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Is Drinking Tea or Coffee the Smarter Choice?

November 14, 2009 | 177,846 views
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By Dr. Mercola

coffee, teaIf you're like over half the adult population in the United States, you drink coffee everyday. By the end of the year, you will have consumed over 10 pounds of the stuff.

At over 400 billion cups consumed per year[1], coffee is the most popular drink in the world. The U.S. imports over $4 billion in coffee each year, and Americans drink 400 million cups per day.

Why has a substance which places an enormous metabolic burden on your body and offers no nutritional value at all -- no vitamins, no minerals, no enzymes -- become so widely used throughout the world?

What’s so Great About Coffee, Anyway?

Many coffee drinkers enjoy the taste. And for those who don’t, there are countless addi­tives to mask the flavor -- like sweeteners, milk, and chocolate syrup to name just a few. The list of coffee “enhancers” is limited only by your imagination.

The other major reason people drink coffee is for a caffeine boost. Many people swear they can’t get going in the morning without a cup of coffee -- or several. They feel physically tired and mentally foggy without their morning brew.

Most regular coffee drinkers argue their habit isn’t doing them any harm. In fact, they’ll point to reports touting the health benefits of coffee, citing studies that claim regular consumption reduces the risk for heart disease and diabetes, for example.[2]

The problem, though, is while coffee’s effect on humans has been extensively re­searched for decades, there is still a great deal of controversy about what it really does to your health. The results of coffee studies often conflict, which is why you might read an article this week which completely contradicts the advice given in a report you read a month ago.

A study conducted in 2004[3], for example, indicated drinking coffee may negatively affect your short-term word recall. Not long after, a report was published which pointed to evi­dence that a couple cups of coffee per day could improve your short-term memory[4]. This is but one example of many which points to the conflicting information regularly published about the effects of coffee on your body.

Researchers can’t seem to pinpoint exactly how coffee acts to allegedly reduce the risk of certain diseases, but they suspect it has something to do with the anti-inflammatory properties of the antioxidants in coffee.

The simple fact that remains however is that, coffee is not good for you and it’s not a health food, as some published re­ports would have you believe. There are much better, less risky ways to achieve any professed benefits of coffee consumption. Don’t use pro-coffee reports or propaganda as an excuse to hang onto your coffee habit!

The Truth: Coffee Can Wreck Your Health

Among the typical health claims about coffee is it decreases the risk of developing cer­tain cancers and diabetes. However, it increases your risk for stomach cancer and leu­kemia. Just like with most drugs, there are perceived benefits -- and then there are the side effects which often render the “cure” worse than the disease.

Coffee can also[5]:

  • Interfere with your body’s ability to use water, and promote fluid loss
  • Raise your cholesterol
  • Send your insulin levels out of control
  • Contribute to rheumatoid arthritis and stroke
  • Damage your blood vessels
  • Increase your risk of heart disease

Coffee interferes with your body’s ability to use folate, and vitamins B12 and B6. Your body needs these nutrients in order to keep your homocysteine level in the healthy range. Elevated homocysteine levels are associated with a wide range of serious, even life-threatening conditions.

Pesticide Exposure

Chances are the coffee you drink is made from beans grown outside this country.

Coffee beans are known to be a heavily sprayed crop, and the U.S. has limited input and control over the type and quantity of pesticides used in the countries from which we import.

Aside from the damage coffee alone can do, pesticides are contributors to a wide range of health problems, including prostate and other cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and even miscarriages.

Metabolic Damage

Coffee stimulates your adrenals -- the hormones that activate your fight or flight re­sponse. If your adrenal hormones are stimulated too often, which is bound to happen if you are a daily coffee drinker, your adrenal glands may eventually burn out.

When your adrenals no longer function effectively, your body will go in search of a re­placement hormone -- which happens to be progesterone.

Progesterone has its own full-time job to do, part of which is to keep your body’s estro­gen in balance. As your progesterone is used up compensating for your exhausted ad­renals, you run the risk of becoming estrogen dominant.

Estrogen dominance can lead to osteoporosis.

Coffee also raises the acidity level of your blood, causing calcium to be pulled from your bones and teeth for use as a buffering agent. The combination of estrogen dominance and high blood acidity puts you at an even greater risk for osteoporosis. In fact, research has established an undeniable link between coffee consumption and hip fractures.

A Pick Me Up? Don’t Kid Yourself!

Fatigue is the number one daily complaint among Americans. Are you using coffee to combat feelings of tiredness and low energy?

Caffeine is a strong stimulant and will deliver a temporary jolt, which may feel like a burst of energy to you.

But the truth is, coffee only gives you the illusion of energy and not the real thing. Over the long-term coffee actually depletes your B vitamin supply, and lack of B vitamins depletes your energy.

If you struggle with fatigue and low energy on a daily basis, your body is telling you it’s time to assess your health and lifestyle choices. Drinking coffee is not the answer to chronic feelings of weariness and lack of energy.

Caffeine -- Coffee’s Not so Hidden Menace

Caffeine is a psychoactive substance able to alter the way your brain functions, bringing about temporary changes in your behavior and mood.[6] The more sensitive you are to the drug, the more pronounced its effects. Caffeine intoxication is not an uncommon condition -- especially with the high levels of caffeine found in today’s “energy drinks.”

My firm position is that caffeine is a very powerful drug and should be avoided or strictly lim­ited.

Symptoms and health hazards of caffeine use can include:

  • Insomnia
  • A rise in blood pressure and stress hormone levels
  • Heart palpitations
  • A sensation of jitteriness and nervousness
  • Symptoms of anxiety, especially if you already have a panic or anxiety disorder
  • Depletion of iron and calcium levels in women

If you happen to be a protein Nutritional Type™, you are likely extra sensitive to caf­feine. I recommend you consume it only in small quantities, if at all, and never in the late afternoon or evening, as it may interfere with your ability to sleep.

A Special Message about Caffeine if You’re Pregnant or Planning a Family

Pregnant women should avoid caffeine entirely, and if you’re a coffee drinker who is planning a pregnancy, you’ll want to quit the habit before you conceive.

Studies indicate over 300 mg of caffeine a day, which is the equivalent of two to three eight ounce cups of coffee, may also increase your risk of:

  • Miscarriage / spontaneous abortion
  • Delivering a low birth weight baby
  • Having a child with certain birth defects like cleft palate

Four or more cups of coffee a day may increase your baby’s risk of SIDS.

It’s important to realize that any caffeine you ingest passes easily through the placenta to your unborn child. It is also transferred through breast milk, and stays in your body -- and the body of your un­born child or infant -- longer than average. Your unborn baby has no ability to detoxify the caffeine he or she is exposed to.[7]

A Much Healthier Alternative to Your Coffee Habit

As my regular readers know, my first recommendation for a healthy beverage is always pure water. It is by far the best choice you can make.

But if you’re looking to kick your coffee habit to improve your health, a cup of high-qual­ity green tea can be a great alternative as a warm, soothing morning beverage.

Green Tea vs. Black Tea

Most types of tea have some health benefits. However, black tea not only contains more caffeine than green tea[8] -- it’s also high in fluoride.

Fluoride is a toxic substance (more toxic than lead) and can have a profoundly negative effect on your health. It has been linked to weakened bones, osteoporosis, and even cancer.

Consuming high levels of fluoride can result in a condition called skeletal fluorosis[9]. Symptoms may include bone pain, calcified ligaments, bone spurs, fused vertebrae, and difficulty moving your joints. Since Americans are exposed to fluoride in water, certain toothpastes, coated cookware, some wines and brands of sparkling mineral water, and several other sources, it’s important to avoid more of this poison in your tea.

Lesser brands of green tea can also contain fluoride and other dangerous substances like lead and aluminum, so you must do your research before settling on a particular brand of tea. I’ll discuss how to select a high-quality tea a little later.

EGCG: Nature’s Miracle Compound

EGCG, or epigallocatechin-3-gallate, is what is known as a catechin:

  • Fresh, unfermented green tea leaves contain polyphenols (naturally occurring an­tioxidants)
  • Within the group of polyphenols are flavonoids
  • Flavonoids contain catechins:
  • EGCG is the most powerful catechin: found in green tea

Polyphenols are recognized for their disease prevention and anti-aging properties, and can account for up to 30 percent of the dry leaf weight of green tea.

EGCG, in particular, boasts an impressive list of illnesses and conditions it has the po­tential to positively impact.

Powerful Protection for Your Body

Catechins have been researched for hundreds of years for their health-promoting prop­erties, including their ability to help:

  • Improve digestion
  • Inhibit bacterial and viral infections
  • Neutralize the negative impact of harmful fats and oils on your body
  • Protect against oxidation in your brain and liver
  • Support healthy gums

The powerful antioxidant properties of EGCG can also help your body fight a number of debilitating conditions like AIDS, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.

In fact, based on encouraging study results, scientists are hopeful they will be able to con­duct further research on green tea's protective powers in relation to other autoimmune diseases, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis[10].

Research indicates the polyphenols found in green tea may help fight prostate cancer.[11]

Green tea polyphenols act on molecular pathways to shut down the production and spread of tumor cells. They also discourage the growth of the blood vessels which feed the tumors.

These prostate cancer study results show potential for green tea to help fight breast, lung and colon cancer as well.

Promising study results also show EGCG health benefits in the prevention of arterio­sclerosis, cerebral thrombus, heart attack and stroke. Greek researchers have discov­ered green tea may help prevent heart disease, due to its ability to improve blood flow and promote relaxation of your arteries.[12]

A sizable body of research also suggests the polyphenols in green tea can help:

  • Lower your cholesterol
  • Lower your triglyceride levels
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Ease painful symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

Obesity and Diabetes Help

A number of studies show EGCG has a regulatory effect on fat metabolism. It has been shown to improve exercise performance, increase fat oxidation and prevent obesity.

There is also evidence EGCG may help neutralize toxins in your body formed by high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which can help to reduce the association between HFCS and diabetes.[13]

EGCG may also protect fatty transplanted livers from ischemia (poor blood flow).[14] Twenty percent of Americans have fatty livers as a result of the growing epidemic of obesity.

Randomized controlled trial results published last year show green tea extract had a positive effect on glucose levels. Daily dosing with a powder supplement improved the hemoglobin A1C levels in borderline diabetics.[15]

Green Tea and Your Brain

Researchers have also discovered green tea has the potential to enhance the function of your brain.

EGCG appears to decrease the production of the protein beta-amyloid, which can over accumulate in your brain, resulting in nerve damage and memory loss over time -- a condition related to Alzheimer’s disease.

When researchers injected pure EGCG into mice genetically programmed to develop Alz­heimer’s, results showed a decrease of as much as 54 percent in the plaque which clogs the brains of Alzheimer sufferers.[16] This is a promising finding that demonstrates the potential for EGCG as a weapon against the growing scourge of Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Your Choice of Green Tea Makes All the Difference

Given the healthful properties of green tea, I’m comfortable this is a drink you can con­sume in moderation -- especially as an alternative to coffee.

Keep in mind, though, pure water is what your body was designed to drink. You don’t want to get too far away from this basic health principle. Stick to clean spring water and filtered water.

I do not recommend either tap or distilled water, and it’s im­portant to avoid fluoridated water as well.

Next to pure water, I believe a high-quality green tea is a nutritious choice.

A cup of green tea supplies about 20-35 mcg of EGCG. Much of the research done on the health benefits of green tea has been measured at three cups per day, so that’s a good num­ber to keep in mind.

If you enjoy green tea -- especially if you’re looking for a healthy substitute for your cof­fee habit – add a few cups to your day. Make sure not to counter the benefits derived from your tea by adding sugar, milk, or other “embellishments.” Drink your green tea straight.

Make Sure Your Green Tea is Green

Many green teas have been oxidized, which takes away much of the health benefits de­rived from drinking them.

If your green tea is brown, it has likely been oxidized.

What you want is green tea that’s actually green in color. Ideally, you want green tea which contains the entire ground tea leaf. Matcha tea is what I prefer. It is of such high quality it can contain over 100 times the EGCG found in regular brewed green tea!

Matcha tea is a vibrant bright green color. It is of much higher quality than most other green teas, and you can be assured you’re not consuming fluoride or other toxic sub­stances found in lesser quality teas.

Unlike other teas which you steep and strain, matcha tea is a powder made from ground green tea leaves. You add the powder right into the water. You are consuming the whole leaf, which makes matcha tea one of the healthiest green teas available.

My personal choice, Royal Matcha Green Tea, comes from Japan, is USDA certified organic, and is a premium green tea of the very highest quality.

In general, you want to make sure your choice of green tea is:

  • Free of fluoride, lead and aluminum
  • Vibrant green in color
  • Grown in nutrient-rich, clean soil (the majority of green tea is grown in China, Paki­stan and India, where soil conditions can be potentially toxic)

Tulsi Tea -- Another Healthy Alternative to Your Morning Coffee

The Tulsi herb is the principle herb of Ayurveda, the holistic system of health practiced in India.

Tulsi is full of antioxidants, which are nutrients that fight the free radicals in your body and prevent oxidation damage. Cells damaged through oxidation leave the door open for disease to invade your body.

Research shows antioxidants help your body resist heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkin­son’s, cancer, and even the aging process.

Tulsi tea also contains phytochemicals, compounds which have health promoting prop­erties. The combination of antioxidants and phytochemicals found in tulsi can promote your overall health in a variety of ways, including:

  • Support for your immune system
  • Improving digestion
  • Increasing your resistance to stress
  • Promoting healthy metabolism
  • Maintaining healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  • Providing you with skeletal and joins support

Tulsi tea has a naturally delicious taste -- slightly sweet and a bit spicy.

You can add a natural sweetener like raw honey or Stevia, and raw milk as desired. You can also drink it iced with a touch of mint.

A Word about Caffeine in Tea

A study published in 2008 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports the caf­feine in tea contains a natural protein, theanine, which actually counteracts unhealthy side effects.

If you are avoiding tea because of the caffeine, you should know caffeine is much less dangerous to your health than fruit juice or soda, and in small quantities -- especially the kind found in tea -- should not be reason for concern.

There is one exception: if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding you should avoid ALL caffeine, including in tea.

False Advertising Alert: Beware the “Benefits” of Tea Energy Drinks

The numerous and glowing reports of the health benefits of green tea have unfortu­nately created a market for green tea “energy drinks,” which are being promoted as “natural” weight loss products.

Don’t believe it!

The idea that a product created in a laboratory using a mixture of chemicals, sweeten­ers, and caffeine is “natural” or healthy is simply ridiculous. Tossing in some green tea doesn’t make it any less so.

If you want to drink green tea for its health benefits, stick to the real thing.

If you want to lose weight, do it safely by optimizing your diet, exercising regularly, and getting good quality sleep.

For a cool, refreshing, healthy green tea beverage, try the following:

Recipe for Healthy Green Tea Soda

(Prepare in advance, as it can steep in the fridge for about an hour before serving.)

Ingredients:

  • 2 green tea teabags
  • 2 cups (1 pint) boiling water
  • Pint-sized Pyrex measuring cup or heat-proof jar
  • 1 teaspoon raw organic honey (optional)
  • 2 cups total Natural Sparkling mineral water (1/2 glass per serving)

To prepare:

  • Place teabags in Pyrex measuring cup or heat-proof jar
  • Pour 2 cups boiling water over teabags
  • Add 1 teaspoon raw, organic honey (if desired), and stir
  • Place mixture in fridge for about 1 hour to cool
  • After an hour, remove tea from fridge
  • For each serving, pour a half glass of tea into tall ice tea glass
  • Add a half glass of sparkling mineral water into each serving

Serves 4.

Tips to Help You Quit Your Coffee Habit

Going “cold turkey” isn’t always a good idea, especially if you’re a heavy coffee drinker or are especially sensitive to caffeine. As with most drugs, eliminating caffeine from your system can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Even one cup of coffee a day can create an addiction. Withdrawal symptoms can in­clude:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Flu-like feelings of nausea and muscle pain

In order to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, you should consider tapering off your coffee habit -- especially if you drink several cups per day.

If you want to quit drinking coffee gradually, there are steps you can take during the withdrawal process that will reduce the harmful effects of the coffee you are still con­suming:

  • Buy organic to avoid exposure to pesticides
  • Avoid coffee additives like sugar, artificial sweeteners and milk – they are worse for your health than the coffee
  • Use unbleached coffee filters in your drip coffee maker to avoid chlorine contamina­tion of bleached filters
  • If you switch to decaf, make sure to drink only coffee that has been non-chemi­cally decaffeinated (for example, the “Swiss Water Process”)

Make sure to follow the nutrition plan for your particular type, get adequate high-quality sleep and exercise to increase your energy level naturally.

Consider using the Meridian Tapping Technique (MTT) to help with your caffeine ad­diction and withdrawal symptoms.

Remember to substitute a high-quality green tea when you want a warm, soothing drink. You might also try replacing your morning coffee with vegetable juice for an energy boost.

Do not make the mistake of substituting fruit juice or soda for coffee, as they are much worse for you. Remember -- pure water should be your primary beverage of choice, followed by healthful drinks like green tea and vegetable juice, in moderation.

There’s No Time Like Today ...

Keep this in mind -- coffee adds zero nutritional value, and the risks it presents to your health make it a very bad choice overall. This is especially true if you’re planning a fam­ily or are already pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you use coffee as a crutch to get a quick burst of energy, remember that cultivating a healthy body and mind supplies all the power you need to get through your day. The jolt you receive from a cup of coffee is not only temporary, it’s also depleting your energy stores in the long term, and very likely wreaking havoc on your body in other ways as well.

I hope I’ve given you plenty of incentive to quit your coffee addiction once and for all, and replace it with beverages that can improve your health and prevent disease. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, once you make the change to healthier beverages, how much better and genuinely energetic you feel.

References:


[1] Top 100 Espresso, Coffee Statistics Report – 2009 Edition ) (Accessed 5/4/09

[2] The New York Times, Fitness and Nutrition, Coffee as a Health Drink? Studies Find Some Benefits, Nicholas Bakalar (Accessed 5/4/09)

[3] Mercola.com, Coffee Impairs Short-Term Memory (Accessed 5/4/09)

[4] Mercola.com, Sharpening Your Memory with Coffee? (Accessed 5/4/09)

[5] Mercola.com, Advanced Plan: Beverages (Accessed 5/5/09)

[6] Wikipedia, Caffeine (Accessed 5/9/09)

[7] Mercola.com, Where Starbucks Went Wrong (Accessed 5/10/09)

[8] Mercola.com, How Tea Can Keep Your Mind Young (Accessed 5/11/09)

[9] Mercola.com, Get That Fluoride Out of Your Tea! (Accessed 5/11/09)

[10] Mercola.com, Green Tea Found to Protect You From Autoimmune Diseases (Accessed 5/12/09)

[11]EurekaAlert!, December 2004 (Accessed 5/12/09)

[12] Eur J of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation, June 2008, 15(3):300-305, The Acute Effect of Green Tea Consumption on Endothelial Function in Healthy Individuals (Accessed 5/12/09)

[13] The China Post, Green Tea Helps Diabetic Mice Much Like Glaxo Pill (Accessed 5/11/09)

[14]ScienceBlog, Component of Green Tea Protects Injured Livers in Mice (Accessed 5/11/09)

[15]Eur J Clin Nutr. 2008 Aug;62(8):953-60, Randomized Controlled Trial for an Effect of Green Tea-Extract Powder Supplementation on Glucose Abnormalities (Accessed 5/11/09)

[16] The Journal of Neuroscience, September 21, 2005, 25(38):8807-8814, Green Tea Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate (EGCG) Modulates Amyloid Precursor Protein Cleavage and Reduces Cerebral Amyloidosis in Alzheimer Transgenic Mice (Accessed 5/11/09)

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