Coffee, a staple drink for 90% of North Americans is derived from roasting, grinding and brewing the harvested berries of the coffea arabica or coffea robusta plant. 1 cup of coffee contains between 60 and 100 mg of caffeine. Known as a mild central nervous system stimulant and psychoactive drug, caffeine has the potential for addiction. Known for providing a boost to your energy, mood and mental performance, there are some compelling scientific studies showing that moderate consumption of coffee may have other positive health benefits.

However, coffee is not for everyone. While some people thrive on coffee, others are sensitive to the many deleterious effects. Let’s explore the health benefits, negative effects and potential ways to make your coffee beverage a healthier addition to your diet.

The Health Benefits of Coffee

Most people drink coffee to increase alertness and to fight fatigue, especially in the morning or mid-afternoon. Coffee is used by athletes to increase endurance and to help direct the body to burn fat as the primary fuel during work-outs. For many cultures, coffee drinking is a ritual shared amongst friends and family which may have a positive impact on mood and provide a sense of social connectedness. Regular coffee consumption has been linked to decreased risk of dementia and Parkinson’s disease and in a 2009 study, it was shown that nurses who drank 2 cups of coffee daily had a lower incidence of stroke compared to those who drank less.

The Negative Effects of Coffee

Coffee may increase your energy during the day but this effect may linger and lead to disturbed sleep patterns, or difficulty falling asleep at night. To avoid this negative effect, I encourage my patients to avoid the 2pm, ‘caffeine fix’ and choose a healthy, high protein snack at this time instead. If you need to have a drink, choose green tea, or a Swiss water method decaffeinated coffee.

Coffee is an acidic beverage which may aggravate heart burn. As a mild diuretic, coffee can increase your urine production. In some people this may lead to dehydration and the elimination of electrolytes. Electrolytes, the electrically charged minerals such as magnesium, calcium and sodium are essential for the proper function of your muscles, heart and brain. When your electrolytes are disrupted, you may be more prone to muscle twitching and brain fog. Caffeine also raises the stress hormone epinephrine in the body which can elevate your blood pressure.

So, What is the Safe Upper Limit?

Like most things in life, moderation is key. 300 mg of caffeine daily is the safe limit which is equivalent to approximately 3, 250 ml cups of coffee. According to the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual for mental disorders, coffee dependence is a mental disorder. Some of the negative health effects associated with chronic caffeine over consumption and addiction include: anxiety, panic attacks, tremor, nervousness, irritability, rambling of thought, flushed face, gastrointestinal disturbance, heart palpitation and insomnia.

Make Your Beverage Healthier

For many people, coffee can be a source of unnecessary calories, when unhealthy fixings such as non-dairy creamers, sugar, and whipped cream are added. A 6 ounce cup of black coffee contains only 6 calories; therefore my recommendation is to have it black. It may take some time to get used to; however, it’s the first step to making your coffee healthier. If you really can’t live without the sugar, add stevia. Stevia is a plant based sweetener that will not raise your insulin and blood sugar levels. Cinnamon is another alternative to sugar. It’s not inherently sweet; however, it will add flavour. In scientific studies, cinnamon has been shown to increase circulation, decrease cholesterol levels and lower your risk for type 2 diabetes.

If you find yourself depending on coffee to improve your energy, or if you are not able to function at work without it, you may want to see your health practitioner to determine if there is an underlying cause for your fatigue. Perhaps you are iron deficient, have low thyroid function or not eating your meals at regular intervals. If you are a true lover of coffee, you may not have to ditch it, just have it in moderation, stay hydrated and be mindful of any side effects.

About the Author

Dr. Olivia Rose graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Nutritional and Nutraceutical Sciences and in 2006, she graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.

In addition to her private practice, Dr. Rose is the director of Fertility Acupuncture Services, a mobile service that brings acupuncture to couples undergoing in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination at Toronto fertility clinics. Her special areas of interest include infertility; children and teen health; stress management; weight loss; heart disease; digestive and immune health; skin rejuvenation and pain management. She is a birth doula and has additional training in cosmetic acupuncture and needle-less therapies for skin rejuvenation and joint pain.

Dr. Rose is a sought-after lecturer for community organizations; a freelance writer and mentor to new graduates. She has been interviewed by various media outlets including Global Toronto’s, “The Morning Show”, “News at Noon” and “News Hour”. In her free time, she unplugs at the spa and she enjoys spending quality time with her husband, son and tea-cup Yorkie. For more information on Dr. Rose's practice and special events, please visit -