5 Ways To Enjoy Coffee Without Spiking Cortisol Levels
Stressed? Tired? Weak? Gaining weight? This could be an indication that your cortisol levels are high.
Cortisol gets a bad rep at times for the very things listed above. But, this stress hormone actually does a lot of good in your body. Problems simply arise when too much cortisol is produced or released.
Unfortunately, stress isn’t the only thing that causes cortisol levels to rise, caffeine, including caffeinated coffee, can prompt its release as well.
Wait? Does this mean aside from the stress you already encounter, your daily coffee routine could be raising your body’s cortisol levels as well? Potentially, yes.
But, thankfully there are some ways to combat this potential stress hormone surge!
Coffee brings a wealth of benefits to your body, even improving your health in the very areas elevated cortisol levels wreak havoc.
So, let’s take a look at how this stress hormone works, how coffee may or may not influence its release, and how you can still enjoy your brew without spiking cortisol production!
Cortisol and Your Body
Cortisol is a hormone produced and released by your adrenal glands. Primarily, it is your body’s top stress hormone, but it also works in many other ways as well.
Nearly every cell in your body has cortisol receptors as they need this hormone for a variety of reasons, including:
- keeping blood pressure levels regulated
- increasing the availability of what your body needs to repair tissues
- increasing your body’s ability to metabolize glucose
- allowing your brain to use glucose effectively
- improving immunity by curbing inflammation
Regarding stress, your adrenal glands increase the production and release of cortisol anytime you experience stress.
So far, this all sounds great, good, and helpful, right?
The thing is, cortisol levels need balance.
And, as most of your cells have cortisol receptors, your immune, nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, reproductive, musculoskeletal, and other body systems can all be affected when these levels lack this needed balance.
If your adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol you can experience:
- low blood pressure
- low blood sugar
- low blood sodium
- high potassium
- poor appetite
- unintentional weight loss
And, if your body produces or releases too much cortisol, you can experience an even wider range of adverse symptoms including:
- weight gain (typically in the abdominal region, upper back, and face)
- thinning of the skin
- facial flushing
- bruising easily
- slowed healing of wounds
- high blood pressure
- fatigue (sometimes severe)
- difficulty concentrating
- weak bones
- high blood sugar
- excessive hair growth (in women)
The most common cause of increased cortisol production is stress.
When you experience stress, your body has a built in way to ensure you can handle these dangerous or potentially harmful situations.
Ancestorally speaking, encountering a predator or something like overly extreme weather conditions would prompt a stress response from the body looking a little something like this:
A stressor is encountered, therefore hormones are released within the body to cause an increase in heart rate and respiration which pumps oxygenated blood throughout the body helping you think more clearly and run faster to get out of harm’s way.
Perhaps you’ve heard this called the fight-or-flight response?
This response essentially turns on in the face of danger or stress. Then, when the danger or stress is removed, your body signals when it’s time to turn this reaction off.
Today, we may not encounter predators regularly, nor do we live outdoors where extreme weather conditions routinely prompt quick-thinking and action, instead however, we often experience something that’s proven to be worse when it comes to the health of our bodies.
In today’s day and time we encounter seemingly smaller stressors, but in much greater frequency. In fact, they’re around every corner, sometimes occurring several times in a day, morning, even every hour.These come via traffic, work and family responsibilities, finances, relationships, and other demands and dynamics in life.
And, experiencing stress this frequently can cause a breakdown in this natural response where the body no longer recognizes when it’s appropriate to turn it off, causing excess amounts of these hormones, here cortisol, to remain in the body and lead to the laundry list of effects we mentioned earlier.
Left unchecked, the long term effects of increased cortisol levels within the body can lead to a greater risk of heart disease, obesity, anxiety, lung or breathing problems, depression, and more.
So then, where does coffee fit into this equation of stress and cortisol? I mean, coffee takes us to our happy place, right?
Coffee is our morning boost, our daily delight, and essentially a reliever of stress for many folks.
But, coffee also contains caffeine, and science has indicated that this stimulant does indeed affect cortisol levels.
You know that invigorating feeling you experience when you take that first sip of caffeinated coffee first thing in the morning. You finally feel awake, alive, and ready to tackle your day.
Well, part of the reason you feel this way with your first sip, or half a cup, of coffee is because caffeine (like stress) triggers the release of cortisol, and this is what makes you feel more awake or alert.
So then, with all the detriments we’ve just discussed that are associated with elevated cortisol levels, this coffee connection is something we definitely need to address.
And, since we all love coffee here, meaning the above sentence may or may not have initiated a bit of a fight or flight response, we’ll give a little spoiler…regular coffee drinkers might just get a pass here! Even better, those who drink clean, healthy coffee may get a double pass!
Coffee, Cortisol, and Your Body
Okay, so now we know that caffeine can prompt a cortisol release. And, we know that too much cortisol released over long periods of time creates big problems when it comes to our health.
So, does this mean all coffee lovers should switch to decaf to avoid elevated cortisol levels?
The caffeine component of coffee contains so many health benefits, so we definitely don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater here.
Nearly every area of your body that can be negatively affected by excess cortisol can be positively affected by coffee.
- Excess cortisol can reduce brain function, especially in elderly people. Coffee has been proven to improve alertness, memory, and cognitive performance as caffeine is absorbed into the bloodstream, reaching the brain and increasing those hormones responsible for cognitive activity, even protecting against neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Increased cortisol levels over long periods of time have been linked to weight gain, especially in the midsection (abdominal region). Coffee has been shown to aid in effective fat burning, positively influencing how your body burns energy by increasing thermogenesis and your metabolic rate.
- Too much cortisol in the body can lead to high blood sugar, potentially even leading to type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that drinking 4 cups of coffee per day may reduce one’s risk of diabetes by 30%. And, other research has indicated that the simple regular habit of drinking coffee reduces the overall risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
But, what about the fact that caffeine initiates the production and release of cortisol?
When it comes to coffee consumption and elevated cortisol levels, studies show these 5 things to be true…
1- Don’t Overdo it
In instances where folks consume high levels of caffeine, the same negative effects of chronic stress and elevated cortisol can occur.
Even worse, if you consume excessive, or high, levels of caffeine you may feel a drastic improvement in your mood, followed by a drastic dip, or what is often referred to as a caffeine crash.
This crash then prompts the need or craving for another high dose of caffeine, continuing a cycle of cortisol release that can lead to increased stress, disruptions in sleep patterns, and the wide range of health issues we covered in the section above.
How can you avoid this caffeinated cortisol trap as a coffee lover?
Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine consumed daily is considered safe for most healthy adults. This equates to 3-5 cups of coffee (not all at once, obviously) consumed daily.
And, small to moderate amounts of caffeine are actually proven to provide effective boosts to your mood.
In other words, simply stated, don’t overdo it.
One of the greatest threats to cortisol levels in regards to caffeine consumption lies in consuming high doses of caffeine. We like to say, even with coffee, all things in moderation.
2- Timing is Everything
To avoid any caffeine and cortisol release coincidence, experts suggest drinking caffeinated coffee during the times when cortisol levels naturally dip, or decrease.
While this timeframe can vary depending on your sleep schedule, the most common cortisol dip times tend to be between 9:30 and 11:00 am, then again between 2:00 and 5:00 pm.
This translates to a 1-4 hour waiting window before enjoying your caffeinated brew after waking.
Why the delay?
Cortisol levels are said to be lowest around midnight. Then, these levels increase 2-3 hours after sleep, where they continue rising through the time when you awake in the morning to greet the day.
Researchers suggest these levels ultimately peak around 9:00 am. So, if you awake at roughly 6:00 am, this would translate to a 3 ½ hour wait time to enjoy your brew, when cortisol levels are at their lowest and you could really use a pick-me-up.
So, when we reach for our precious java first thing in the morning, our cortisol levels are already elevated, meaning we could risk pushing these levels to extremes.
Truly, upon waking, despite how drowsy many of us feel, if we persevere through those first sleepy moments, our cortisol levels can effectively move us through the morning hours. Then, when this hormone dips, reaching for our morning cup of joe would be most effective.
3- Regular Coffee Drinkers May get a Free Pass
People who drink coffee regularly seem to not be as affected by caffeine’s natural cortisol releasing prompt.
Some folks claim that over time, they build a tolerance to the stimulating effects of caffeine, and this appears to be true for cortisol as well.
So, caffeine’s link to elevated cortisol levels seems to be most common in those that sporadically enjoy coffee (or caffeine in general), meaning those people who only drink caffeinated coffee on occasion are the ones most likely to notice a surge in cortisol production.
Contrarily, those folks who regularly drink caffeinated coffee (daily, or each morning, for example) seem to be less affected in this manner.
Essentially, drinking caffeine regularly still prompts the release of cortisol, but in a less dramatic way as the body tempers this response over time, viewing this moderate consumption as normal.
4- Beware of the Perfect Storm
Whether you’re a regular morning coffee drinker or not, if your body is already experiencing the effects of high cortisol levels, particularly from excessive stress, you could be exacerbating these effects with caffeine consumption.
Basically, your body may be more sensitive to the cortisol producing/releasing effects of caffeine when you’re under intense stress.
In such circumstances, your body is already on cortisol production overdrive, and while you may have built up a tolerance to regular caffeine consumption in relation to cortisol, during such times, this tolerance may be eroded, causing your body to be affected in ways it otherwise has not been.
Practically speaking, in times of extreme stress, it’s advisable to be more aware of your caffeine consumption, including coffee.
5- Keep it Clean!
When it comes to cortisol, drinking clean coffee is a must!
Other than caffeine’s ability to raise cortisol levels, there are a few other things that may be lurking in your coffee which can cause these surges as well.
Coffee is one of the most heavily treated products in the world.
And, drinking coffee with pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer residue not only sounds unappealing, it also causes inflammation within the body, and inflammation leads to spikes in cortisol levels.
Another cause of inflammation when it comes to coffee is the presence of mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins are naturally produced by molds and other fungi, and due to growing and processing practices, most mass-produced coffee contains an abundance of them!
The presence of mycotoxins increases inflammation, which we just mentioned can trigger a cortisol response/release, but mycotoxins in and of themselves, apart from inflammation, also cause a surge in cortisol, making coffee and cortisol a potential lose-lose situation.
This is why it is imperative to drink clean, sustainably grown, chemical and mycotoxin free coffee!
To support the health of our planet and our bodies, Lifeboost coffee is never grown or processed with the use of chemicals.
Lifeboost coffee is also elevation grown under a canopy of shade from neighboring plant life in the rainforest mountains.
This not only negates the use of chemicals in the growing process, as neighboring plant and animal life act as natural fertilizers and pest deterrents, but also means that our coffee cherries grow to maturity at a slower rate in this cool shade.
This produces a more nutrient dense coffee bean, and the high elevations allow rainwaters to freely flow down the mountain away from the coffee plants. Less moisture from lingering rainwater means less mold growth.
Our processing methods also allow our beans to fully dry in the sun, an added measure to reduce mycotoxins.
Then, all Lifeboost coffee is 3rd party tested for molds, mycotoxins, pesticides, heavy metals, and 400+ other toxins to ensure our customers receive the cleanest coffee possible!
The bottom line here today? Cortisol levels need balance, and when too much of this stress hormone is produced and released into your body, your health can suffer.
Caffeine can increase cortisol levels, and of course, unless you’re drinking decaf, coffee contains caffeine.
To enjoy your brew without elevating cortisol levels, remember to:
- Consume caffeine in moderate amounts.
- Wait 1-4 hours after waking before enjoying your first cup, if you can. If not, studies show regular coffee drinkers seem to be immune to the cortisol surge associated with caffeine consumption.
- If you only sporadically enjoy coffee, you are most susceptible to a cortisol surge due to your brew’s caffeine content. So, such folks would most benefit from waiting the recommended time period before consuming caffeine.
- If you’re already under a lot of stress, your body’s cortisol levels are likely high; therefore, consuming extra caffeine during such a time may increase cortisol excessively.
- Always drink clean coffee! If your coffee is produced with the use of harsh chemicals and/or contains mycotoxins, these are a recipe for cortisol-surging disaster.
Check out Lifeboost Coffee Embolden Dark Roast.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Charles Livingston nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.
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