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Why Stop Drinking Coffee & Black Tea?
Drinking serves many functions: to quench thirst, for ritual, comfort and sharing, and also to warm or cool and to feed. Nowadays, drinking tea and coffee has become an accepted 'punctuation' to the day. Their stimulating effects have made them universally popular, but there are many good reasons to cut out excessive drinking of these two favourites.
Coffee: its chemistry, uses and abuses
In the Sudan and Abyssinia, where the coffee plant grows wild, the natives chew the berry raw, as a stimulant. They know the limitations of this plant and know that, occasionally and in its raw, whole state, it is useful. (All poisonous plants are useful at certain times and coffee’s stimulative qualities can halt comatose states or reverse the effects of other poisons.) However, moderate and certainly excessive intake may cause insomnia, muscle tremor, restlessness and overworking of the kidneys and the bowel – the latter, in turn, causing constipation. Excessive caffeine consumption can contribute to agoraphobia or other anxiety conditions due to continual over-activity of the sympathetic nervous system, giving way to a lower than normal threshold of panic. High caffeine consumption may, in addition, contribute to the precipitation of acute hypoglycaemia due to worn-out adrenal glands. Coffee strips the adrenal glands of two B vitamins, choline and inositol, and this, in turn, lowers the body’s resistance to infection, increases demineralization of the bones, and water retention can occur. It can also cause the constant robbing of proteins from the body, and may eat away our stomach cells and give us ulcers. Caffeine toxicity can even produce cognitive impairment (delirium). Most dangerous of all, it can cause heart palpitations and tachycardia.
A recent story told to me by a fellow herbal practitioner illustrates the general public’s short memory concerning the harmful effects of coffee. A woman who was, in fact, working at an NHS hospital at the time found herself getting quite drastic heart palpitations and feared the worst. Several tests were carried out and a thorough case history was taken by the staff. No clues or answers were thrown up by these efforts and her condition deteriorated to the point that she feared severe heart attacks. Her fear increased one day while she hung around to hear the results of yet further and more complicated tests. As she waited, a friend (the herbal practitioner) turned up to keep her company as she had just heard of her problem and sought to provide moral support. During the course of an hour, my friend counted the number of cups of coffee she consumed – something in the region of five cups from a dispensing machine. She then pronounced her diagnosis about her friend’s heart problem: simply too much coffee. Not surprisingly, the advice fell on deaf ears at first from the staff involved in the testing. However, my friend's powers of persuasion to cut out coffee for a period resulted in a clean bill of health after a very short time, with a complete elimination of any recurrent heart palpitations.
What is looked upon as normal consumption of coffee per day, i.e. five cups, can cause some or all of the previously catalogued symptoms within a very short period of time. A host of allergies and problems are often relieved by simply leaving coffee out of a diet – for instance, migraine, eczema, arthritis, and more. The constituents of coffee give clues to its potential dangers and the reasons that it has been and still is occasionally used in medicine – and should, therefore, be consumed with care.
The berries (and, more so, the leaves) of coffee (Coffea Arabica) contain caffeine (1-2 per cent) and this is almost identical to theine, the active principle of tea (also found in beef). Its action is stimulating to the intellectual powers and induces sleeplessness, hence its great value in narcotic poisoning – in acute cases it can be injected into the rectum by enema. This is also useful in cases of snake bites where a coma is inevitable if not intercepted. As caffeine increases the force of the heart it can be useful in medicine if used in conjunction with digitalis.
Coffee’s other constituents are volatile oils, colouring matter, tannin, traces of theobromine and theophylline, gum, sugar and protein.
Tea: its chemistry, uses and abuses
Interestingly enough, tea is not used medicinally in this country, though it has been in the past for the relief of neuralgic headaches. It contains, however, twice as much caffeine/theine (2-4 per cent) as coffee. It would seem that coffee (rather than tea) got its bogus name of caffeine poisoner mainly because most people made very strong cups of coffee, thus imbibing more caffeine per cup than tea.
The theine in tea, like caffeine, makes it a very strong stimulant, exciting the nervous system and producing a state of exhilaration and comfort. In poor countries, where the leaves are harvested, they are eaten green, even stronger in stimulative action and helpful for the people to carry out their hard work with often little to eat. It also has an astringent action due to its tannin content (which curbs feelings of hunger). Perhaps this is the reason many people drink tea with evening supper. However, tannin in large quantities (especially near meal times or with meals) has a negative effect on true protein digestibility. Tannins are also present in coffee. Both coffee and tea – but largely tea – can also inhibit iron absorption. Both can be labelled anti-nutritional. All this can produce indigestion and low energy levels, with ‘black tea’ (normal tea) appearing to be the worst offender.
Tea’s other constituents include gallotannic acid, boheic acid, volatile oils, aquerus extract, protein wax, resin, ash and theophylline. This string of chemical constituents is held in high esteem in China, where the action of tea upon the system is considered to be nothing but beneficial.
In some countries, including China, tea is drunk green, particularly favouring the wild species collected on the hillsides. It is rapidly dried and fired and is drunk as an infusion. In this country, we ‘brew’ our tea, steeping a lot of leaves for a long time – also we tend to use Indian tea.
The preparation of green China tea is exactly the same as for herbal tea in this country. Its properties are known to the Chinese to be of general medicinal use, regulating body temperature, removing flatulence, invigorating the constitution and promoting digestion. There are many hundreds of different tea species and all are used in various medicinal ways – including to make up an eye wash, to provide a nourishing broth, to check dysentery or to act as an anti-haemorrhagic. Furthermore, the Chinese teas do not possess the deleterious substances found in the imported varieties, including salts of copper – to name but one impurity – which contribute to tea’s bad effects and can cancel out any good ones.
In India, the same tea goes through an additional process, that of fermentation, before firing, producing a ‘black tea’. Although these black and green teas can be made from the same tea plant species, Indian species do make a better black tea and Chinese ones a better green tea. However, this black tea does not have the same beneficial merits as green tea.
Just a mention here about the wave of interest in drinking de-caffeinated coffee and tea. De-caffeination removes only one of the more harmful substances in tea and coffee; both have a complex natural chemistry and, in fact, it is the acids that are left behind which are just as dangerous, if not more so. A good coffee substitute would be a dandelion or chicory roast. The better teas to drink are those containing less acids and tannins, which are the China green teas rather than the Indian varieties. China teas are also generally drunk without milk, which also ensures that they are made far weaker. If you do decide to choose a de-caffeinated tea or coffee, buy one that has been processed using the Swiss water removal method, as other methods can use chemicals.