Health Benefits of Coffee

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Roughly two-thirds of American adults drink some coffee each day. Just the word “coffee” stirs strong thoughts – even emotions. Sound familiar?? Good news, observational studies continue to provide further supporting evidence that drinking coffee may be part of a healthy diet. 

Coffee consumption boasts research linking it to lower blood sugar, better liver health, sharper memory, increased energy, protection against developing dementia, and perhaps even longer overall lifespan. Along with those correlational linkages, coffee has a cocktail of compounds that boosts our mood and a study this year found that coffee consumption may be a positive contributing factor to bone mineral density, a signifier of bone health.

Important to Know: 

  • Studies about the benefits of coffee are largely observational, meaning that researchers draw conclusions based on differences between the number of disease cases in coffee drinkers versus non-drinkers.  Observational studies don’t prove cause and effect. To better understand the potential biological mechanisms underlying the observed associations of coffee with various health outcomes, additional studies are needed.
  • Too much caffeine consumption can cause restlessness, shakiness, and insomnia and the amount of caffeine that leads to unpleasant side effects varies greatly from person-to-person. Knowing how much caffeine you’re consuming each day from all sources (e.g., coffee, soda, chocolate, foods, any medications, etc.) helps to ensure you’re consuming moderate amounts. 
  • Generally speaking, children, pregnant women, and those with a history of heart attack or high blood pressure are among those who are more sensitive to caffeine than others, and for some it may be prudent to steer clear.    
  • To err on the side of caution, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises pregnant women to limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams per day – about one 11-ounce cup of coffee. 
  • Limit caffeine intake based not only on the amount, but also the timing. Consuming it too close to bedtime can throw a wrench at your plans for a good night of restorative sleep. Additionally, keep in mind that decaf coffee is not completely caffeine free. It contains varying amounts of caffeine, estimated at about 3 mg per cup.
  • Avoid/Limit adding creamy or sugary mixtures. The calorie content in a plain cup of brewed coffee is next to nothing, and there’s no fat either. 

Understanding Some of the Health Benefits: 

  • Type 2 Diabetes. Protective against Type 2 Diabetes, experts point to the molecule polyphenol–an antioxidant that fights off waste products that can cause damage or inflammatory diseases, of which Type 2 diabetes is one of them. Too, coffee is a good source of magnesium and chromium, associated with enhanced insulin sensitivity. 
  • Parkinson’s Disease. Coffee consumption is associated with a decreased risk of developing Parkinson’s, as well as easing symptoms of those with Parkinson’s disease. Researchers believe the benefit of coffee is caffeine. The stimulant may block a malfunctioning brain signal.  
  • Heart Health. Direct links between coffee drinking and coronary heart disease are “conflicting” according to The American Heart Association. In some, coffee consumption has been shown to protect against heart attacks and heart failure. In others, there is no effect or there may even be an increased risk. Studies where a benefit was seen, were associated with moderate coffee consumption—less than three cups. If you have a history of heart attack, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or any heart concerns, talk to your healthcare professional about your caffeine intake—and if (and how) you can possibly wisely enjoy coffee.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease. Regular, moderate coffee consumption has been shown to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia and possibly even delay its progression. One theory is that coffee beans contain anti-inflammatory molecules that block the cascade of inflammatory chemicals, which in turn can start a chain reaction that begins our brain’s cognitive decline. 
  • Cancer. Coffee appears to be protective against liver and colorectal cancer. Two chemicals in coffee, kahweol and cafestol, may help fight cancer and when the body digests caffeine, it makes a chemical called paraxanthine that slows the growth of the scar tissue involved in fibrosis. That may help fight liver cancer, alcohol-related cirrhosis, non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease, and hepatitis C. 
  • Antioxidants. Coffee is chock-full of large amounts of several powerful antioxidants (hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols). True to their name, antioxidants prevent oxidation, a chemical process that produces free radicals within the body. Free radicals disrupt cells and can cause DNA damage.
  • Longevity: Researchers have found longevity benefits associated with nearly every level and type of coffee consumption.

Coffee is tied to many potential health benefits. And while we should drink it for pleasure, not disease prevention…it’s good to know it has a positive impact on your health. Too, the comfort and joy coffee can offer is also a very great health benefit! 

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.

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