What’s Wrong With Coffee?

Many years ago, I visited a holistic doctor seeking help for my allergies, mysterious skin rashes and fatigue. I filled out a dietary questionnaire which he read carefully. Then he looked me straight in the eyes and pronounced: “I cannot help you unless you give up coffee.”

US Coffee Facts

Since he offered me no other remedy, I followed his advice.  I was not a big coffee drinker—a couple of cups in the morning and perhaps one in the late afternoon, nothing more.  I did not drink sodas or other caffeinated beverages. Still, giving it up was the hardest thing I ever did—I had headaches and cravings every day for about a month.

But once that was over, what a difference! The major change was an increase in energy levels.  In my coffee-drinking days, I had plenty of energy in the morning—almost manic energy—but then slowly wound down in the afternoon and evenings, so much so that I could barely function after dinner.  Since quitting coffee, I have steady energy all day long—from getting up to going to bed, including plenty of energy to work or write after dinner.  By bedtime, I am not so much tired as sleepy, and usually go to sleep the minute my head hits the pillow.  (And yes, the allergies and rashes got better too.)

Here’s a testimonial from another former coffee addict: “I struggled with my coffee addiction for a long time.  When I quit. . . I was surprised by the benefits. . . I could go through the day without getting tired. I was much more even tempered with my children.  I didn’t’ need coffee to get me going in the morning once I had been off it for about two weeks. What I didn’t expect was that my whole body felt better. Aches, pains and headaches that sent me to the chiropractor every three weeks were gone.  Also, my thyroid antibodies went from over 1000 to under 500.”

So what’s so bad about coffee?  Coffee mainly affects the adrenal glands—specifically the inner part of the glands, the adrenal medulla–causing them to produce more adrenalin, the fight-or-flight hormone, which wakes you up and gets you moving.

The problem is that after an adrenalin rush, the exterior part of the adrenal glands, the adrenal cortex, produces a flood of hormones that calm you down and bring you back into homeostasis—the so-called rest-and-digest hormones such as cortisol. The human body was not designed to be in an adrenalin rush all the time.  As an example, look at tribal peoples who depend on hunting for their food.  Hunting is the job of the men and to get ready for the hunt, they often perform exercises or a dance to get the adrenalin rushing. But after the hunt, they relax—stand around and laugh and gossip for a week or more.  The women, on the other hand, do the steady work of gathering and food preparation, work that does not require an adrenalin rush. They can work throughout the day and not get tired.

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Constant stress on the adrenal glands leads to what’s called adrenal fatigue, where it’s harder to produce the adrenalin rush, but even worse, harder to relax and repair. Coffee puts us in an adrenalin-pushing mode day after day, twenty-four-seven. 

Kidneys & Adrenal Glands

The job of adrenal cortex hormones is to enable your body to deal with stress of every kind, ranging from injury and disease to work and relationship problems.  Your resiliency, energy, endurance and everything you do that makes your life meaningful and happy depend on the robust product of adrenal cortex hormones. If the adrenal glands must continuously produce cortisol—either from prolonged stress or prolonged coffee consumption—the glands can no longer respond or function normally.

Common adrenal fatigue symptoms include sleep problems, depression, reduced tolerance for stress, increase in the number of infections, anxiety, sweet cravings, and often feeling cold.

As the adrenal glands are involved in the production of sex hormones, it’s not surprising that  hormonal problems often subside after quitting coffee—menstruation becomes more regular and less uncomfortable; PMS often disappears. Another benefit seems to be improved joint and tendon health and a reduced tendency to injury.

But most importantly, without coffee (and, needless to say, other caffeinated beverages), it is easier to stay calm throughout the day, to stay on an even keel in the face of life’s difficulties, both small and large.

Of course, there are plenty of articles on the Internet touting the benefits of coffee—for everything from better digestion to weight loss.  Beware! The coffee industry is a powerful one—coffee is the second largest traded commodity after oil! They know how to design “studies” to make their product look good. How can anything that hammers the adrenal glands without providing any nourishments whatsoever be good for you?

How to quit?  Here are some suggestions that will make it easier.

  1. Eat a good breakfast.  A good breakfast includes eggs (any way you like), meat (like bacon, sausage or steak), sourdough bread with plenty of butter, raw whole milk and possibly some fresh fruit—not cereal, donuts, breakfast rolls or pop tarts, and certainly not orange juice and. . . coffee! 
  2. Emphasize nutrient-dense foods such as liver, lard, cod liver oil, fish eggs, egg yolks, pastured butter and raw dairy products. In particular, vitamin A in cod liver oil and animal fats like butter is essential for healthy adrenal function.
  3. Avoid all industrial seed oils as they disrupt hormone production; saturated fats like butter, lard and tallow support healthy hormone production.
  4. For coffee-withdrawal headache, try the homeopathic remedy coffea cruda.  Homeopathic remedies can have the opposite effect from the substance from which they are derived. You can also take coffea cruda before bed to counteract insomnia.
  5. Here’s a great coffee substitute:  place 1 tablespoon coconut oil and 1 tablespoon molasses, plus ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger in a mug. Add boiling water and stir.

If you have successfully quit coffee and experienced health benefits, please do post your story in the comment section—to encourage others!

The Weston A. Price Foundation is your source for accurate information on diet and health.  Your membership supports the work we do.

Author: Sally Fallon Morell

Sally Fallon Morell is best known as the author of Nourishing Traditions®: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. This well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods contains a startling message: animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper function of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels.

58 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Coffee?”

  1. Over the years I went off coffee many times because coffee washes out the B vitamins, and my eyes would start twitching. I switched to drinking green tea, felt good, no eye twitching, and could keep up my work schedule as a single Mom. Question: does green tea really do the same thing with the Adrenal Glands? Do all the teas operate the same as coffee? Or is there a difference?

    1. Hi—thanks for posing this question as this is something I’ve also asked the WAPF and have never received an answer. So, I’ll just share what I’ve learned so far…

      In the book “Caffeine Blues”, Cherniske mentions that at the end of the day, caffeine is caffeine—no matter how you take it. Notice that Fallon states in her post “and other caffeinated beverages…” — so I assume she lumps everything together.

      In his encyclopaedia of herbal medicine, Bartram mentions that “prolonged consumption of strong tea, coffee and other caffeine drinks leads to a deficiency of B1…”

      I am a tea enthusiast and can say that I still have issues with caffeine—tea has less caffeine and an amino acid called L-theanine which produces a calm feeling (calm & alert is how I feel after drinking Japanese green teas such as gyokuro and matcha). Some teas, such as pu’er and kukicha are quite low in caffeine. Apparently, tea also has anti-nutrients (so-called “tannins”) which can contribute to vitamin/mineral depletion.

      I try to give give myself a break for a couple of days when I can—this is something many tea experts will also tell you because they have learned that you can’t taste tea properly if you always keep drinking it (it all just starts to taste bitter). This is what I believe to be the body’s safety mechanism.

      Fallon also mentions in Nourishing Traditions that if you must drink caffeine, you must make sure that you are getting lots of vitamins, nutrient dense food, etc.

      Tea, I believe, is better than coffee—so therefore a compromise. If someone can’t quit coffee, I recommend drinking it like the Italians do—as ristretto/espresso—much healthier apparently. The eastern way of drinking tea (gong fu cha, Japanese tea ceremony, etc.), also focuses on drinking in small amounts—taste is the focus—quality over quantity.

      I try to eat healthily, I don’t smoke and I drink very little alcohol. I normally stick to high quality tea—prepared in the eastern way with no sugar or milk. If I drink coffee which is once in a while, it’s always a ristretto or espresso — again no milk or sugar added. I also take caffeine breaks every couple of days (without noticing any significant withdrawal symptoms).

      I suppose the old adage is ‘the dose makes the poison’.

      I hope this helps.

      Feel free to follow me on Instagram: leaf_review

      NB I am not selling anything on Instagram — I’m just a pure tea enthusiast—or what we call a teahead 🙂

    2. I would also like to add that caffeine has a 12-hour cycle in the body (see Dr Chatterjee’s podcast)—so drink caffeine only in the morning, if possible.

      And referring back to eastern brewing… the Chinese, for example, drink many cups of tea—but all from one small serving of tea leafs—multiple infusions (25 seconds each). Each infusion has different notes, tastes etc. It is all about appreciation and even meditation, contemplation, etc.

      1. @ the first post about green tea.

        Here is yet another idea—try brewing your green tea cold—another eastern practice that does not extract too much caffeine from the leaves. If you drink green tea, or any other tea for that matter, make sure it’s whole leaf tea—this would enable you to make multiple infusions (and is of much better quality and taste). Fukamushi sencha is one of the best green teas to brew/infuse cold. I hope this helps again.

    3. Yes this! I’ve been back on the coffee train this winter and I notice my eye twitching! I’ve been convinced it’s the caffeine. I usually switch to green tea as well and then taper off. This article is the push I need. I’ve been feeling the ill effects of having it in my system. It’s strongly addictive for me.

        1. Same! And I was shocked at how many symptoms of adrenal fatigue I’ve been experiencing. My husband seems fine, though as a Swede he drinks way more coffee than I do. But I started consistently drinking at least one cup per day around 7 years ago. I just assumed at the ripe old age of 25 my body was just naturally not as strong as it used to be. Turns out, if most of my issues can be traced back to coffee, I might still have a chance to turn this around!

        2. Me too. Its been driving me nuts.
          I also have bad knees so I’m knocking off the coffee ASAP. Going to try the suggested coconut oil/molasses/ginger recipe.

    4. I have been off coffee for almost 2 months. I’ve smoke cigarettes before, and this was a harder addiction to beat. 2 cups maximum, pour over. I used to stay up until midnight/2 am most days, sleep as late as possible, and groggily drink my coffee to wake up. Now I can easily fall asleep at 9 or 10, and wake up feeling rested at 6am. A very positive life change. I used an organic decaf to wean myself, matcha until I realized it also gave me terrible headaches when I stopped, and now I drink dandy blend when I feel like it. I would recommend everyone quit the slave juice, but most people “love” coffee too much to even consider it. It’s definitely an addiction.

  2. Hi, Sally. I have a question (not related to coffee).

    In your books, you recommend taking two teaspoons of cod liver oil. However, the brand you recommend, Green Pasture, says a serving size is 2 ml. How much should we take?

  3. I was surprised to see that I’m in a small fraction of Americans who don’t drink coffee. I can’t even drink decaffeinated tea because it makes me too jittery. Regarding molasses, be careful because unless it’s certified organically grown and processed, it’s guaranteed to carry poison sprays applied during the growing season. It’s also sugar so who needs it, anyway.

  4. Hi Sally, thank you for this informative post! I found your book Nourishing Traditions in college, my teachers were farmers and recommended your book! You mentioned to stay away from orange juice, I’ve never heard of this recommendation, can you explain why one should not drink OJ?

    1. Commercial orange juice is full of the worst kind of pesticides, used on oranges, they are cholinesterase inhibitors.  And any kind of orange juice, even freshly squeezed from organic oranges, will be very sweet.  As a substitute, make a spritzer with 1 squeezed organic orange and sparkling water–delicious and not too sweet.
      Best, Sally

    2. Typically has added sugars to it and any fruit juice can spike your insulin. It’s better to eat a whole orange that is organic with the fiber in it than the juice of it where you take out the fiber.

    3. 1 Fruit has only so much juice and fructose. The body was made to handle so much at one time. OJ juice is a concentration of several oranges, so it spikes the blood sugar.

  5. In the mid 80s, Jeffrey Bland MD tested caffeine clearance in his entire staff. He gave a standardized dose of caffeine and tracked its clearance in urine. He didn’t expect to find much difference, but was surprised to find caffeine clearance by the liver varied from 1/2 hour to as long as THIRTY hours! Those of us who have slower clearance will be especially vulnerable to the negative effects of caffeine on our adrenals.

    1. Yes for me it’s more than “12 hours” standard, it just is. I”m awake at 3 am up till if I have coffee at 8 am!

  6. I’ve quit serious coffee addiction several times, and after a couple agonizing withdrawals where I went through all those flu-like symptoms for weeks/days, somebody told me to do the following, and it totally works: Switch to black tea for a week or two (or however long you want), then taper off the black tea. Done!
    Black tea will keep away those headaches and feelings of total exhaustion, without a big coffee-type spike. It’s much smoother. I’ve done this several times and it works GREAT. Basically the no-suffering approach, at least for me. So, when I go through a period in life where I really need to rely on coffee for a while due to work demands, highway driving, or whatever, I no longer dread getting myself back off it. In fact, I enjoy black tea, so I kind of look forward to the change.

    1. I needed this advice. Tried quitting coffee many times, but can’t come up with some hot drink alternatives that are healthy. Somehow drinking hot water in the morning doesn’t appeal to me at all.

      1. How about some herbal tea? There are so many good blends to try, and they are without caffeine. That’s what I’m considering doing. I’ll do black tea for a while, then switch to green tea, and then hopefully I can go to drinking herbal tea without too extreme coffee withdrawal symptoms.

    1. That is what I am doing: 1 TB grass fed butter and 1 TB MCT oil and cold brew from organic, single origin, mold free, Swiss rinsed coffee beans (Purity, Fabula brands to name a few.) I add adaptogens and extra water.

      Please advise, Sally.

      I am 45 and only started drinking coffee 1.5 years ago.

      1. I made it all through college and graduate school without coffee. Had lots of energy from walking miles per day, eating traditionally, and enjoyment of learning. Then started drinking it for my first job at 30. Terrible choice I made with the coffee. Took until I was 35 to fully quit, but I wanted to quit almost as soon as I started it because it affected me terribly. I would advise you to quit drinking coffee asap (even stuff marketed as “mold-free” or ‘bulletproof”.

  7. What do you think of Decaf coffee? Also, what about the mycotoxins in coffee. I’ve heard coffee is full of mold.

  8. What about all the studies that show Coffee is healthy?

    Coffee consumption affects energy intake, satiety regulation, body fat, and protects DNA integrity – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0963996914003378

    Coffee induces autophagy in vivo – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24769862/

    3 cups of coffee a day can help you live longer, decade-long study concludes – https://www.sundayworld.com/lifestyle/health-fitness/three-cups-of-coffee-a-day-can-help-you-live-longer-decade-long-study-concludes-41331061.html

    Coffee could be good for bone health – https://www.mdlinx.com/internal-medicine/article/6262

    Coffee won’t upset your heartbeat, and might even calm it – https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-07-coffee-wont-heartbeat-calm.html

    Coffee Drinking and Mortality in 10 European Countries – in 521,330 participants from 10 different countries, those in the highest quartile of coffee consumption had statistically lower all-cause mortality. The relationship was consistent and did not vary by country – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28693038/?from_single_result=28693038&expanded_search_query=28693038

    Coffee Consumption and Mortality From All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer:
    A meta-analysis of 21 studies featuring 997,464 participants also shows promise. In particular, the research shows that coffee consumption has a cler inverse relationship with cardiovascular mortality – https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/180/8/763/2739131

    Drinking Java Linked to Prevention of Heart Disease and Stroke – https://www.newsweek.com/prevent-heart-disease-and-stroke-just-drinking-coffee-709807

    Relationship between coffee consumption and stroke risk in Korean population – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5282694/

    Possible Health Effects of Caffeinated Coffee Consumption on Alzheimer’s Disease and Cardiovascular Disease -https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3834513/

    Coffee and tea drinking may be associated with reduced rates of stroke and dementia – https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-11-coffee-tea-dementia.html

    Higher coffee intake may be linked to lower prostate cancer risk –

    Coffee May Slow Spread of Colon Cancer – https://www.newsmax.com/Health/health-news/coffee-colon-cancer/2020/09/18/id/987594/

    Coffee protects against liver cancer – https://www.mdlinx.com/news/coffee-protects-against-liver-cancer-while-alcohol-is-linked-with-numerous-cancers/54YoeXhGShhVmdrjqKZksJ?show_order=6&tag=Morning&utm_campaign=malert_080621_Psych_B&utm_medium=email&utm_source=iPost&ipost_environment=m3usainc&iqs=9z2z8ghpiq4f4lf2d4dvnut9roq2o4ib153mb2fpkg8

    1. It looks like they really want us to drink coffee. I love coffee myself and tried to quit a couple of times because I know it has detrimental effects on my health. Perhaps this time I will quit for good.

    2. I am a coffee drinker and if I just add a tough extra coffee, my heart beats like crazy, so not sure how accurate this studdies are.

    3. I suppose there’s also studies that show that the Covid death jabs are good for you too. Lol. It’s all about who funded and facilitated the “study”

  9. I like the idea of your substitute recipe #5. I have enjoyed Dandy Blend for a coffee substitute on occasion. What are your thoughts on that?
    I have had long periods where I didn’t drink coffee then resumed for various reasons (the current one because I have an active and early rising 2 year old! 5:30! Needs a new diaper!)

    PS you really helped me 2 years ago when I needed to switch my then newborn from commercial formula to your recommended one – he has really thrived after that change!

  10. Hi Sally~over the years I have donated cookbooks to keep my “library” growth in check but all of yours never leave home : ) Your books are tried and true-thankful I “found” you years ago.
    As for caffeine, what are your thoughts on Teechino-brand products. I am a coffee lover and find these coffee substitutes quite enjoyable. But I start the day with organic lemon/ACV/fresh ginger in warm water, as well. Appreciatively~nancy

  11. Thanks, Sally. I’ve now done away with all food & drink containing caffeine. I want to be happy, strong and healthy!
    Best wishes

    1. YEAH PATRICK! Adults can make healthy choices! What a shining example for all, including young people. Thank you!

  12. A few people have asked and I didn’t see a response so I’ll ask again as I would love to know the answer…is it ok to drink decaf coffee? I agree and am convinced I need to get off caffeinated coffee, especially after reading this, but I really love the taste of coffee. Thank you in advance for your response!

  13. there is a link between caffeine, cortisol, and how the human body stores fat

    as I understand the process, when we have caffeine in our system we are telling the body to store fat and, in particular, to store that fat around our mid-section

    it’s even worse than that – we are actually telling our body to create visceral fat which gets stored around all of the internal organs

    one of the interesting things about visceral fat is that the fat itself creates hormones including estrogen and cortisol

    the cortisol produced by the visceral fat exacerbates (enhances) the overall process so even more fat is produced – rinse and repeat

    in my younger days I jogged 5+ miles 7 days a week (US military, finest training available) – got my body fat down to 7% (avg male is about 15%) – even at 7% overall body fat, I STILL had fat on my abdomen and love handles – well, guess what, I was a coffee fiend – drank the stuff all day

    in my later life I switched from jogging to yoga but still drank coffee and still had fat around my mid-section – did an intense yoga program over a 5-week period – gave up coffee during this time – at the end of the 5 weeks the fat around my middle was mostly gone – I remember walking down the street with my pants nearly falling off my hips and thinking to myself, I feel sexy! (and I need to buy some new clothes)

    I suggest that if you are serious about maintaining a low fat level in your body, try giving up caffeine for 60 days and see what happens

    1. Thank you. I feel strongly motivated by your experience. That visceral fat really worries me since one side of my family has a history of neurological issues.

  14. Why not just switch to decaf? Question has been asked twice with no answer. According to what I have read, the decaf eliminates 97% of caffeine.

  15. I only started drinking coffee because of I have hemochromatosis…I store iron. In order to keep my ferritin levels in check, coffee — instant coffee — is a recommended food source that helps blunt the absorption of iron, particularly heme-iron, and of all the foods that I consume (green tea is next in line) coffee is considered the best antidote to iron overload.

    FWIW, I don’t like it.

  16. Coffee is the best. You’re all pointing to the bad, but the good far outweighs it. It’s a mood enhancer, for one. Mind over all.

    1. I posted this and now I see that I was wrong. I feel much better, calmer, and saner without coffee. I still drink tea and get some caffeine that way, but it’s nothing like the wired, delusional, trance-like state coffee induced. Grateful that I have been able to kick it forever. I don’t recognize the person I was on coffee, and I don’t like that person.

  17. I drink one or two cups of coffee, usually in the morning. I’ve read theses things about coffee many times and actually quit altogether a few time over the years to reap the benefits of no caffeine. BUT nothing ever happened!! And I am a very body sensitive person. I have had lots of digestive issues etc and Im always FEEL my body change with what I eat, how I sleep, stress and so on. But staying away from coffee never made any discernible difference. How could that be? Am I just one of those people that metabolize caffeine very well?

  18. My husband and I have been off coffee for seven weeks today. Your article resonates with me. I was a consistent insomniac and now I can have a decent nights sleep. I wake up but fall back to sleep and feel relaxed and comfortable. I have steady energy throughout the day without having the mid day crash. I also feel more calm in the morning and don’t experience the jitters. It took about five weeks to get over our coffee addiction. I woke up two night with panic attacks and had major eye twitching for two weeks. The withdrawal symptoms are real and people should know what to expect. I tried to find information on withdrawal symptoms from coffee but it was just the standard headaches and saying it only takes 3-9 days. Wrong, it takes much longer. Coffee is not a beneficial substance for every day consumption.

  19. I have now been off coffee and all caffeine for a full year. This is after many many attempts to quit. As a working mother I “needed” it to get through the day. However, I had every symptom of adrenal fatigue that Sally lists here. I was also addicted to sugar. After the first 3 months of eliminating both caffeine and sugar, I slowly started to see the light and energy come back. These are toxins!!! Caffeine, sugar and processed food are the worst toxins!!! I’m so glad these drugs are no longer part of my life. I am down 30 lbs and my adrenal glands are healing- I will never go back.

    Thank you Sally for sticking to the truth. Even when it’s not popular.

  20. Hello, Could you please kindly speak a bit more in depth about the pros/ cons of de-caffeinated swiss water filtered organic coffee. Does this also deplete minerals and impact the adrenals/ cortisol in the same way caffeinated coffee does? Is the method of action different in decaf coffee than caffeinated coffee? What is the impact of the other constituents besides caffeine in decaf coffee? Thank you.

  21. Very curious to hear a response to the question that has been asked several times. Is decaf coffee ok to drink?

  22. I am really interested in more information regarding rash & coffee consumption. I have had an awful rash for a year. Allergist said I was allergic to a few environmental things including mold. I quit drinking coffee while waiting for a shipment of mold free coffee. After 4-5 days my skin began to clear up! I stopped drinking coffee for several months then I slowly started drinking it again and my rash came back! I stopped coffee again for a few weeks but still have the rash. Could you provide more info regarding this? Thank you!

  23. Bonjour! Le café peut il être remplacer par de la chicorée? Ou plutôt du décaféiné? Merci

  24. it took me years to realize or maybe just accept that coffee was causing me joint pain. In the last year it finally got bad enough that I quit coffee. It took several weeks for the pain in my joints, especially shoulders, to subside but I am finally feeling real relief. Because I missed coffee I tried some decaf the other day, and the joint pain came back within a few hours, so apparently my body is not ok with caffeine on any level.

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