Is the Caffeine in Your Latte Causing Your Knee Pain?
by Brenna Thompson, MS, RD, LDN
In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how the high amounts of sugar found in coffee drinks create Advanced Glycation End-products (AGES), which can create inflammation, joint damage, and pain over time. After reading that article, have you switched up your morning latte order? If you haven't, that's ok.
Now you might wonder, is there a link between caffeine and knee pain? Or coffee beans and knee pain? Maybe! Read on to find out how caffeine and your actual coffee might be triggering inflammation in your body.
Before you run out and switch to decaf, keeping reading...The answer isn't that simple!
- Knowledge is Power
- Coffee and Knee Pain
- But Why Can Decaf Be Problematic? The Bean Itself
- Caffeine's Effect on Your Blood Sugar Levels
- Caffeine and Other Potential Causes of Joint Pain
- Wait, so is Coffee a Health Risk or Health Food?
- Reducing Inflammation and Knee Pain by Adjusting Your Coffee
- Coffee and Your Health
Before we dive into today's topic of coffee, I wanted to make sure you know I am not here to judge you in any way on your morning coffee or other habits. I simply want you to have the tools to make informed choices. If you're looking to make some easy changes, these articles might be just the little push you need. If you're not ready or simply don't want to change your coffee habits, that's totally okay too. My point is this: it's always your choice!
Don't write off coffee just yet, because I have good news! It appears that coffee does NOT increase a person's risk specifically for arthritis or other mechanical issues related to joint pain. According to results from the Iowa Women's Health Study; that coffee might actually need to be caffeinated.1
This is because consumption of more than 4 cups of decaffeinated coffee per day DID increase a woman's risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an autoimmune disease that attacks and compromises the body's soft tissues, including the joints.
Of course, if you know that caffeine causes issues for you, don't suddenly feel the need to drink caffeinated coffee to avoid this potential side effect. Instead, simply keep your consumption of decaf coffee to less than 4 cups per day.
For very sensitive individuals who struggle with autoimmune conditions such as RA, Lupus, Sarcoidosis, Hashimoto Hypothyroid, or mixed connective tissue diseases, the coffee bean itself may be a culprit in their disease process.
Coffee can stimulate the immune system, and in some people the effects are negative and drive up inflammation in the joints.2 This reaction is similar to the molecular mimicry that occurs with dairy which I cover in part 3 of this series.
Without going down a giant rabbit hole, I'll just say the body's responses to different substances, like in coffee beans or even dairy, are complicated and related to each person's genetic makeup.
A 2019 literature review from the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine describes how coffee triggers an increase in blood sugar even though it doesn't contain any carbohydrate.3
For lean or normal weight people, there is only a slight increase in blood glucose levels. However, for people that are overweight or with Type 2 diabetes, the increase in blood sugar is greater and remains noticeable for up to 3 hours after drinking the coffee.
These studies showed that it's actually the caffeine in the coffee triggering the blood sugar rise because decaffeinated coffee showed no effect on blood sugar.
What does high blood sugar do to our bodies again?
As we discussed in Part 1 in this series, too much sugar in the blood triggers the formation of AGEs, which over time can lead to joint pain. However, some studies also show that regular coffee drinkers have up to an 11% lower risk of developing diabetes.4 Researchers believe this is due to an active ingredient in coffee, called cafestol, that actually improves insulin sensitivity.
The bottom line? There is no simple answer to whether coffee and caffeine are right for you and your health.
My personal experience with coffee and blood sugar
As the mom of two very young children, I can attest to enjoying my morning cup of coffee and have zero plans of removing it at this time. But also, being the nutrition nerd that I am, I have also been wearing a Continuous Glucose Monitor for a couple weeks and can certify that my morning coffee (1/2 caf), does in fact cause a tiny rise in my blood glucose.
The small spike in my morning actually gives me a much appreciated boost of energy in the morning. The problematic part happens later in the morning, when sometimes my glucose crashes and the direct effects of the caffeine wear off! They leave me feeling a bit grumpy and foggy-headed, looking for a sweet treat (or another cup of coffee). What I've found helps me most is moderation, mindset, and easy alternatives that we'll discuss in a bit.
Since caffeine is a stimulant, it makes your body and brain more alert for whatever task is at hand. Thus, that extra sugar in the blood to burn could be potentially useful if you plan to be busy in the first few hours of the day. Caffeine also releases hormones in the body like cortisol and adrenaline, important for getting the body moving efficiently.
Unfortunately, the stimulant properties of caffeine are a double-edged sword. Too much can quickly take us from alert to jittery and nauseous. Plus, if you prime your body for action with caffeine and then find yourself sitting at a computer or in your car, your body will accumulate the sugar and hormones you don't use. In fact, some studies show a link between excess cortisol and chronic pain.5
Yet another reason that coffee might contribute to your joint pain (sigh).
You may hear one day that coffee is "bad" for you and the next that it's a superfood rich with antioxidants! The truth is that it completely depends on your body's make up and how it breaks down and utilizes the food you put into it.6 It's fascinating but can also be frustrating when you just want a straightforward answer.
You may be wondering, why even bother with the research when there's mixed outcomes? I'd simply say having this knowledge can help you determine what is best for you and your coffee habits. And perhaps, like most things we love, consider an approach that is in moderation to get the best of both worlds.
For some people, drinking Bullet Proof Coffee7 is a way to moderate the effects of caffeine (reduce the jitters and sugar crash) and help them practice intermittent fasting. By the way, intermittent fasting is another awesome way to reduce your body's inflammation, but that discussion is for another day! Many people drink this in place of their breakfast, especially if adding in the full 2 tablespoons of MCT oil (derived from coconuts) and 2 tablespoons of butter.
What is bulletproof coffee?
You may have heard of this style of drink that has taken the coffee drinking industry by storm. Why? It all comes down to the way your body digests your coffee when you add a large dose of fat to it. Instead of a breakdown of sugar reserves and the spike we talked about earlier, the body kicks into fat burning mode, also known as ketosis. This is great for a more stable blood sugar and weight loss all in one.
Bulletproof coffee is definitely worth a try to see how it affects your energy levels, mood, and joints in the morning and beyond. You just might be able to ditch your mid-morning slump and pain!
- Add 1 cup of brewed coffee, 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons MCT oil, and 1-2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to a blender. Stick blenders also work.
- Blend 20 to 30 seconds until it looks like a creamy latte. Enjoy!
- Note: If you're new to MCT oil, start with 1 teaspoon and build to the full serving size over several days.
So now you know about the potential effects of coffee and caffeine- and how it can affect your joints.
Congrats! Having the awareness is half the battle. Now it's up to you to decide what you want to do with it. What can you do this week to try and reduce inflammation in your body? Are you going to continue reducing the amount of sugar in your latte? Or are you going to try making your coffee at home and blend in some MCT oil?
Whether it's to adjust your coffee habits or finally address your knee pain, we're here for you! CityPT therapists understand all elements of joint pain and inflammation. We can support you with the right lifestyle changes, including nutrition, exercises, and injury prevention strategies.
Before you go, please read our disclaimer. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. We are not providing legal or medical advice and this blog does not create a provider-patient relationship. Do not rely on our blog (or any blog) for medical information. Always seek the help of a qualified medical professional who has assessed you and understands your condition.
Mikuls TR, Cerhan JR, Criswell LA, et al. Coffee, tea, and caffeine consumption and risk of rheumatoid arthritis: results from the Iowa Women's Health Study. Arthritis Rheum. 2002;46(1):83-91 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11817612/ ↩
Ballantyne S. Coffee and autoimmune disease. Thepaleomom.com. Published October 15, 2018. Accessed February 17, 2021. https://www.thepaleomom.com/coffee-and-autoimmune-disease/ ↩
Reis CEG, Dórea JG, da Costa THM. Effects of coffee consumption on glucose metabolism: A systematic review of clinical trials. J Tradit Complement Med. 2019;9(3):184-191. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31193893/ ↩
Increasing daily coffee consumption may reduce type 2 diabetes risk. Harvard.edu. Published April 25, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2021. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/increasing-daily-coffee-intake-may-reduce-type-2-diabetes-risk/ ↩
Hannibal, Kara E., Bishop, Mark D. Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation. Phys Ther. 2014 Dec; 94(12): 1816–1825. Published online 2014 Jul 17. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20130597. Accessed February 17, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4263906/ ↩
Petre, Alina. Does Coffee Help or Cause Inflammation? Healthline.com. Published September 14, 2020. Accessed February 20, 2022. [https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/coffee-inflammation#bottom-line] (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/coffee-inflammation#bottom-line) ↩
Bulletproof Coffee Recipe. Bulletproof.com. Published December 30, 2020. Accessed February 17, 2021. https://www.bulletproof.com/recipes/bulletproof-diet-recipes/bpc-recipe/?nosto=5d1f7b9377543cef148b6305 ↩