When it comes to health, we can say that coffee suffers somewhat of a bad reputation. Luckily, this little drink is receiving increasingly more favourable press, and for good reason. So brew yourself a cup of joe and read on to discover several solid health perks you could experience by consuming this drink — as well as a few cautions!
1. Keeps You Sharp
Did you know that coffee is one of the most commonly used psychoactive substances in the world? It’s arousing effects are quite similar to those of other stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines. So needless to say; this little beverage can pack quite a punch! But unlike its (less legal) counterparts, its advantage is that it also can, at least momentarily, improve pretty much every aspect of your brain function, starting with memory and vigilance all the way through reaction times and general cognitive function. So sip on some prior to a big exam or an important work meeting and reap the benefits!
2. Helps Burn Fat
Caffeine, the stimulant found in coffee, was shown to potentially help you ditch the blurb to the curb. This is, in part, due to it’s effect on your basal metabolic rate. Research has found that consumption of 4 – 8mg of caffeine per kg body weight (the equivalent of 3 – 8 cups of coffee) can boost metabolic rate by 12% – 16% respectively, which means it can help you burn more energy throughout the day. Over a year, this alone could lead to a significant amount of fat loss (if you don’t load up each cup with sugar and creamer that is)! Another positive; this study also found that drinking coffee can help directly increase your fat burning rate.
3. Lowers Risk Of Diabetes
Research has found an inverse correlation between drinking coffee and risk of type II diabetes. In plainer words, every refill of your cup of morning joe can help you reduce your risk of getting this disease by 5 – 10%. Decaf drinkers, rejoice. Individuals drinking 3 – 4 cups of decaffeinated coffee per day were also observed to be 33% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-drinkers or lighter drinkers.
Coffee’s magnesium and chromium content may be to thank for this effect, as they can help the body utilize the blood sugar controlling hormone, insulin. Additionally, the antioxidants found in coffee may also help prevent tissue damage caused by free-radicals. However, the exact mechanisms making coffee beneficial in this aspect remain, for the moment, unknown.
4. Protects Your Brain
Coffee has also been linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. A study looking at the coffee consumption habits of 1400 Swedish and Finnish people over 20 years reported that those drinking 3 – 5 cups of coffee per day were 65% less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. One thing to keep in mind with these type of observational studies is that they can’t necessarily show a causal link – it’s possible, for example, that coffee drinkers also pay more attention to healthy eating. But all in all, it sure is a good sign!
This effect is similar when it comes to the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, and a recent study has even shown that caffeine can help decrease the movement symptoms for people who already have developed this disease.
5. Is Kind To Your Liver
Coffee also appears to help your liver stay healthy by slowing down the progression of liver diseases, improving responses to treatment in people with hepatitis C and lowering the risk of death in people with cirrhosis. This effect appears to be so strong that daily coffee consumption was encouraged by researchers in people with chronic liver disease.
6. Makes You Happy
Those who enjoy a morning brew have long been attuned to this – coffee can help improve your mood! And now, research can also to support this. It’s been shown that individuals who drink 4 or more cups of coffee per day are 53% less likely to commit suicide.
Similarly, a study done by the National Institute of Health found that those who drink 4 or more cups of coffee per day are 10% less likely to be depressed than non-drinkers. Interestingly, women might be at an advantage, as a separate study found that consuming this same daily quantity reduces their risk of depression by 20%!
The proposed reason is simple; coffee help boost the production of feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine, thus acting as a mild antidepressant. Doesn’t that put a smile on your face?
7. Keeps Cancer At Bay
Here’s some more good news for regular coffee drinkers: coffee seemingly lowers the risk of liver cancer by ± 40% and of colorectal cancer by ± 15%.
What’s more, it seems that an increase in consumption of one cup of coffee per day can help reduce the risk of other cancers (such as bladder, breast, buccal, pharyngeal, endometrial, esophagela, hepatocellular, leukemic, pancreatic and prostate) by 3%.
8. Protects Your Skin
It appears that coffee can also reduce your chances of developing skin cancer. A large prospective study that followed over 445 000 men and women over 10 years found that those who drank ≥ 4 cups of coffee per day had a 20% lower risk of malignant melanoma.
This is likely due to the many active compounds found in coffee, including polyphenols, diterpenes, trigonelline and caffeine, shown to protect against oxidative stress, inflammation and UVB-induced skin damage. Now, does this mean you can skip the sunscreen altogether? Most likely not. But sipping on an iced latte on a sunny terrace definitely won’t hurt!
9. Keeps Your Heart Healthy
In the past, people at risk of heart disease were often steered away from coffee and told that this beverage could increase their blood pressure. Although this is, to some extent, true, more recent research has shown this effect to be small (only 3 – 4mm/Hg increase) and to usually go away if you drink coffee regularly.
In fact, combined data from 36 studies involving more over 1.2 million participants showed that those who consume a moderate amount of coffee (3 – 5 cups per day) are at the lowest risk for heart problems. And even more interestingly, those who consumed 5 or more cups per day had no higher risk than those who consumed none.
Rounding out concerns about the effect of coffee on your heart, eleven more studies confirmed these results, showing that consumption of 2 – 6 cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of stroke. And, just in case you’re not convinced, yet another recently published meta-analysis re-confirmed these findings.
Finally, a meta-analysis examining how coffee might be associated with heart failure found that consumption had to get to about 10 cups a day before any bad associations were seen. So brew those beans and drink away!
10. Helps You Live Longer
Here’s another one for the sceptics; a very recent meta-analysis including studies that jointly examined approximately 1 million individuals each found that drinking coffee was significantly associated with a reduced chance of death, especially for women and those drinking less than 5 cups per day.
11. Increases Your Fighting Power…
…against free-radicals that is! A recent (and often mentioned) study reported that coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the US. To be accurate, dates were actually shown to contain more antioxidants than coffee, but the beverage being the crowd favourite it is, easily won this title.
Antioxidants are molecules that help your body fight off cell damage caused by molecules such as free radicals, helping you, amongst others, stay healthy, ward off disease, look younger and feel better.
One thing to keep in mind is that this study has not shown that coffee drinking leads to an increase in antioxidants in the body. So don’t ward off eating fresh fruits and veggies just yet. They still remain better for you from an overall nutritional point of view – vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants included.
12. Keeps You Zen
It appears that just smelling the fresh aroma of coffee could make you less stressed, especially when if you’ve skimped on sleep. Researchers at the Seoul National University examined the brains of sleep-deprived rats and discovered that those who smelled the aroma of coffee experienced less stress. This study has not yet been reproduced in humans, but feel free to test this for yourself by keeping a bag of roasted coffee beans on your work desk. Your coworkers might thank you!
13. Fends Off Multiple Sclerosis:
Multiple sclerosis is the most common autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system. It is an inflammatory disease in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal chord are damaged, which leads to symptoms such as overwhelming fatigue, disturbed vision, loss of feeling in the limbs and difficulty moving. What’s particularly challenging is that these symptoms can progress over time, making life more than difficult to say the least.
Luckily, recent research has found that drinking 4 – 6 cups of coffee per day is associated with a lower risk of this condition, regardless of age, sex, smoking, body mass index or sun exposure habits. Pretty cool, right?
14. Decreases Risk of Gout
Gout is another medical condition that results from an inflammatory response, but this time, of the joints (most often, the metatarsal-phalangeal joint, at the base of the big toe). Gout has increased in prevalence in recent decades, nowadays affecting 1 – 2% of the Western population.
As you might have guessed, studies on coffee consumption patterns suggest that consuming coffee regularly also reduces the risk of developing gout. As little as 2 – 3 cups per day can reduce women’s risk by 22% while drinking more than 4 cups per day seems to lower risk of gout by 57%. What’s more, this benefit is associated with both regular and decaffeinated coffee; with women consuming one cup of decaf per day being 23% less likely to develop this condition.
Gentlemen, fear not, as similar findings were also documented in men. Consuming 4 – 5 cups per day could lower your risk of developing gout by 40% whereas consuming > 6 cups per day could reduce your risk by a whopping 59%.
15. Keeps Your Insides Strong
Did you know that coffee can increase the amount and activity of beneficial bacteria in your gut? These bifidobacteria are reputed for their beneficial probiotic effects, which range from preventing traveler’s diarrhea, atopic eczema to yeast infections to reducing flu-like symptoms, boosting your immune system and lowering cholesterol.
It seems that this effect is particularly useful for those who have already lower levels of bifidobacteria. And all it takes is 3 cups of coffee per day for 3 weeks!
16. Helps Your Dinner Move Along
Many people like coffee because it makes them “go”, and by that, I’m not referring to energy levels! Coffee has many things going for it when it comes to constipation relief; it’s hot and it’s a liquid, both of which are thought to help move things along. Its caffeine content can also make you beeline for the loo by stimulating the muscles in your digestive tract to contract. One note of caution – too much coffee can have the opposite effect, as it can pull liquids out of your stools, making them harder to move along.
17. Boosts Your Workout
Caffeine has been known to help improve physical performance for a little while already. However, there’s been some debate on whether or not caffeine ingested through coffee does the same.
Well, coffee lovers, here’s some good news; a recent study compared the effects of ingesting 5mg/kg caffeine vs. the same quantity from coffee. It found that, when consumed 1h prior to exercise, both caffeine and coffee improved physical performance times of endurance exercise. So no more need for those pesky caffeine pills before a running event, a good old cup of joe will do. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to run to the loo before the starting gun fires off!
18. Helps Your Sore Muscles
Feeling sore post workout? A small study from the University of Georgia found that consuming a moderate dose of caffeine (the equivalent of about 2 cups of coffee) one hour before exercise can help curb post-gym muscle pain. What’s more, according to this study, caffeine appears to provide more relief than conventional pain killers. So next time, try consuming a cup of joe before getting your sweat on. Your muscles might thank you!
Little Tips To Note:
How Much Is Too Much?
As you guessed it, too much of a good thing is…well… not so good. In the case of caffeine, too much can cause jitteriness, heart palpitations, anxiety and sleep disturbances. So how much should one drink?
Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) agree that single doses of caffeine up to 200mg and daily intakes of up to 400mg do not raise safety concerns for adults.
Pregnant? It’s good to know that caffeine easily crosses the placenta, increasing the heart and breathing rate of your baby. Too much of it can also increase the risk of miscarriage or low birth weight. This doesn’t mean you have to completely give up caffeine while you’re pregnant but it is advised that you keep your daily intake below 200mg a day.
How Much Caffeine In A Cup Of Coffee?
It can be confusing to estimate the amount of coffee per cup, as it can vary based on the type of beans used, how they are roasted and how the coffee is prepared. Typically, a 1oz (30ml) serving of expresso contains 40 – 75mg caffeine. The same quantity of decaffeinated espresso contains about 15mg caffeine. An 8oz (240ml) cup of generic instant coffee can contain 30 – 180mg caffeine (but averages ± 80 – 90mg). The same quantity of decaffeinated coffee contains ± 4 – 7mg caffeine. As you can see, there are many different options to remain under the recommendations. Also, don’t forget to factor in other caffeine-containing foods and drinks such as colas, energy drinks, teas and chocolate.
What About Decaf?
As seen above, decaffeinated coffee can bring some (although not all of regular coffee’s) health benefits. This is probably due to compounds other than caffeine being responsible for positive health effects.
When it comes to decaf, one thing you should know is that coffee is usually decaffeinated by rinsing the coffee beans with solvent chemicals. With each rinsing, a percentage of the caffeine is dissolved, but small quantities (4 – 7 mg per cup) do remain. What’s particularly disturbing though, is that trace amounts of these chemicals may also remain. It’s up to you to decide if any trace amounts of these solvents should be inside your morning coffee.
Am I Addicted?
By caffeinating yourself daily, you’ve likely developed tolerance for its effects, which unfortunately means that you might need your regular caffeine fix to just function normally. Don’t believe me? Try skipping your daily dose – you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms like extreme fatigue, splitting headaches or difficulty concentrating.
Although this may not be worrisome from a health perspective, you might want to cut back (or cycle your coffee consumption) if you notice negative side-effects such as, for example, on your sleep.
So What About Effects On Sleep?
It generally takes about 6 hours for caffeine to clear your system. And it seems coffee’s sleep-robbing effects may worsen with age. So if you’re having trouble getting enough quality shut eye, you might want to cut down on the amount of coffee you drink and maximize on having it earlier in the day.
How Can I Maximize My Coffee’s Health Benefits?
This is fairly straight forward.
First, coffee beans are one of the most heavily sprayed crops with pesticides. So chose organic.
Second, coffee beans should smell fresh, and your coffee should have a pleasant aroma. Pre-ground coffee beans can become rancid, so grind your coffee beans yourself, for maximum freshness.
Third, aim to brew coffee with a paper filter. Unfiltered coffee (such as Turkish or French press) contains cafestol, a compound that can increase cholesterol levels.
Finally, black is best. Skip the sugar, artificial sweeteners, milkers and creamers for maximal health benefits.