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The Impact of Caffeine on Thyroid Health

Many of the people I consult with consume an excess amount of caffeine each day. Most people do this in the form of drinking coffee, although some drink too much soda. Some people do both, drinking both coffee and soda on a regular basis. Others drink tea on a daily basis. While it’s a big challenge getting people to eat well and manage their stress, it can be just as difficult for people to avoid caffeine when they are accustomed to consuming it everyday.

Is Caffeine Really That Bad For You?

In small amounts, caffeine usually isn’t a problem for most people. ┬áThe problem is that many people don’t consume a small amount of caffeine, but instead consume a lot of it each day, and this doesn’t just have an impact on their thyroid health, but their overall health as well. As for how it affects thyroid function, consuming caffeine will increase the metabolism, which of course is regulated by the thyroid gland. So if someone drinks a lot of coffee or soda on a daily basis, then this will affect the metabolism of the body. ┬áThis might sound good for someone who is hypothyroid, although this isn’t necessarily the case, and I’ll explain why below.

Consuming a lot of caffeine each day will also affect the adrenal glands. Caffeine is a stimulant, and when you drink coffee or soda the body will produce adrenaline, which is supposed to happen when there is a fight or flight situation (not when you’re sitting at a desk in front of a computer). So whenever you consume caffeine it will cause the adrenals to release the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, and when this happens repeatedly this can wear out the adrenal glands. This of course takes time to happen, but the problem is that many people start consuming large quantities of caffeine at a young age. Even though I was never much of a coffee drinker and haven’t had soda for a number of years, I drank a lot of soda growing up. Whether this contributed to the adrenal problems I experienced in the past I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if it was a factor.

I constantly see young children drink soda, and while having an occasional caffeinated beverage usually isn’t a big deal, many parents give their children soda on a daily basis, which is setting them up for health problems. My goal here isn’t to criticize anyone for giving their children soda, but instead is to educate them. I’m pretty sure my parents weren’t giving me and my siblings soda everyday to intentionally harm our health. Just a few months ago my wife and I took our daughters to an amusement park, and while we were watching one of the shows I noticed a parent with a very large cup of soda (one of those big 32 ounce souvenir cups), and throughout the show she was allowing her baby to drink the soda. The baby couldn’t have been more than one year old. This obviously is not an isolated case, as this happens all of the time.

Cortisol vs. Adrenaline

In any case, caffeine has a similar affect on the adrenal glands as sugar, although it involves different hormones. I’ve explained in the past how eating refined foods and sugars on a frequent basis will cause the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol, which over time will weaken the adrenal glands. Well, the same thing happens when someone consumes caffeine, as this will cause the adrenals to secrete adrenaline, which over a prolonged period of time can compromise the adrenal glands. And for someone who drinks a lot of coffee regularly, what usually happens is that they will build a tolerance towards it, which means they will need to drink more coffee in order for it to be effective.

Although I’m focusing on coffee and soda here, tea also has a decent amount of caffeine. As for you chocoholics who are reading this, chocolate does have caffeine, although not nearly as much as coffee, soda, or tea. So this doesn’t mean you can eat all of the chocolate you want, although a little bit of dark chocolate every now and then usually is fine (that’s a good thing, as I’m not sure if I could survive without some dark chocolate every now and then!).

Can Drinking Caffeine Lead To Thyroid Cancer?

A study on rats showed that giving them caffeine when combined with an iodine deficiency increased the incidence of thyroid cancer. I don’t know of any findings that show the same effect in humans, although if you happen to drink coffee, tea, and/or soda on a regular basis then I probably would make sure to correct any iodine deficiency you may have.

There also is a risk of developing osteoporosis by consuming too much caffeine. Since caffeine causes the urinary excretion of calcium, this can potentially cause or contribute to osteoporosis. And if you currently have hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease this risk is already increased, and so this is yet another reason to be careful about drinking beverages which have caffeine on a regular basis.

How To Overcome Your Caffeine Addiction

When consulting with someone for the first time I’m commonly asked whether someone needs to completely give up caffeine in order to restore their health back to normal. My goal isn’t to play the “bad guy” and tell people they need to avoid coffee forever. The same concept applies to common allergens such as gluten and dairy, as I’m not suggesting that everyone with an thyroid or autoimmune thyroid disorder need to avoid these for the rest of their life. On the other hand, when someone is initially following a natural treatment protocol it really is a good idea to avoid the common things which could compromise the body. This includes caffeine. Does this mean that drinking one or two cups of coffee or tea will prevent someone from receiving ideal results when following a natural treatment protocol? It possibly can, as while some people can get away with consuming some caffeine daily if they do everything else I recommend, others don’t receive the same benefits.

Part of this depends on the health of the person’s adrenal glands. If someone has adrenal glands that are extremely compromised, then it’s probably best for them to avoid drinking coffee or tea altogether for at least a few months (obviously everyone should try to avoid drinking soda when following a natural treatment protocol, regardless of the state of their adrenal glands).

So how should someone who is addicted to caffeine overcome this? Well, going cold turkey is of course an option, as while the first few days won’t be pleasant, many are successful taking this approach. Others need to gradually wean off the coffee. For example, if you’re accustomed to drinking a few cups of coffee or a few cans of soda per day, then it might be best to slowly reduce the amount you consume each day. This approach obviously will take longer, but in some cases the compliance will be better. Ultimately it is your decision, and if you can spontaneously stop consuming caffeine that’s great. If you need to wean off of it slowly that’s fine too. Either way the end goal is the same, and so it really doesn’t matter how you accomplish this.

In summary, caffeine is yet another substance which can both directly and indirectly affect your thyroid health. If you currently drink soda, coffee, and/or tea daily and are thinking about following a natural treatment protocol, then it really is best to cut these out. While some people are able to consume caffeine and do fine, others don’t do as well, which is why it’s usually best to try avoiding caffeine during the initial stages.