Q: Is it proper to drink coffee? Why is there such dissension among Adventists concerning this topic? What part does coffee play in the Adventist health message and why? Was coffee different in the mid-19th century when Ellen White wrote about its dangers than it is today? Does it belong in the same category as smoking and alcohol? How can I explain to others, including church members, why I don’t drink coffee? And how should I treat fellow Adventists who hold a different opinion? Most important, how can I talk about this topic in a Christ-centered way? — Denis, a paramedic from Germany
A: Denis, thank you for your excellent questions, and your desire to discuss this topic in a Christ-centered way.
First, it’s helpful to remember that God only wants the very best for us. In 3 John 2 we read, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” In 1 Corinthians 6:19 we are reminded that “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own.”
Not only does God want us to be healthy, but He entrusts us with the responsibility of caring for our bodies in the best way. He has given us instruction — both in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy — regarding how to do that.
Some people ignore, or even disparage, the inspired counsel given by Ellen White, thinking that it was only applicable to people living in the 19th century. However, her writings, particularly on health, have been repeatedly verified by medical research. I firmly believe that the Spirit of Prophecy is one of the best gifts bestowed from heaven on the Seventh-day Adventist movement, and these writings are as relevant today as when they were written.
For example, her statement that “tobacco is a poison of the most deceitful and malignant kind” (“Counsels on Health,” p. 84) has been repeatedly verified. Similarly, she had much to say about the harmful effects of drinking tea and coffee. Here are a few points taken from the book “Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene,” downloadable here.
• “Coffee is a hurtful indulgence. It temporarily excites the mind to unwonted action, but the after-effect is exhaustion, prostration, paralysis of the mental, moral, and physical powers. The mind becomes enervated, and unless through determined effort the habit is overcome, the activity of the brain is permanently lessened” (p. 34).
• “The effect of tea and coffee … tends in the same direction as that of wine . . . liquor and tobacco.”
• “In some cases it is as difficult to break up the tea-and-coffee habit as it is for the inebriate to discontinue the use of liquor. The money expended for tea and coffee is worse than wasted. They do the user only harm, and that continually.”
For an excellent article on scientific verification regarding what Ellen White wrote regarding the use of tea and coffee, see “Not-So-Perfect Cup of Coffee” by Dr. Elizabeth Ostring, an Adventist physician in Auckland, New Zealand.
Today, it is well-known that the active ingredient in coffee (and tea) — caffeine — is a drug that stimulates the central nervous system. In fact, “caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance on earth,” according to Dr. Solomon Snyder, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Research has shown that caffeine is a mood-altering drug that interferes with your brain chemistry. In short, caffeine blocks adenosine reception so you feel alert. It injects adrenaline into the system to give you a boost. And it manipulates dopamine production to make you feel good. (To read more about this, see this website.)
In the short term, this brain chemical manipulation can make a person feel good, but in the long run keeping your body in such a state of emergency is very unhealthy and leads to a vicious addictive cycle.
According to a Johns Hopkins study that reviewed more than 170 years of caffeine withdrawal research, titled, “Caffeine Withdrawal Recognized as a Disorder”:
• In North America, 80 to 90 percent of adults report regular use of caffeine.
• Average daily intake of caffeine among caffeine consumers in the United States is about 280 milligrams, or about one to two mugs of coffee or three to five bottles of soft drink.
• Higher caffeine intakes are estimated in some European countries.
• As little as one standard cup of coffee a day can produce caffeine addiction.
• When people don't get their usual dose, they can suffer a range of withdrawal symptoms, including headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and more. They may even feel like they have the flu with nausea and muscle pain.
Another study found a high concurrence between caffeine consumption and alcoholism.
As with alcohol, caffeine intake can lead to intoxication, a recognized clinical syndrome included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases. Caffeine intoxication is marked by:
• gastrointestinal upset
• rapid heartbeats (tachycardia)
• psychomotor agitation (restlessness and pacing)
• in rare cases, death.
To read more on caffeine intoxication, follow this link.
A personal testimony of a Seventh-day Adventist coffee drinker was published a few years ago in Adventist World. In the article, titled “Withdrawal: Confessions of a Caffeine Addict,” the author details his own experience of withdrawing from this very addictive and powerful drug. You may read it here.
More recently, Adventist Review published another article on the dangers of caffeine, titled “Caffeine Impacts Health Negatively, Says Study in Australia,” by Tracey Bridcutt. According to a ground-breaking study by the Australasian Research Institute at Sydney Adventist Hospital (Australia), caffeine, together with red meat and stress, accelerates aging and may lead to other diseases. The full article is available here.
Clearly, drinking caffeinated beverages — whether coffee, tea, or soft drinks — is not good for one’s health and is likely to become addictive. So, why do people consume caffeine?
In many parts of the world — especially in the West — drinking coffee or tea is a social or cultural activity. If a person does not join in they are often considered “not cool,” “legalistic,” or just not “grown up.”
Frequently, coffee drinkers like to point out that research has shown coffee to be “a great antioxidant,” and other so-called benefits of coffee drinking. However, what is not pointed out is that while coffee does contain anti-oxidant properties, it also contains pro-oxidant properties that neutralize the anti-oxidants. This is backed up by research conducted at the U.S. National Institute of Health and can be found at the National Library of Medicine. An abstract is available here.
Another reason people drink caffeinated beverages is, as mentioned earlier, the temporary physical effects of caffeine — it elevates mood, decreases fatigue, gives energy, and helps them to think more clearly. Notice however, that these “benefits” are only temporary, and in the end, caffeine does much more harm than good.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we have been given a wonderful, well-rounded, scientifically sound health message to share with the world. By sharing this message, we can help people live longer, healthier, and happier lives. An important part of our health message is to avoid the use of stimulants such as alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. Furthermore, it is a spiritual message as well, as this direct, but important counsel states:
“Tea and coffee drinking is a sin, an injurious indulgence, which, like other evils, injures the soul. These darling idols create an excitement, a morbid action of the nervous system; and after the immediate influence of the stimulants is gone, it lets down below par just to that degree that its stimulating properties elevated above par” (“Counsels on Diet and Foods,” p. 425).
Denis, regarding your question about how to explain to others why you don’t drink coffee — keep it short, simple, and polite. Just tell them the truth. For example, you might say you choose not to drink coffee because you want to be as healthy as possible and caffeine doesn’t help with that goal (or whatever reasons you have for not drinking coffee). You could also share how having a healthy lifestyle (good nutrition, drinking plenty of water, getting adequate rest, exercise, fresh air and sunshine, being temperate, and trusting in God) provide you with the perceived benefits of caffeine, but without any of the downsides.
How to treat others who hold a different opinion? As Christ would. He loved and cared about everyone, but never forced anyone to accept His message. Lifestyle decisions are very personal, and God has given each of us the opportunity to decide for ourselves how we will live. We can share why and how we have made our own decisions, and we can offer help to people who are interested in making lifestyle changes, but in the end, each person needs to decide for themselves how they will live.
For anyone interested in learning more about living a healthy lifestyle, I recommend visiting the Vibrant Life website at vibrantlife.com, where you will find helpful, reliable information on a variety of health-related topics.
Other helpful resources:
• “Counsels on Diet and Foods”
• “Counsels on Health”
• “Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene”
• “Ministry of Healing”
• “Health and Wellness: Secrets That Will Change Your Life”