What, swapping out coffee in the morning with something made from a root? Yes, you read this right, and this new habit may save you from your hormone imbalances, anxiety and even gut health issues. Why?
Many of the women I work with are high achieving super women. They not only build their own empires (be that work and/ or family), but make sure they stay on top of a tough exercise regime, further education or current affairs, and are masters in socialising. And all along, coffee makes sure to keep them running all day long.
However, what may have once been fun and exciting, can all of the sudden shift over into anxiety, overwhelm, the inability to calm down at night, excessive sweating, a layer of belly fat that is hard to shift. Our friend, the stress hormone cortisol, says hi, and with it a cascade of blood sugar swings, cravings, addictive tendencies, and other hormonal imbalances. When that cup of coffee in the morning (or No. 2), stops making you feel good, but instead gives you heart palpitations, it may be time to ditch your first (or 2nd) cup of coffee for a while, and instead replace it with a cup of chicory root instead.
What is chicory root?
Chicory root comes from a perennial herbaceous plant of the dandelion family, which usually has bright blue flowers. Many varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, including endive, but ground chicory root is also used for baking or swapped in for coffee.
Chicory root is a bit wood-like and, due to its fibrous composition, it’s not digested in the small intestine but instead maintains its forms as is travels to the colon or large intestine.
The chicory root (Cichorium Intybus) has been around for quite some time and has been cultivated since ancient Egypt. It has also been a popular addition to coffee in France since the 19th century, where it was commonly roasted and ground (Source).
What are the health benefits of chicory root coffee?
1. Helps reset your stress chemicals cortisol, adrenaline and with it blood sugar control
If you are somewhat familiar with my work, you may know that I am a massive coffee lover. Apart from its many health benefits like high doses of antioxidants, boosting autophagy (the cellular clean-up and anti-ageing mechanism), kicking you into ketosis deeper, curbing cravings and supporting fat burning, it also boosts your workouts and brain performance. So why am I now advocating for chicory coffee?
If you are a generally easy going, happy-go-lucky person, have a good work-life-rest balance and/or tend towards low dopamine levels (such as in individuals with a certain genetic profile in their COMT genes) that may leave you a little unmotivated, then that morning cup or 2 of coffee is great. However, if you are burning the candles on both ends, and all of the sudden that coffee gives you heart palpitations, anxiety and sweats, you may currently be overdoing your 'stress-bucket', and in that scenario coffee, or an excess thereof, may actually make things worse. If you are into testing, a good way to check where on the spectrum you are is to test your blood glucose with a home measurement devise first thing in the morning, and then 30 minutes after each cup of coffee. If your blood glucose (= sugar) goes up, your body currently does not respond to coffee in the way we want, but actually stresses your body out more. If that happens after your first cup, you may have to skip coffee all together for a while. If not until your 2nd or 3rd, then you can have your 1 or 2 cups, and the either simply not have more, or switch over to the caffeine free chicory root coffee to satisfy that itch.
If finger prick testing isn't your thing, you can simply observe how you feel after your coffee(s). Alert and calm? Motivated? Or jittery, anxious, sweaty?
2. Supports a healthy gut microbiome
Chicory root is high in prebiotic fiber, which has become a bit of a hype word recently, for good reason. But what are prebiotics, and why are they so important? We all by now have heard of the importance of a good gut microbiome (the right kind of gut bacterial balance) for optimal health, nutrient assimilation, digestion, lowered inflammation, hormone and brain health. Many of us take probiotics, which is a great first step if you have recently had to take antibiotics or have been stressed out, both of which wipe out our own good gut bacteria, and give way for 'bad guys'. Probiotics put the good guys back into your gut. However, they need to be fed to survive and thrive. That is where prebiotics come in. They basically are food for the gut microbiome. Chicory has a high amount of carbohydrates (fibers!) that the body cannot utilise, but feeds your good guys in your gut. Yay! But, beware, this may cause issues if your gut is not healthy, see below for common pitfalls.
3. Supports your liver and with it natural detoxification
Chicory root is a classified a bitter substance and has been shown to support and regenerate liver functioning. Our liver is crucial for metabolising anything from alcohol to ketones to heavy metals, hormones and many other substances. If it gets burdened and sluggish, we run into body wide trouble.
4. Helps with natural estrogen detox
Both males and females have estrogens. We need them to be healthy and thrive, yet the way they are broken down determines much of if they turn into 'bad estrogens' or 'good and supportive estrogens'. The bad kind of breakdown (metabolite) can cause havoc including a contribution to cysts, endometriosis, anxiety, all the way to cancers. Our liver is crucial in breaking down estrogens, and as such adding in liver supporting substances like chicory root can be a great tool for overall hormone health.
5. Improves bile flow and with it issues like gall stones, fat maldigestion, candida and SIBO
Continuing on the points above, our liver also makes something called bile, which generally gets stored in our gallbladder, and flows into our small intestines to break down fats, kill off overgrowing and pathogenic bacteria and other infections, and also take out estrogens and other substances from the liver into the gut for elimination. Chicory root has been shown to support better bile flow.
6. Improves reflux (GERD)
Everything in our body works in perfect rhythm and interplay. Reflux is no exception, and has been shown to in part be caused by issues in the small intestines like SIBO, which press up into the stomach and further up into the esophagus for reflux. A more detailed discussion on all the factors involved in reflux would be beyond the scope of this article, but a great first step can be supporting our liver and with it bile flow and small intestinal health by adding in some chicory root, and maybe swapping out a coffee here and there.
7. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
Chicory is a great source of plant polyphenols, which are natural compounds that have the ability to help combat inflammation. It has further been shown to fight free radicals and reduce oxidative stress (ageing!).
8. Boosts adiponectin, a slimming hormone, and with it may help prevent diabetes
Chicory root extract was found to improve levels of of adiponectin, a protein that regulates blood sugar levels as well as fatty acid breakdown, which suggests that chicory root extract could delay or prevent the early onset of diabetes as well as boost metabolism and fat loss.
Pitfalls and things to watch out for when adding in chicory coffee into your diet
Due to its high fiber content, individuals with digestive issues like SIBO, Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis may have to take it easy with adding chicory coffee into their daily regime, while working on healing their gut with an experienced health care practitioner.
If overdoing chicory root coffee and symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, flatulence occur, it may be best to ease off a bit and introduce this highly medicinal beverage a little more slowly.