Is Coffee Beneficial or Detrimental To Your Health?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

In health circles, the topic of coffee can be controversial. Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss how coffee can be both beneficial and detrimental to your health. By understanding how it affects the brain and body, coffee drinkers can be better informed to make the correct choices in how and when they drink their coffee.


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Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Doctor Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here, we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we transformed lives for three decades using brain spect imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information visit:

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

We're back with sleep deprivation. We're gonna talk about something that people don't wanna hear and it's caffeine. Okay? People are just very attached to coffee and we're gonna talk about what you can do if you're attached to your coffee. It doesn't mean you necessarily have to break-up with coffee altogether, there are things you could do that will still give you that comfort without just completely robbing you of your sleep.

The truth is, caffeine can really be bad for your brain, disrupt your sleep, and affect your cognizant function. Let's talk about this. Why does caffeine rob you of sleep and how is it bad for your brain?

Daniel Amen: Well, what caffeine does is, it blocks adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical your body naturally produces to help you with pain, but also to put you asleep when you're tired. So, sleep is absolutely essential for your brain to clean and wash itself as we've talked about.

When you don't get enough sleep, you feel foggy, tired in the morning, and many people use caffeine as a way to balance their brain and to feel more alert, more awake. And it works. I mean, you feel cognitively sharper. The problem is, caffeine is one of those drugs that's insidious. And that, the more you use it, the more your brain will require it in order for you to feel normal at all.

Tana Amen: People have certain questions. There are some people who say that caffeine doesn't affect them at all. There are other people who say that it affects them a lot. They can't have any caffeine. This actually is real and it has to do with acetylation in your liver. What is acetylation?

Daniel Amen: Wanna explain?

Tana Amen: Yes. It has to do with how fast your liver processes and detoxifies, and gets the caffeine and clears your body of the chemicals. Think of it like this, some people, when they take medicine, if you ever hear people say, "Oh, I can't medicine at all, like, it affects me so strongly." Other people will say, "Oh my gosh, I could take enough to knock a horse out. Doesn't really affect me at all."

Well, that sometimes has to do with how your livers processing. People who can take a ton of it and it doesn't really affect them, it's because their liver's clearing very quickly. Other people, they don't clear quickly, it holds on to it, that has to do with acetylation. Well, caffeine's the same way. Some people, they can have one cup of coffee in the morning and they're buzzing all day. They're holding on to it, it's not clearing quickly. Other people, they can drink ... You see, like, you go to Italy and they'll have two or three cups of espresso after dinner and they go home and sleep. It's bazaar.

Some of it is genetic and some of it is you and what maybe you've done to your liver over time. It just depends. If you are someone who does not clear quickly, your liver is slow to process, then, that caffeine is going to affect you much stronger than someone who's able to clear that really fast. I happen to be one of those people. I love that morning comfort of a cup of coffee. I have a very special trick I do, because I don't clear quickly.

If I have a cup of coffee any time past 12, I won't sleep and I like to sleep. What we do is, we'll tell you at the end what we do to sort of get that comfort without the sleep deprivation. But, that's why. Your body, some people can drink it and some people can't. Life's not fair, right? No one told you it was gonna be fair. There are things you can do that are tricky that will still give you that morning comfort.

Daniel Amen: One of the things to do, I mean, you can go to decaf, unless you need the jolt and what I've always thought through the years, people who need the caffeine in the morning, it's probably because they didn't get enough sleep.

Tana Amen: Or, they have ADD.

Daniel Amen: Or, they have ADD and that's one of the ways they treat their ADD.

Tana Amen: I know I'm drawn to it. I'm drawn to that stimulant type feeling. I never believed in ADD until I met you. I actually have pretty mild ADD. I've always been able to sort of manage. I'm not one of those people who's highly distracted, maybe because I'm anxious too. I am drawn to that stimulant feeling. I definitely am.

Daniel Amen: But you were smart enough never to use cocaine or methamphetamines.

Tana Amen: Oh God, no. No. Absolutely not. I had an uncle who was a drug addict and that was the biggest favor he ever did me, was letting me be exposed to his lifestyle. Terrified me.

Daniel Amen: That is a sign of intelligent life. You see destruction-

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: ... that comes from a behavior and you avoid the behavior.

Tana Amen: But, exercising caffeine were my medicine.

Daniel Amen: I used to have a diet coke, I'd get huge 32 oz. one from Jack in the Box at lunch, and caffeine never really effected me much except-

Tana Amen: Yeah, it doesn't really effect you.

Daniel Amen: ... it'd make me go the bathroom a lot.

Tana Amen: I've noticed, yeah.

Daniel Amen: You know, drink something with any caffeine in it before I had to go on stage. Then I started reading the studies when I started doing spect imaging in 1991. I read the studies that showed even 100 milligrams of caffeine, one cup of coffee would constrict blood flow to the brain. Anything that constricts blood flow to any organ, prematurely ages the organ. So, I went, "All right, let's kill the caffeine."

It's funny, the days I have caffeine versus the days I don't, my energy sags in the afternoon if I have caffeine in the morning. Where, if I don't have any caffeine, my energy is consistent throughout the day. I actually tell people to kill it. Now, I know the research is on both sides, that caffeine can increase pain syndromes, it can decrease blood flow to your brain, it can mess with your sleep, in fact, we have a study in front of us that caffeine taken zero, three, even six hours before bed, significantly disrupts sleep. On the other side, people who drink a lot of caffeine tend to have a lower incidence of Parkinson's Disease and diabetes.

Tana Amen: And Alzheimer's. Why is that?

Daniel Amen: It's an interesting question. I don't know if it's related to something else they do or if the caffeine is somehow stimulating the eyelet cells in their pancreas, or the substantia nigra in the basal ganglia that's involved with Parkinson's disease. I don't think anybody knows.

Tana Amen: It's interesting. We always wanna be fair. There is research on both sides. We would say for optimal brain function, limit your caffeine. There is research on both sides, we wanna understand why.

Daniel Amen: But you know, there's also, I don't mean to fight with you, because-

Tana Amen: No. No. And I don't. I would wanna know the truth.

Daniel Amen: ... you know how much I love you.

Tana Amen: I wanna know the truth.

Daniel Amen: There's research for a long time on alcohol. And that, alcohol is basically good for you. I just spoke, I just recorded Memory Rescue and I did a practice at the Alzheimer's Association and dammit, they had alcohol there again, going, "The benefits." It's nonsense. Alcohol is directly related to seven different kinds of cancer. It decreases your judgment, it increases the likelihood you're gonna be over-weight, because, when you have alcohol with dinner, you eat more. I'm just not a fan.

Forever, there was research coming out from great places saying alcohol decreases your risk of heart disease, you know, helps your brain. From the 130,000 scans I've seen, the only thing I can say is bullshit. When you look at people who are drinkers, and I'm not even talking alcoholics, I'm talking about people who just have to have those two or three glasses of wine or scotch every day. Their brains look like crap.

Tana Amen: I understand. You're comparing alcohol and caffeine. So, I just wanna be clear. I get it, I hear you. There's a pretty big studies and so, we just wanna at least put them out there. Limit your caffeine, that's the message. Limit your caffeine.

Daniel Amen: You know, as someone who studies, you know, I have 78 research publications. I know whenever somebody starts a study, they often start it with the conclusion in their head, even before the do the study. Who was is?

Tana Amen: That's pretty normal, isn't it?

Daniel Amen: Somebody said 16 out of 17 statistics lie and the last one's suspect too. I think you just have ... What we're telling you here on the Brain Warrior's Way is, our experience as a doctor and a nurse over a long period of time helping people, you just have to ask yourself, does this make my life better? Is it a habit because my brain has always done that and the brain hates change-

Tana Amen: Oh, and I clearly admit, I love my cup of coffee in the morning. But, is it the cup of coffee that I love? And, yeah, I mean, I'm drawn to stimulants, I admitted that. Or, is it the comfort? I love getting up and having a cup of coffee with you, I love the process, I love hanging out with you and Chloe and doing all of that. Okay? So, finding a healthier way to do it is probably a good idea.

Daniel Amen: Right. And, you always wanna be careful of the words you use. I hear this with my patients all the time. I love my sugar, I love my coffee, I love my alcohol, and I'm like, "I don't think those are the right words." That, when we say that, then we believe it and giving up something you love, you know, we've had lots of great testimonials. I broke up with coffee, I broke up with sugar, or, I broke up with alcohol and I feel so much better.

You just wanna ask yourself and this is the tiny habit that we learned with Brain Warrior's Way that really helps you plant this in your life. Is this good for my brain or bad for it? If it's controversial, if there is a question about it, I think we come down on the side of get rid of it.

Tana Amen: Right. What we do instead, let me just tell you. What we decided to do is, find a healthier way to do it. We like getting up and having that warm cup of something in the morning and hanging out together. That's our morning time. I came up with a way to do it and we have ... I buy half caf, organic, low acid coffee, brew that and we mix it with almond milk, so it ends up being a quarter of the caffeine. Then, in the afternoon, rather than having a cup of coffee, I have tea. Tea's been shown to have a tremendous amount of benefit.

Daniel Amen: Especially green tea.

Tana Amen: We have green tea in the afternoon if want something.

Daniel Amen: And your almond milk cappuccino. Tell them quickly how to make it, because it's just phenomenal. The recipe is in the Brain Warrior's Way cookbook.

Tana Amen: I actually have, like, I think there's five different coffee recipes in the cookbook and you can use decaf if you want. That same company called Pure Roast makes decaf. By the way, we'll do another podcast on the benefits of the coffee and it can be decaf. The coffee itself has benefits, not the caffeine we're talking about. Pure Roast makes decaf as well, it's low acid. They also make a half caf. I brew the coffee, heat up the almond milk and we do, in a blender, half coffee, half of the half caf coffee, and half almond milk-

Daniel Amen: Sugar free almond milk.

Tana Amen: Sugar free. Then, we add some pumpkin spice Stevia and you can have any flavor you want. We like pumpkin spice and we add some pumpkin pie spice to it, blend it and then top it with a little cinnamon, put it in a cup and top it with a little cinnamon. When you blend it in a blender, it froths, just like a cappuccino.

Daniel Amen: Crazy.

Tana Amen: Yeah. It gives you a froth just like a cappuccino and it's amazing. You get very little caffeine in there.

Daniel Amen: And, there's no suffering.

Tana Amen: Right. I get to keep my morning comfort routine of hanging out with my family, and sitting, and having that warm ... or, you can just have green tea in the morning. So, either way.

Daniel Amen: Right. And, rituals are great, but as we've said, repeatedly now, the brain hates change. The more you put in healthy rituals, I mean, I love the fact that Chloe, our 14-year-old, has rituals too. These are good for her, as opposed to ice cream, and pizza, and macaroni and cheese. She is putting rituaLs into her life that are amazing and she'll have a harder time breaking them. And, we like that. You want to put good habits into your life and the longer you do them, the more they get set in the nerve cell patterns in your brain. It can just be so helpful.

In my thought, the less caffeine, the better. Anything that constricts blood flow to your brain, I'm not a fan of, because you want blood flow to your brain. Your brain uses 20% of the blood flow into your body, even though it's only 2% of your body's weight. Stay with us.

Tana Amen: Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. We have a special gift for you. It's an opportunity to win an evaluation at the Amen Clinics. All you have to do is, subscribe to this podcast, leave a review, and rate us on iTunes.

Daniel Amen: To learn more about Amen Clinics and the work we do, go to You can also learn about our nutraceutical products at Thanks for listening.