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Detoxing the Java Junkie

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Steaming, rich, dark, alluring and hailing from a distant land! It's the world's most popular stimulant coffee

Steaming, rich, dark, alluring and hailing from a distant land! It's the world's most popular stimulant coffee. This humble bean is the second most traded commodity in the world. Only petroleum is bigger.

To many, the very word "coffee" evokes nostalgia, familiar times, warm visits with friends, aromatic beans being scooped and ground, exotic export locales like Arabia, Africa, South and Central America. What's not to love about coffee? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.

Coffee has been incriminated in everything from insomnia to cancer. While many of these reports are subject to debate, the bottom line is coffee contains caffeine, which is a powerful drug. A drug taken by four out of five North Americans on any given day. The Journal of the American Medical Association actually identifies a disease called "caffeinism." Reported symptoms are irritability, insomnia, weight and appetite loss, chills, feeling of flushing and occasional fever.

The case against caffeine is mounting to such a point that the advocacy group Centre for Science in Public Interest (CSPI) has filed a petition supported by 34 scientists and 10 health consumer organizations urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require that the caffeine content of foods be printed on food and drug labels. The American Medical Association has also filed a separate petition.

Caffeine Plus the Extras

Caffeine is not the only harmful substance in coffee, however. The low-level pesticide residues found in non-organic beans are a concern because people drink so much coffee. Tannin, an essential oil found in coffee and tea, is a suspected carcinogen. It can cause gastrointestinal distress and constipation. In addition, the fats and oils in coffee, even decaffeinated coffee, are potent elevators of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" type of cholesterol.

Another danger, according to naturopath Jonn Matsen in his book Eating Alive, is that the white filtres often used for making coffee may contain dioxin as a result of the paper bleaching process; this dioxin can migrate from the filtres into coffee. Dioxin causes cancer, cell mutations and many other harmful effects at extraordinarily low concentrations in the human body. "What's more, coffee goes directly into the gut, without any of the protective effects of fibre, meaning that dioxin absorption is quite high," writes Matsen.

Decaffeinated coffee is not the solution to the caffeine problem. Methylene chloride is the solvent of choice used to take the caffeine out of coffee. And while it's safer than its predecessor, trichlorethylene, it's also a known carcinogen.

More than the Shakes

Caffeine is an alkaloid, a compound known as a methylxanthine. This natural chemical is found in coffee, cocoa, tea and cola nuts. Caffeine acts immediately upon the central nervous system, inducing a sense of energized mental clarity. It also encourages the liver to release some of its stored sugar, giving the consumer a noticeable boost of vitality, but these benefits are outweighed by a variety of side effects.

While coffee can raise blood-sugar levels, giving us a temporary "lift," the pancreas and liver must then work to try to decrease the sugar to a more stable level. When blood sugar drops, cravings develop for more sweets, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes or some other "comfort fix."

High coffee consumption has been linked to both a variety of cancers and to cardiovascular disease. Earl Mindell, PhD reports that "people who drink five cups of coffee daily have a 50 percent greater chance of having heart attacks than non-coffee drinkers."

Coffee causes anxiety, irritability, headaches and enzyme depletion. It's diuretic nature increases calcium loss through the urine, making it particularly hard on the bones. Caffeine is also known to interfere with iron absorption, as well as robbing the body of potassium, vitamin C, B vitamins, inositol, zinc and other minerals.

When ingested in heavy amounts, caffeine has been shown to increase a woman's risk of infertility and miscarriage and potentially has severe effects on fetal development. Beginning in 1981, the FDA warned pregnant women to "avoid caffeine-containing foods and drugs, if possible, or consume them only sparingly." One human study even indicated that these problems were more prevalent in families where the father's caffeine consumption was high, suggesting that caffeine could have a mutagenic effect suppressing the DNA level.

Get Rid of Toxins

It's possible, however, to cleanse the body of some of the harmful residues left by coffee, while supporting parts of the system most stressed by its side effects (such as the stomach, intestine, liver, gallbladder and the adrenal glands). So if your goal is to clean out and revitalize your body after excessive stimulant ingestion, here are 10 tips to help:

  • Drink lots of water (essential to any cleanse).
  • Avoid white flour and all sugars, as well as highly refined and hydrogenated oils. (In other words, almost all processed foods.)
  • Fasting is an effective way to allow your body to detoxify. However, an extremely toxic person may feel ill if this method is done too quickly.
  • Check out some of the liver cleansing kits available at most health food stores. Dr Hulda Regehr Clark offers her own less expensive method in her book The Cure For All Cancers. She also suggests a parasite cleanse before doing a liver cleanse.
  • Two excellent herbal liver cleansers are milk thistle and dandelion (which also purifies the bloodstream while improving function in the pancreas and stomach).
  • Burdock root also helps purify the blood and restores liver and gallbladder function.
  • Milk vetch aids adrenal function and digestion, while providing energy to combat fatigue.
  • Try using psyllium husks (from the seeds of the plantain plant) in powder or capsules, followed by plenty of water. This will gently clean out the intestines.
  • You can also drink bentonite, an astringent clay mineral, available in liquid form, to aid toxin removal.
  • Don't forget to supplement your diet with a good multivitamin, preferably one with extra B-complex vitamins and take extra calcium and magnesium.

Better Than Java . . . Try These

There are numerous nourishing grain and root-based coffee alternatives on the market nowadays which can provide a satisfying substitute cup of brew (my favourite is Bambu by Vogel).  But if you're simply not prepared to sacrifice your coffee pot just yet, try to remember the following:

  • Drink organic coffees and teas only.
  • Prepare coffee in a drip coffee maker with a disposable unbleached paper filtre. Unlike metal filtres, the paper soaks up the oils (such as tannin), reducing the amount that gets in your cup.
  • Avoid drinking coffee black. The protein in milk neutralizes tannin, rendering it non-absorbable by the body.
  • Never percolate or boil coffee as it raises blood serum cholesterol levels.
  • Choose a coffee that was decaffeinated via the Swiss water process, which removes caffeine by using activated carbon filtres.
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