What About Tea and Coffee?

by Allen Leigh, Contributor

The Word of Wisdom (WoW), as applied by LDS leaders today, pertains to our physcial bodies, and the Lord promised the Saints who observe the WoW would:

receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; And shall run and not be weary, and walk and not faint.  And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.

Because it pertains to our physical bodies, the WoW is subject to scientific scrutiny.

The WoW prohibits four things:  tobacco, alcohol, tea, and coffee.  Scientific data about the dangers of tobacco and alcohol are numerous, and scientific evidence about those two substances are not discussed in this post.  Persons having an interest in the science and the use of tobacco see my previous post here.

Illustration from larry5154.wordpress.com

Illustration from larry5154.wordpress.com

The Lord said “hot drinks are not for the body or belly,” and LDS church leaders interpret the phrase “hot drinks” as being tea or coffee.  The Lord didn’t say why those substances are not to be used, but I think most LDS consider caffeine as the reason.  I was surprised to find that almost all science research that I read gave positive reports about the use of tea or coffee.  Caffeine is a known stimulate, and it seems there are benefits to the use of stimulates in our bodies.  In addition, tea and coffee may contain antioxidants that are beneficial to humans.  Here is an example of a scientific report that gives positive statements about the effect of tea and coffee on our health:

Green tea and coffee may help lower your risk of having a stroke, especially when both are a regular part of your diet, according to research published in Stroke:  Journal of the American Heart Association.

Scientific data about tea and coffee present a quandry to LDS who believe the WoW was inspired of God.  This dilemma can be reduced if we realize that belief in the WofW is based on faith not scientific data.  Our faith helps us realize that scientists are still learning about the effects of tea and coffee on our helath, and a rational approach to this dilemma is to give scientists more time to do research.  In addition, we need to realize that scientist perform their research within a narrow scope and viewpoint, and this viewpoint may yield results that are different than results obtained by other researchers.  For example, the research referred to above states that green tea and coffee may help lower your risk of having a stroke.  Yet, other scientists have learned that tea and coffee increase one blood pressure and heart-rate, two conditions that may increase our risk of heart attack and likely stroke.

I believe that we need to take a spiritual approach to the WoW and let our observance of that health-code be based on faith.  In addition, we need to give scientists more time to discover all of the effects of tea and coffee on our health.  Eventually, scientific research and revelations from God will agree.

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5 Responses to What About Tea and Coffee?

  1. rogerdhansen says:

    Allen, just a couple of quick thoughts. First, I agree with most of the first sentence in your conclusion: “I believe that we need to take a spiritual approach to the WoW and let our observance of that health-code be based on faith.” Except, I’m having trouble considering the WoW a health code given the recent suggestion from the LDS PR department that caffeinated soft drinks are not part of the WoW. Caffeinated soda are far worse than coffee or tea. I would agree with the following rewrite of your sentence: “I believe that we need to take a spiritual approach to the WoW and let our observance be based on faith.” I believe that the most of the WoW is form of sacrifice and less a health code (except for tobacco).

    Second, I’m concerned that you are expecting a scienfitic break through that will somehow prove that coffee and tea are bad for our health. What if that break through doesn’t come? (And I’m pretty sure it won’t.) You are setting church members up for a let-down. It seems like saying the items in the WoW are more a sacrifice than a health code leaves you in a more defensible position.

  2. Allen says:

    Hi Roger,

    When I say the WoW is a health code, I’m saying that the WoW was given as a guide to selecting food and drink. Obviously, the WoW doesn’t contain all substances that are harmful. Such a list would be endless and impossible for an organization to maintain. The WoW, I believe, gives examples of harmful substances based on the context of the early 1800s, and the Lord expects us to use common sense and scientific evidence in our selection of other substances. The church, I think, hasn’t added caffeinated soft drinks to the WoW, because (1) caffeine isn’t mentioned in Section 89, and (2) the WoW is frozen as the Lord gave it and subsequent prophets have interpreted it; I would be surprised if the church ever added anything to the WoW. However, church prophets have and are speaking out about harmful effects of drugs. Science is researching caffeine and sugar, and we don’t need the church to tell us to be careful about our consumption of those things. In other words, the church is one source of information, and science is another source of information.

    You have a good point about my expecting a scientific break through that will somehow show that coffee and tea are bad for our health. In doing this, I’m looking at the long-term future, probably into the Millennium. In addition, it won’t be a sudden break through but will, I think, be a gradual thing. We’re already seeing evidences from science about harmful effects of tea and coffee, such as the mention that coffee can raise heart rate and blood pressure. I have faith that the Lord knew what he was talking about when he said “hot drinks” are not for the body, and I believe that truth in science will someday agree with truth from God.

  3. Allen says:

    I’ve been thinking about health codes. I use the phrase “health code” to mean a guide about our health with nothing implied about the code being a complete guide or not. If I understand Roger correctly, he thinks of a health code as a complete guide to our health, that is, a guideline about everything that we have encountered or will encounter in our lives. Both viewpoints are reasonable, and I think persons who refer to “health codes” need to be specific in defining their meaning. I will look at my blogs and correct any statements about the WoW being a health code, and I will try in future posts or comments to this blog to be more specific in what I mean.

    Obviously, no code can contain a list of ALL substances that affect our health. If a health code is to refer to ALL substances, it will have to be written in a very general way rather than as a list of all substances, including new substances that don’t exist now but will be invented in the future. Section 89 of the D&C is not written in a general way but gives a list of common substances that were used in the early 1800s. We need to recognize that the WoW is not a complete list and that the church is not trying to make it a complete list.

  4. Kristen says:

    I think some of the issue is in interpretation. The WoW is popularly interpreted to mean what you say, “The WoW prohibits four things: tobacco, alcohol, tea, and coffee.” That’s such a selective interpretation of what is in the WoW. I’m not sure why that’s what leaders at all levels have chosen to emphasize, and I’m sure it could be argued that with all the other important things out there, the highest levels of leadership aren’t devoting a lot of time and prayer to getting specific clarification on this, but I think a more accurate reading of the WoW would be beneficial for members. You definitely allude to this when you say that you think research and revelation will meet–I do think that there will be continued revelation and clarification on this at some point in the future.

    I’m an English teacher, so forgive the pedantry, but my reading of the WoW is basically this: No wine or strong drink (pretty clearly alcohol, since it also says alcohol can be used for sanitizing). No tobacco. No hot drinks (I don’t really think it’s just referring to tea and coffee but not hot chocolate and herb tea. Awaiting future clarification). Fruits and vegetables are great. Meat is wonderful, but should be eaten in moderation. Grain is good, including for making mild drinks (I think it was referring to beer here, but the beer made at the time was far lower in alcohol content than what is produced today, so I think a blanket prohibition against alcoholic drinks makes sense).

    If members spent more time eating wholesome food and less time worrying about whether Diet Coke is allowed, I think everybody would be healthier! I don’t want it to seem like I’m trying to put my judgment over other people’s, so I think the safest thing for members to do is to follow the specific prohibitions to alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee until future clarification, but I strongly suspect that there will be future clarification and that the future clarification will expect more from people than just avoiding those four things.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Hi Kristen, My father, who was a biochemist/nutritionist, used to preach moderation in all things. Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. He was definitely against smoking and consuming alcohol, but was less concerned about the detrimental health affects of coffee and tea.

      I just wonder if the LDS Church ought to emphasize the communal sacrifice aspects of the WoW over the immediate health benefits? I fear that with coffee and tea, the scientific evidence for their ban will never be there. Roger

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