of 18 have at least one cup per day. The object of this post is to give you a new outlook on coffee by explaining how caffeine affects the brain, the health benefits of coffee and how you can use it to your advantage. NOTE: When talking about coffee we must realize that spoiled coffee and synthetic caffeine must be avoided. Freshly ground coffee from an organic pesticide free source is far superior.
How It Works
Caffeine acts as an adenosine antagonist. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that when attached to adenosine receptors, cause fatigue by slowing activity in the nerve cells. Caffeine happens to be structurally indistinguishable from adenosine and attaches itself to the same receptors. Contrary to adenosine, when caffeine binds to adenosine receptors it speeds up the nerve cells, resulting in the effects you feel from coffee. Because of the increased neural activity the body is fooled into releasing stress hormones (epinephrine, cortisol, norepinephrine) as a way to cope with perceived stress. Finally, caffeine slows down the reabsorption of dopamine, allowing your brain to access more of this feel good neurotransmitter.
-Occupies adenosine receptors
-Releases stress hormones
-Influences dopamine reabsorption
As you can see, coffee has strong effects on the brain which is why I recommend one 8oz. cup per day freshly ground coffee. If you find yourself reaching for a second, third, fourth cup it may be time to take a week or two off to let your brain resensitize itself.
Benefits of Coffee:
-Rich in polyphenol antioxidants which are powerful soldiers in the the constant war on oxidative stress, which is linked to practically all facets of aging (think of a rusty piece of metal). (1) Polyphenols are now found to improve gut microbiota. (2,3)
-Activates “Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor” (BDNF), a protein which when triggered, converts brain stem cells into new brain cells. BDNF also works in the muscle.
-Studies have shown coffee to decrease risk of neurodegenerative disease. (4)
-Induces lipolysis (the break down of fat from your body’s stores into free fatty acids which can then be burned as energy).
-Coffee inhibits mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin). This same mechanism is inhibited during exercise. Think of mTOR as a spring, when you suppress the spring it kicks back and alerts the body to begin creating muscle (to be clear you don’t build muscle during exercise, you merely suppress mTOR and your recovery meal unlocks the spring initiating protein synthesis).
Exercise Tip- Having an 8oz cup of black coffee (no sugar!) before exercise can not only give you a little caffeine boost but can (as mentioned above) break down fat stores for energy and suppress mTOR further than just exercise alone. It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
This randomized controlled trial showed low intensity exercise increased neural networks in the brain over a 6 month period. Couple coffee’s affect on BDNF (creating new cells) with exercise’s ability to incorporate new brain cells into the neural network and you have a match made in heaven.
NOTE:Since coffee doesn't allow protein synthesis to occur, drinking coffee after exercise is not a good idea!
Coffee also Contains:
-Riboflavin (B2) 11% RDA
-Pantothenic Acid (B5) 6% RDA
-Niacin (B3) 3% RDA
-Manganese and Potassium 3% RDA
-Magnesium 2% RDA
How To Use It
First off, please don’t confuse any of this information with the sugar laden drinks from Starbucks (31 grams of sugar in 9.5 oz.) If you don’t like the taste of coffee then you should acquire it. Taste and smell are the best ways to judge the freshness and quality. Any sugar is going to negate all the above mentioned benefits due to the hormonal cascade that follows sugar consumption. Milk (particularly the protein casein in milk) has been shown to interfere with the benefits of tea. (5,6)
If you don’t like the idea of black coffee or if you have coffee as your breakfast, I suggest you try Bulletproof Coffee. By adding grass-fed butter or ghee and a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, you can fuel your brain and body without the milk protein and without sugar. The result is a blended cup of fatty coffee and an unbelievably clear head.
NOTE: If you have previously been on a low fat diet your body may lack the enzymes necessary to break down fat. You will need to let your body adapt with small amounts of fat, slowing upping the dose.
Butter contains short-chain fatty acids like Butyrate (reduces inflamation, feeds beneficial microbiota) fat soluble vitamins A,D, E and K2, lauric acid (antibacterial), Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA).
MCT oil (medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil) burns rapidly as fuel for both the brain and body.
Drinking fatty coffee may seem counterintuitive to what you’ve been told but that’s a story for an entire new post. Starting your day off with healthy fats from quality sources that your brain craves is a game changer and once you feel the difference and avoid the sugar and other carbohydrate during the day you will feel your brain start to clear up.
-One 8oz. cup of coffee (black or Bulletproof) fresh ground from quality sources a day
-Don’t allow yourself to become desensitized to the effects of caffeine by taking a week or two off every now and then
-Use as a pre-workout substituent to reap benefits of exercise and coffee together
-Acquire a taste for black coffee and don’t drink sugary rancid bottled coffee
-Fuel your brain with healthy fats instead of milk protein (butter and MCT in your coffee tastes amazing too)