The health effects of coffee are quite controversial. Depending on who you ask, it is either a super healthy beverage or incredibly harmful. But despite what you may have heard, there are actually plenty of good things to be said about it. For example, it is high in antioxidants and linked to a reduced risk of many diseases and has been shown to improve memory. However… it also contains caffeine, a stimulant that can cause problems in some people and disrupt sleep.
Coffee Contains Some Essential Nutrients and is Extremely High in Antioxidants
It is more than just dark brown water… many of the nutrients in the coffee beans do make it into the drink.
A typical 8oz (240 ml) cup of coffee contains:
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 11% of the RDA.
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): 6% of the RDA.
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 2% of the RDA.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 2% of the RDA.
- Folate: 1% of the RDA.
- Manganese: 3% of the RDA.
- Potassium: 3% of the RDA.
- Magnesium: 2% of the RDA.
- Phosphorus: 1% of the RDA.
This may not seem like a lot, but try multiplying with 3, 4, or however many cups you drink per day. It can add up to a significant portion of your daily nutrient intake. But where it really shines is in its high content of antioxidants. The average person who eats a typical Western diet actually gets more antioxidants from it than fruits and vegetables… combined.
Bottom Line: Coffee contains a small amount of some vitamins and minerals, which add up if you drink many cups per day. It is also high in antioxidants.
It Contains Caffeine, A Stimulant That Can Enhance Brain Function and Boost Metabolism
Caffeine is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world. Soft drinks, tea and chocolate all contain caffeine, but coffee is the biggest source. The caffeine content of a single cup can range from 30-300 mg, but the average cup is somewhere around 90-100 mg. Caffeine is a known stimulant. In the brain, it blocks the function of an inhibitory neurotransmitter (brain hormone) called Adenosine. By blocking adenosine, caffeine actually increases activity in the brain and the release of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine. This reduces tiredness and makes us feel more alert. There are numerous studies showing that caffeine can lead to a short-term boost in brain function… including improved mood, reaction time, vigilance and general cognitive function.
Caffeine can also boost metabolism (calories burned) by 3-11% and even increase exercise performance by 11-12%, on average. However… some of these effects are likely to be short-term. If you drink coffee every day, then you will build a tolerance to it and the effects will be less powerful. There are also some downsides to caffeine, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Bottom Line: The main active compound in coffee is the stimulant caffeine. It can cause a short-term boost in energy levels, brain function, metabolic rate and exercise performance.
Coffee May Help Protect Your Brain in Old Age, Leading to Reduced Risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease and a leading cause of dementia. Studies have shown that coffee drinkers have up to a 65% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disease and caused by the death of dopamine-generating neurons in the brain. Coffee drinkers have a 32-60% lower risk of Parkinson’s disease. The more coffee people drink, the lower the risk.
Bottom Line: Several studies show that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease in old age.
Coffee Drinkers Have a Much Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is characterized by elevated blood sugars due to resistance to the effects of insulin. This is a very common disease… it has increased 10-fold in a few decades and now afflicts over 300 million people. Interestingly, coffee drinkers appear to have a significantly reduced risk of developing this disease, some studies showing that coffee drinkers are up to 23-67% less likely to become diabetic. In one large review study that looked at 18 studies with 457,922 individuals, each daily cup of coffee was linked to a 7% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
Bottom Line: Numerous studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a significantly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Coffee Drinkers Have a Lower Risk of Liver Diseases
The liver is an incredibly important organ that has hundreds of different functions in the body. It is very sensitive to modern insults like excess alcohol and fructose intake. The end stage of liver damage is called Cirrhosis, and involves most of the liver being replaced with scar tissue. Coffee drinkers have up to an 84% lower risk of developing cirrhosis, with the strongest effect for those who drink 4 or more cups per day. Liver cancer is also common… it is the second leading cause of cancer death worldwide and drinking it can have up to a 40% lower risk of liver cancer.
Bottom Line: Coffee drinkers have a significantly lower risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. The more you drink, the lower the risk.
Some Studies Show That Coffee Drinkers Live Longer
Given that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of many common, deadly diseases (and suicide), it makes sense that it could help you live longer. There is actually some good evidence to support this. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the habits of 402,260 individuals between 50 and 71 years of age. In this study, people who drank coffee had a much lower risk of dying over the 12-13 year study period: The sweet spot seems to be at 4-5 cups per day, with men having a 12% reduced risk and women a 16% reduced risk.
Bottom Line: Some studies have shown that coffee drinkers live longer, which makes perfect sense given that they have a lower risk of many diseases. The strongest effect is seen for 4-5 cups per day.
Caffeine Can Cause Anxiety and Disrupt Sleep
It wouldn’t be right to only talk about the good stuff without mentioning the bad. The truth is… there are some important negative aspects to coffee as well (although this depends on the individual). Consuming too much caffeine can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations and may even exacerbate panic attacks. If you are sensitive to caffeine and tend to become overstimulated, then perhaps you shouldn’t be drinking coffee. Another unwanted side effect is that it can disrupt sleep. If coffee reduces the quality of your sleep, then try avoiding coffee late in the day, such as after 2pm. Caffeine can also have some diuretic and blood pressure raising effects, but this usually goes away with regular use. However, an increase in blood pressure of 1-2 mm/Hg may persist.
Bottom Line: Caffeine can have various negative effects, such as causing anxiety and disrupting sleep, but this depends greatly on the individual.
Should You be Drinking Coffee?
There are some people who would definitely want to avoid or severely limit coffee consumption, especially pregnant women. People with anxiety issues, high blood pressure or insomnia might also want to try limiting coffee for a while to see if it helps. There is also some evidence that people who metabolize caffeine slowly have an increased risk of heart attacks from drinking coffee. All that being said… it does seem clear that for the average person, coffee can have important beneficial effects on health. If you don’t already drink coffee, then I don’t think these benefits are a compelling reason to start doing it. There are downsides as well. But if you already drink coffee and you enjoy it, then the benefits appear to far outweigh the negatives. I personally drink coffee, every day… about 4-5 cups (sometimes more). My health has never been better.
Take Home Message
It’s important to keep in mind that many of the studies in the article are observational studies, which can not prove that coffee caused the beneficial effects. But given that the effects are strong and consistent among studies, it is a fairly strong indicator that coffee does in fact play a role. Despite having been demonized in the past, the evidence points to coffee being very healthy… at least for the majority of people. If anything, coffee belongs in the same category as healthy beverages like green tea.
This Article was republished with permission from Authority Nutrition.