The Truth About Coffee and Cortisol Levels

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Short Answer: A large amount of coffee can increase the primary stress hormone cortisol in your body.

Coffee is the most loved and used beverage around the globe than any other drink. At the same time, it has some questionable side effects on your health. One out of many concerns coffee lovers have: Does coffee increase cortisol?

Caffeine in your daily cup of coffee can increase both cortisol secretion and adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) in your body. Therefore, caffeine’s effect on glucocorticoid control can change circadian rhythms and deal with stress reactions.

Why do you need to worry? Because caffeine abuse can activate the long-term stress response system. Not only that, excessive exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can upset all your body’s processes. 

Elevated cortisol put you at increased risk of many health problems, including:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Heart disease
  • high blood pressure 
  • stroke
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory impairment
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems

That’s why it’s essential to learn what’s a healthy amount of caffeine and coffee intake is for you or if you need to consider quitting coffee. I know that sounds hard, especially for daily coffee consumers.

Don’t worry, let’s get into more details about coffee’s effect on your stress hormones and see if you need to switch to other alternatives of coffee.

Does Coffee Affect Cortisol Level? 

coffee beans, powdered coffee, and coffee on a tiny pan

Coffee affects cortisol levels by causing an elevation of cortisol in the human body.

A study related to caffeine stimulation of cortisol secretion clearly states that the intake of coffee or caffeinated drinks increase the level of cortisol secretion in people, even if they are healthy or facing mental stress.

In the research study, they tested 40 men and women for four weeks. The research included caffeine challenge doses. The doses had capsules of 0mg, 300mg and 600 mg to be taken at three different day hours. This caffeine challenge had a regulated schedule. The researchers tested the saliva samples for 12 hours to test the cortisol level.

On the sixth day, the caffeine challenge doses caused a robust increase in cortisol levels when the subjects took 0mg or 250mg doses. Whereas the regular caffeine intake of 300mg and 600mg decreased the cortisol level. 

The result from the above research indicated the decrease in cortisol level on the regular intake of caffeine. However, the cortisol level was reduced but not entirely abolished in young men and women. 

The table below shows a clear picture of the experiment mentioned. 

Capsule doseCoffee IntakeCaffeine results in moodCapsule result on mood
0mg250mgMore need Balanced need
300mg-600mg300mg Need increasedBalanced need
0mg-250mg600mgNo response of caffeine from adrenal glandsNeeds for more capsules decreased over time, and a satisfactory attitude was noticed.

What Are the Effects of High Levels of Cortisol Caused by Coffee?

The caffeine in coffee can cause a spike in our stress hormone, cortisol, which if taken in excess, can increase the risk for anxiety and depression. It can even potentially cause a disruption in our circadian rhythm and alter our sleep schedule, which by itself, carries a lot of potential health problems.

It is generally believed that coffee only affects our energy levels by boosting them, but truth be told, coffee affects more than just our energy levels.

A moderate amount of coffee will no doubt provide us with health benefits and ward us from diseases like Parkinson’s and cancer, but too much coffee will affect us negatively.

One of the main reasons why it isn’t advisable to drink a lot of coffee is because it messes with our stress response due to an elevated level of cortisol, and stimulates the fight-or-flight response of our body. 

A prolonged spike in cortisol levels can trigger anxiety. A study involving secondary school children shows what too much caffeine can do to your stress response. However, this was offset by a healthy diet and a change in lifestyle. 

I wrote an article around high intakes of caffeine and its effects on anxiety and you can check it out if you’re interested to know more.

High cortisol levels can also affect our sleep. We have been preached by doctors and researchers about how important proper sleep is, and whether we choose to believe them or not, lack of sleep can affect our body negatively.

Once caffeine starts to settle in our body, it’ll take its time to leave our system. Caffeine has been shown to alter our sleep schedule and reduce our hours of sleep by one, which is why it’s always advised to not have coffee before bedtime.

It’s important to note that the FDA set a caffeine limit for a reason. It’s so that we can safely enjoy our cup of coffee without having to worry about whether it will keep us awake at night or cause any unwanted effects like nervousness.

If we follow that 400mg per day limit, we will much likely reap the health benefits of coffee than suffer its consequence. Of course, it varies from person to person. Some may be more sensitive to caffeine than others and for them, that 400mg limit will be much lower.

Does Decaf Coffee Raise Cortisol Levels?

Milk being poured into a clear glass of coffee surrounded by coffee beans.

Decaffeinated coffee is comparatively better to consume as it does not increase cortisol levels. It has benefits for caffeine allergic people. Decaf coffee is highly preferable for pregnant and sensitive people to caffeine.

This kind of coffee also helps in keeping balance in adrenal glands that secrets stress hormones. Many people take coffee to lift their energy level, but the energy it provides is short-lived, so for continuous boost up, back-to-back intake becomes a need that weakens the adrenal glands.

When you can’t resist the ingestion of coffee, decaf is a perfect fit for you to fulfill your caffeine needs. It might not give you the same taste and color, but this alternate will satisfy your daily coffee fix.

With a more negligible effect on your adrenal glands, it leads to a balance in cortisol levels.

The mild influence of this drink provides a complete package. It maintains your stress hormone and does not disturb your sleep patterns, thus, saves you from heart stroke and other diseases.  

Does Coffee Affect Your Adrenal Gland?

A cup of coffee can affect our adrenal glands by urging them to release adrenaline. This is because when we drink coffee, a neuronal excitation happens in our brain which the pituitary gland then takes as a threat. If this happens continuously, our adrenals end up overworking themselves and start to weaken.

A weakened adrenal gland won’t be able to respond properly thus putting your health at risk.

The continuous and undefined patterns lead to the abnormal secretion of hormones and put you in danger.

The effect on your adrenal glands by the irregulated use of coffee is the primary concern. Many health professional claims that caffeinated beverages do affect your adrenal glands and ultimately ruin your mood. 

To stop adrenal fatigue, avoiding caffeine should be on the top of the list. If you monitor your ingestion of coffee, your adrenal glands will respond quickly and effectively to the well-followed consumption pattern. 

However, if you feel less energetic behavior, then your high intake is a clear indication of the weakness in your adrenals. This weakness enhances your tolerance level, and your glands are unable to respond adequately. 

After quitting coffee, many adrenal fatigue sufferers noticed persistent energy levels—more satisfaction in their behavior, higher happiness, less stress, without any mental disorder and anxiety. 

The critical aspect to consider is that sound adrenal glands produce sufficient sex hormones progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen. These glands can not function well when they follow an abnormal secretion due to large caffeine consumption.

Should you Drink Coffee When Stressed?

It isn’t advisable to drink coffee when stressed. When you’re stressed, your cortisol levels are already high, if you add caffeine into the mix, you might develop chronic stress and ultimately end up with other health problems associated with chronic stress. It’s best to calm down first before having your favorite wake-up juice.

Cortisol is mainly responsible for monitoring these things.

  • Maintains inflammation 
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Levels up your glucose
  • Regulates your sleep cycle
  • Boosts up energy

Besides all these, it progresses for other things as well. 

When you are facing stress, it already disturbs your sleep cycle, and the consumption of coffee can lead to craving for more that ultimately destroys your rest. The restlessness, even in stress, results in a mood crash that will turn into a disaster. 

If you manage your stress level, your cortisol level decreases, and your body routine gets back to normal. But, the consumption of coffee under stressful conditions can often lead you to break down.

What does Dr. Mandell has to say about coffee and cortisol connection, watch the video below to know!

Final Thoughts

Coffee can be a cup of joy for others. For some, it can be the reason behind their elevated stress.

Coffee can increase cortisol levels and people who find themselves stressing out over every little thing should either limit their caffeine intake or quit coffee right away.

Not just caffeine, but you need to avoid unhealthy ways of managing your stress, such as using drugs, alcohol, or excess food. 

Managing your stress should be your priority. It can include peace of mind, better health quality, improved conditions such as high blood pressure, better self-control, focus, and better relationships.

All in all, managing stress can lead to a longer and healthier life. You can enjoy your cup of coffee when you break free from barriers of anxiety and feel healthy again. 

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