Coffee Benefits from a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

There has been a long-standing debate over coffee - many western practitioners of medicine and even natural health practitioners have been telling people to quit drinking coffee. Coffee has been considering to be toxic and harmful to the body. It is particularly blamed for causing adrenal fatigue and is generally considered one of the unhealthiest foods we could consume.

What many people overlook though is that much of the information about coffee is skewed. In fact, when medical reports were performed to test the effects of coffee, the focus was on solely adverse effects of caffeine from stimulating beverages like energy drinks; lumping coffee into the same category just because it contains caffeine.  

As it turns out, many scientific studies that show any negative effects of coffee consumption are simply untrue, due to poor study methods. However, this is not to say that effective consumption of coffee and caffeine is advised.

Coffee Health Benefits

Coffee comes from the rubiaceae family, which is a plant that is a source of many medicinal Chinese herbs, such as gardenia fruit, oldenlandia, morinda, rubia, and uncaria. In the Chinese system of medicine, these plants are used for both taste and therapeutic benefits.

The coffee bean is seen and used as an herb and like a herb, it is used in a particular dosage to achieve desired effects. In other words, the poison is in the dose. In TCM, coffee beans are recommended in the dose of 6-18 grams, this equates to about 1-3 cups of brewed coffee. However, many westerners consume much more and thus adverse effects like heat imbalances are often experienced such as ulcers, heartburn and excessive sweating.

The green coffee is also used in Chinese Medicine, as a tonic herb that regulates liver qi, which on from a pharmacological perspective is due to the effects that caffeine has on the nervous system and metabolism. From a TCM perspective, the green bean has a wood element, which is associated with the liver. The liver is the most important organ in the body; it dominates digestion, hormones, and energy, so when our liver is congested, the entire body becomes so.

The use of coffee beans as a tonic to the liver can regulate menstruation by helping a stagnant or congested liver flow again. The green coffee bean can be used to also cool an aggravated, hot liver.

Coffee consumption can also help cleanse the livers partner organ, the gallbladder. In Chinese Philosophy, the free flow of liver and gallbladder qi is essential to overall qi flow (life force energy). Not just that, but these properties help protect the liver and gallbladder from gallstones, which means better digestion and elimination. The gallbladder cleansing properties of coffee are likely due to the chlorogenic acid content as well as other constituents in coffee. 1

If consumed whole, the red berry that surrounds the coffee bean can be therapeutic to the heart. Coffee is a vasodilator, meaning it helps open the veins and arteries for better blood flow, which can, in turn, benefit the heart as well increase cognitive function to the brain.

The bitter taste of coffee provides wonderful detoxifying properties as well. It is the bitter taste that helps purge the liver, which is the main detoxification organ of the body. When a bitter taste comes in contact with the back of the tongue, the vagus nerve is stimulated, which tells the liver to purge. It works similarly to dandelion, which has bitter qualities that promotes the purging of the liver, gallbladder, and kidneys. This is also why dandelion root is commonly consumed as a lesser coffee substitute.

While apparently bitter, coffee also has slightly sweet notes that provide therapeutic action. Sweet taste in TCM is considered to have a tonifying effect on the body, particularly for the spleen. The sweet taste is associated with Chinese medicine with a tonic effect, particularly for the spleen. These two qualities in action can greatly improve the digestive function of an individual.

To Summarize, the Benefits of Coffee Include:

  • Regulates the flow of liver qi
  • Cleanses the gallbladder
  • Opens the heart
  • Increases and warms blood circulation
  • Detoxifies the body
  • Gently tonifies the body

 

How to Take your Coffee?

As mentioned earlier, coffee is considered an herb so should be treated as one, considering proper dosage. The ideal recommendation is 6-18 grams per day, which is about 1-3 cups of brewed coffee bean. Coffee still retains its basic medicinal properties when brewed but becomes a warming herb from its natural cooling state when green.

This brings up the first consideration from a TCM perspective; do you have a heat or cold imbalance in the body? Heat imbalances are fairly obvious, excessive sweating, ulcers, heartburn, anger, and frustration. Cool imbalances would then show up in opposition, cold hands, and feet, circulation problems, and perhaps too yin of an attitude.

Depending on your constitution, you can adjust your coffee use. For someone who may be more of a fiery or heated person, roasted coffee consumption may want to be limited or avoided and instead, consume green coffee bean extracts. The overly Yin person, on the other hand, may greatly benefit from roasted coffee.

Few foods or beverages are perfect for everyone, but coffee might be entirely acceptable for many people, who will do fine without being warned to stop enjoying their beverage of choice, so long as it is enjoyed in moderation. This article examines coffee from ancient and modern perspectives, with a view towards interpretation through the lens of Chinese traditional medicine, a field that has been employed to analyze virtually everything that people consume.

In short, coffee consumption, like all herbs, needs to match the needs of an individual’s constitution. The best way to know for sure is to seek out a licensed Chinese Medicine Practitioner. 

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