Chinese medicine offers great insight when it comes to different foods and their properties and how they affect the body.
Chinese medicine has a very interesting perspective on our morning cup of coffee.
I’ll just start off by saying that I personally love coffee!! Some people have been surprised in the past that me, a Chinese medicine doctor, drinks “that stuff”...and doesn’t only drink herbal teas and green smoothies! So just know that this post is not to shame you if you, like me, look forward to your morning cup of coffee!
The thing is that a cup of coffee for some people could potentially be harmful...and for others may be helpful. It all depends on your body’s present condition. Generally, Chinese medicine doesn’t view foods/drinks as just good or bad. One particular food may be good for one person but not so good for another. In this post, I’ll explain why from a Chinese medicine perspective.
Food and drinks are classified according to their properties - are they warming or cooling? Bitter? Pungent? Sour? Salty? Sweet? All of these properties have differing functions in the body.
Coffee is Bitter, Pungent & Resolves the Exterior
Coffee is bitter, acrid (pungent) and exterior resolving.
Exterior resolving basically means it’s a diaphoretic (makes you sweat).
In Chinese medicine, diaphoretics transform kidney yin or essence into Qi which is then moved outwards and upwards through the body.
When Qi (energy) is moved upwards and outwards, it floods the body’s layers with what we call ‘Yang Qi’ which is the warming energy. Yang Qi causes us to experience heightened energy.
It’s the yang qi that is the force that promotes the movement of Qi in the body, unblocks stuck Qi and moves blood and body fluids.
It's not all bad though. Because coffee is bitter, it balances out its' warm property. Bitter clears heat. This might be why it’s quite common in warmer climates to drink coffee...Coffee being a diaphoretic can cool the body down. 🙂
Coffee is Warming
Coffee’s thermal nature is warm or hot.
Coffee having a warm property tends to heat the stomach which is the reason why it can cause loose or urgent stools in people that have weak spleen Qi (weak digestion).
So regarding the kidney systems, coffee not only can weaken our kidney yang but it also steals our kidney yin and essence since it is a diaphoretic. So altogether, coffee isn’t that great for our kidney system.
Coffee has a debilitating action on our middle and lower regions. The middle being our spleen Qi (digestion essentially) and lower being our kidney system. Spleen Qi is lost and kidney yin and yang are exhausted.
Coffee can deplete our Kidney Jing
Using coffee as an energy boost is like dipping into your savings account. Eventually it can cause bankruptcy. In Chinese medicine, we call this stored energy our Kidney Jing.
The Kidney jing is what we have from our mother and is fixed at birth. We can’t add to it throughout our lives. So coffee taps into our jing (essentially our reserve). This is something important to be aware of. Kidney jing determines the strength, vitality and constitution of the individual at birth.
When coffee transforms and moves our essence Qi, we get an initial rush of energy but ultimately we lose our stored energy (our Jing).
Coffee is a Diuretic so it can weaken our Kidney Yang
Because coffee is a diuretic, each time we urinate, we lose a little bit of Qi. This is because urine is transported.
When we lose Qi, we lose a bit of warmth of our bodies since Qi’s property is warm. This means that coffee being a diuretic can weaken our kidney yang.
Coffee is mildly Sweet & Nourishing & can benefit Digestion in small amounts
The taste of coffee, although obviously bitter, is also somewhat sweet.
The slight sweet taste of coffee makes it mildly nourishing. This means it acts on the ‘spleen’ meridian which includes the stomach and digestive system in TCM.
This sweet taste is associated with a tonic effect, which would assist assimilation and digestion.
This explains why in so many cultures people drink it after a meal as a digestive!
When a rich, greasy, heavy diet is eaten, coffee helps relieve the sluggishness that can result. Coffee also purges the bowels in individuals who are commonly constipated from a diet that's too rich & greasy.
Coffee Moves the Qi & Relieves Liver Congestion
In moderate amounts, coffee can be helpful to the liver because it can move the Qi and relieve liver congestion. The liver is in charge of moving the Qi in the body.
The key point here is that coffee should be in small amounts to achieve this function.
Someone with stuck Liver Qi can often be angry, irritable, have menstrual irregularities, cramps, have headaches and other pain in the body.
These people do well with a bit of coffee 🙂
Yin Deficient People vs. Yang Deficient People
Because coffee is so acidic, drying and warming, it should be avoided in people who have a Yin deficiency.
In Chinese medicine, people with a yin deficiency tend to have too much heat, are hyperactive and have a thin wiry body type. They tend to have dry symptoms like dry skin, dry hair, thirsty and like cold drinks.
Coffee isn’t so appropriate for the yin deficiency type person. Coffee for these people can make them more nervous, anxious, cause high blood pressure, make them sweat and be taxing on their adrenals.
For yang deficient people who tend to be cold, gain weight easily, lethargic, slow metabolism, coffee can actually be beneficial since coffee warms the body and stimulates yang.
People who tend to be damp (wet) - overweight, bloating, foggy head - can be okay with the drying warming action of coffee.
Chinese Medicine Customizes to the Individual
In my clinical practice, when I advise on the patient’s coffee intake, I give them personalized recommendations. This means that I take into consideration their pattern first. I don’t just simply tell everyone to reduce coffee which is what you would probably expect.
So if they’re damp and cold (yang deficient), I may tell them that they can continue drinking one or two cups a day perhaps.
If they are yin deficient (are dry and hot), I will tell them to reduce their coffee consumption or avoid it altogether.
This is the beauty of Chinese medicine...we look at the individual and customize our treatments & recommendations.
As I always say, everyone is different. My general conclusion is that a very small amount of coffee can be healthy, and even therapeutic!
Hope you found this helpful!
With Love & Support,