Coffee: A Different Perspective

Photo: Cass Gilbert

Photo: Cass Gilbert

Coffee seems to always be a debatalbe topic by health professionals.  Some argue it's bad for you because of the adrenal exhaustion, digestive disturbances, and nutritional deficiencies it causes.  But you can always find information telling you that it's good because of antioxidants, increased brain function, and protective function in the liver.  Just like any health or diet topic there seems to be two very contrasted beliefs.  People seem to pick the side that suits their habits best.  

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers great insight in its classification of herbs/foods and their relation to people's specific constitution. This allows us a new way to look at coffee as a medicinal herb/food remedy and figure out the most beneficial way to apply it to an individual.    Unlike most dietary belief systems, TCM doesn't view foods as either good or bad.  There is an awareness that life is not black or white but rather a fine balance between the two. A particular food may be good for one person and bad for another or even good for one person during one season and bad for that same person in a different season.  Diet is like life a and the seasons, never static.  

Let's talk facts first.  Coffee enhances the function of the Central Nervous System and increases cognitive function by intercepting a chemical called adencine which slows down nerves and causes sleepiness.  In addition, coffee increases diuresis due to the increased blood flow to the Kidneys.  Coffee increases the body's capacity for work and exercise by 15-20%: increases the heart rate and acting as a mild analgesic.  Coronary blood flow and metabolic rate are increased as well as smooth muscle being relaxed.  For most this doesn't sound so bad, especially the increased work capacity.  Let's now look at what coffee does in the body in an energetic way from a TCM perspective.  

Coffee is yang in nature.  It creates heat as it moves, invigorates, and disperses.  It has a bitter/sweet flavour and is a purgative.  Western science cautions people who suffer from anxiety, arrhythmia, and insomnia to steer clear of coffee...these individuals translate in TCM as suffering fro Heart Heat.  Coffee moves Qi and Blood.  It's ability to increase metabolism has its benefits in combating Dampness with it's dispersing nature. Dampness is created by a rich, heavy, greasy diet and/or weak digetsion.  Coffee can stimulate the user through sluggishness from toxic overload.  It both ascends Qi, giving us a lift of spirit, and descends Qi in it's actions of diuresis, increased peristalsis, and bronchiodialation.  

The general consensus by TCM practitioners is that coffee depletes kidney essence.  Kidney essence (jing) is the energy derived from the Kidneys of the mother which nourishes the fetus during pregnancy. It determines the basic constitution, strength, and vitality of an individual. It is fixed in quantity, determined at birth: it cannot be added to, only conserved and used up more slowly. So the fact that coffee depletes this vital essence is something to be aware of.  The Kidneys and the adrenals have a very close relationship and this is the TCM explanation of adrenal exhaustion caused from coffee.  

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that coffee can be beneficial if less than 4 cups per day are consumed.  An international study shows that coffee drinkers suffer from asthma 25% less than non-coffee drinkers.  This is further confirmed by a study at UCLA showing an increases in breathing capacity after drinking coffee of 15%.  Coffee also decreases alcohol induced liver cirrhosis by 80% due to an unknown ingredient. This shows that coffee strongly moves blood and enters the liver, large intestine, and lungs.  

The dark side of coffee that shouldn't be overlooked is the dangerous chemicals used in the production: poisonous herbicide and pesticide sprays in its cultivation, petroleum based solvents in its decaffeination, and chemicals in making it instant.  Also, the acid in coffee eats away the villi in the small intestine.  This reduces the effectiveness of nutrient absorption and assimilation.  Most heavy coffee drinkers are deficient in calcium and other minerals.  Lastly, we should remember the political and moral issues surrounding coffee production in Latin America.  The crop is exported to wealthy nations, the money is kept in the hands of a few corporate land owners, the soils are depleted and the masses go hungry.  

Given that an individual has no energetic imbalances, buys organic sustainably harvested beans, and enjoys it in moderate to minimal amounts, coffee can actually be a healthy drink.  The thing that we need to keep in mind is that many times we are drinking coffee because we are trying to combat an energetic imbalance by dealing with the symptoms rather than it's root cause.  This is when working with a TCM practitioner can be really beneficial...helping you rebalance your body through treatment and dietary suggestions.

If you're interested in learning more about the energetics of food, which foods suit you best, or how to generally eat a healthier diet.  Connect with me and we can set up a free consultation to discuss your health concerns.  


Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2002. Print.

Flaws, Bob. (1997) The Tao of Healthy Eating.  Boulder, Colorado: Blue Poppy Press



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