In attempts of fighting off the sleepiness that had been bothering me for the whole day, the first thing I did when I got home this afternoon was brew some fresh coffee. A tradition growing up, drinking coffee is not only a habit, but an integral part of my life and diet. While a good cup of coffee hits the spot and appeals to my taste buds, the act of drinking a “cup of joe” also serves the purpose of a social gathering in my household. Our afternoon coffee sessions offer us a time to kick back for a few minutes and reflect on how the day has been.
As I took my first sip, a sense of euphoria ran through my body. It’s as if my body instantly recognizes the introduction of such stimulant. Sometimes, I think that the psychological, or placebo effect, of the simple act of drinking coffee plays a huge role in it. I have tried drinking caffeinated teas and energy drinks, and while I do get a kick out of them, it is not the same as a warm cup of coffee.
Pondering on how caffeine works in the human body, I recollected my doctor telling me that I should cut back on my caffeine consumption. While I do consider the valued points that are always made on the topic of ceasing the intake of caffeine, I choose to blindly ignore it. Experience dietitians and nutritional counselors make the point what of all food addictions that people claim difficult to give up, coffee drinking can be one of the most challenging. This because “it is so entrenched in cultural habits” and this is definitely something I personally identify with (Rafetto, M., Grumet, T., & French, G., 2004).
While I experience the side effects of caffeine on a daily basis, I decided to look into it and specifically how it affects my digestive health. Although most common symptoms are experienced in the nervous and cardiovascular systems, the bowels take a huge toll when it comes to caffeine consumption. Being a stimulant, it does speed up a lot of things. Lots of people experience increased colonic motor activity, or the desire to defecate (Boekema, P., Samsom, M., van Berge Henegouwen, G., & Smout, A., 1999). This is because peristalsis, the muscular contractions of the digestive lining, is stimulated. This helps propel food through your bowels faster. Cases of loose stools or even diarrhea can occur. Large amounts of caffeine can increase the levels of stress hormones circulating the body. To compensate this elevation, the body focuses on increasing your heartbeat, and focuses less on digesting the food in your belly. Overall, this can lead to indigestion. Also, because of the acidic nature of coffee, it can cause the “hypersecretion of gastric acids” (Rafetto, M., Grumet, T., & French, G., 2004). As food is rushed out of your stomach, it can carry and dump these acids to your small intestine, furthering the damage the Crohn’s has already done to my poor digestive tract.
While regurgitating this information, I found it scary to think how harmful this substance really is. It is even scarier when you consider how we tend to overdo and overuse caffeine, especially after reading about lethal overdoses involving young people and energy drinks. I am not here declaring a war against caffeine. I know that for some people and certain conditions, caffeine has incredible positive effects. Studies ran by the FDA indicate that “moderate amounts of caffeine are not harmful.” This means that 200mg, or one to two 5-ounce cups of coffee each day is not going to kill you.
By a choice I made myself, I decided that I am starting a caffeine challenge today. To personally test out the effects of caffeine withdrawal and investigate how it affects my body and my Crohn’s, I will refrain from using caffeine for 30 days. I am aware that this is a stimulant, and withdrawal symptoms are expected in the road ahead of me. The whole purpose of this personal experiment of mine is to see if I feel better without it. Here’s to the next 30 days!
Boekema, P., Samsom, M., van Berge Henegouwen, G., & Smout, A. (1999). Coffee and gastrointestinal function: facts and fiction. A review. Scandinavian Journal Of Gastroenterology. Supplement, 23035-
Rafetto, M., Grumet, T., & French, G. (2004). Effects of Caffeine and Coffee on Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, & Colitis. Retrieved from https://secure.teeccino.com/images/uploads/pages/File/colon.pdf.