The Health Benefits of Coffee: Is Coffee Good or Bad for You?
At Barista Del Caffe, we love coffee, and we know you do too. That’s why you’re here, after all. But perhaps you’ve wondered if coffee is good for you. Studies have shown that their coffee offers a number of health benefits, but others have shown that coffee may also have some detrimental effects on our health.
Here, we look at both sides of the argument, starting with the mental health benefits, then moving onto the physical, before we look at the negatives.
Enhanced brain function
Caffeine is a well-known stimulant. We have all experienced the effects of caffeine and it’s the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world. While caffeine can be found in a range of drinks, it’s found in its most concentrated form in coffee, which can contain up to 300 mg of caffeine.
Caffeine works by blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine, which promotes sleep and reduces heart rate. This allows the body’s brain activity to increase and enables the release of other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and dopamine, which increase heart rate and blood pressure and trigger the release of glucose. This creates the feeling of being more awake and alert and improves cognitive function.
Coffee also provides a short-term memory boost. A study showed that just one cup of coffee led to a surge in brain function, as measured by functional magnetic resonance imagery as volunteers undertook a memory task after consuming coffee.
Read our guide on the best coffee beans for espresso
Coffee boosts your mood
As the world becomes increasingly aware of the impact of poor mental health, particularly depression, a study of over 50,000 women over ten years demonstrated that regular coffee consumption can reduce the risk of depression by 20%.
More significantly, an analysis of three other existing studies showed that drinking four or more cups of coffee each day reduced the risk of suicide by over half.
Coffee also does not need to be expensive, there are plenty of accessories and coffee makers that you can take around with you to make coffee shop grade coffee. We have been using the oomph coffee maker as well as the aeropress coffee maker
Better working relations
A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology showed that those employees who drank coffee had a more positive view of both themselves and their co-workers than those who did not. Not only that, but they were also more likely to participate in group activities at work, and be more collaborative.
It protects your brain
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are the two most common neurodegenerative diseases in the world. A study in the European Journal of Neurology demonstrated that those who drink coffee regularly have just one third of the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by a lack of dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for sending messages to the part of the brain that controls coordination and movement. Coffee helps to prevent this loss of dopamine, leading to a reduction in the incidence of Parkinson’s by between 32% and 60%.
The more coffee that people drink, the lower the risk. In addition, where Parkinson’s already existing, coffee may help improve motor coordination, and prevent the sleepiness often associated with the disease.
As this BBC article references, these effects may be due to the amount of polyphenols that caffeine contains, with regular drinkers imbibing around 1g of them each day from coffee alone. It is recommended that drinkers opt for lighter roasts, which contain the most polyphenols.
Caffeine can also boost your metabolism, aiding with weight loss, which is why it’s often included in fat-burning supplements. In terms of metabolism, caffeine can boost it by between 3% and 11%. According to studies this is due to the increase of epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, which travels through the blood to fat tissues, causing them to break down fats and release them into the bloodstream.
It’s so effective that some sports’ governing bodies have issued rulings on the amount of caffeine athletes can consume before events.
A study by the Journal of Pain also showed that two cups of coffee can cut post-workout muscle pain by up to 48%, aiding with post-exercise recovery.
Essential Nutrients In Coffee
There are certain nutrients that are vital for good health. According to this study a typical 240 ml cup of coffee contains the following essential nutrients:
- 2% of the daily recommended volume (DV) of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) – used to convert carbohydrates to energy; is essential for glucose metabolism; and is also key for nerve, muscle and heart function.
- 11% of the DV of Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – maintains normal levels of the amino acid homocysteine, helping to prevent heart disease.
- 2% of the DV of Vitamin B3 (niacin) – supports enzymes in converting food into energy and plays a role in cell signalling, and making and repairing DNA.
- 6% of the DV of Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) – creates red blood cells; maintains a healthy digestive tract; processes other vitamins, and synthesises cholesterol.
- 1% of the DV of Folate – plays an important role in the production of red blood cells, and is vital in pregnancy for developing the baby’s neural tubes.
- 2% of the DV of Magnesium – needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including maintaining nerve and muscle function, bone strength, and consistent heartbeat.
- 3% of the DV of Manganese – helps form connective tissue, bones, and blood clotting factors; essential for brain and nerve function; and plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and blood sugar regulation.
- 1% of the DV Phosphorus – for the formation of bones, teeth, cells and tissues; plays an important role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism.
- 3% of the DV of Potassium – manages the water balance and acid base in blood and tissues, plus supports growth and muscle building.
Another study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showehat coffee also contains up to 1.8g of the daily recommended intake of 20-38g of fibre, helping to you keep you healthy and regular.
Antioxidants are also important for good health. These are substances that protect cells against free radicals, or molecules that are produced when the body breaks down food, or when it is exposed to harmful substances, such as tobacco smoke and radiation.
Antioxidants help to fight inflammation, which is the underlying cause of many chronic conditions, such as arthritis. Although these metabolic processes are natural, they can cause stress that contributes to these chronic conditions. Antioxidants are also believed to play a role in preventing cancer.
A study in America by Joe Vinson, PhD, showed that coffee is the leading source of antioxidants in the US diet, with both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees having the same benefits. Unprocessed coffee beans contain around 1,000 antioxidants, and hundreds more develop during the roasting process.
Chlorogenic acid is an important antioxidant that is found almost exclusively in coffee, which is believed to prevent both heart disease and retinal damage.
It protects against dental problems
Coffee has been shown to improve dental health. A study in Brazil showed that strong, black coffee kills the bacteria that causes tooth decay, although adding milk or sugar negates this benefit.
In addition, a longitudinal study of over 1,100 men over a thirty year period showed that coffee helps to prevent gum disease.
Coffee reduces the chances of Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes is becoming more and more common, particularly in the Western world. Diabetes Type 2 can be related to age, weight, or genetics and is due to insufficient insulin production, or resistance to the insulin produced.
Numerous studies, such as this one, have shown that those who drink coffee on a regular basis could reduce their risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes by up to two thirds. A meta-study of eighteen other studies involving nearly half a million people, showed that each cup of coffee was associated with a reduced risk of 7%.
It is believed that coffee reduces the risk by helping the body to use insulin and protects the insulin-producing cells; prevents tissue damage; and prevents inflammation. Caffeic acid, a component of coffee, has been shown to be particularly significant in preventing the build-up of amyloid fibrils. Although, interestingly, this is one area where decaffeinated coffee may be more beneficial than normal coffee.
It protects against gout
Studies have shown that coffee consumption can reduce the risk of gout. A study of almost 90,000 female nurses over a 26 year period found a positive correlation between coffee drinking and a decreased risk of gout, with both caffeinated and decaffeinated having the same effects. Four or more cups of coffee per day reduced the risk by 57%, while up to three cups daily reduced it by 23%.
There were similar results when it came to men, although they needed to consume more for the same effect. Men who drank four to five cups per day reduced their risk by 40%, and drinking six or more cups by 60%.
The study concluded that the antioxidant properties may reduce insulin levels, which reduce the level of uric acid, a common cause of gout.
Coffee protects your liver
Your liver is vital to good health. It performs hundreds of functions in your body, including removing toxins from your blood. If not looked after, it can develop cirrhosis, which is when the liver becomes a mass of scar tissue, which prevents the liver functioning.
It has been demonstrated that coffee drinkers reduced their risk of cirrhosis by up to a huge 84%. Those who drank at least four cups a day were the least likely to develop cirrhosis.
Liver cancer is another disease that coffee can help to prevent. Liver cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths globally. A meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies involving over 240,000 people showed that drinking just two cups of coffee a day could reduced the risk of liver cancer by 43%.
Coffee protects your heart
A Dutch study that analysed data from over 37,000 volunteers across a 13 year period found that those who drank between two and four cups daily had a 20% lower risk of heart disease. It’s believed that this is achieved through coffee protecting against the inflammation that causes arterial damage.
It protects against cancer
Research has shown that coffee consumption may protect against cancer of different types. In men, it showed that they were less likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer. In women, consuming four or more cups of coffee reduced the risk of endometrial cancer by a quarter.
There also appeared to be links between reduced rates of liver, colon, breast and rectal cancers too. This is believed to be due to the polyphenols in coffee reducing the inflammation that could cause some tumours.
Given all of the above factors, it shouldn’t be a surprise that coffee drinkers have a greater life expectancy. A longitudinal study that lasted 13 years and involved over 400,000 people aged 50-71 showed that consuming coffee lowered the risk of death, with women who drank 4-5 cups reducing their risk by 16%, and men by 12%.
The Essentials of a Good Coffee
Of course, there are a few things that you should consider we well when thinking about the health benefits of coffee. The quality of coffee varies and like anything else you put into your body you should be aware of the quality of the coffee you are consuming.
There are a number of things that can have an impact on this
The quality of the coffee beans you are using – Make sure you are buying coffee beans or pre-ground coffee from legit places, you can get pretty good coffee from your local supermarket but if you are looking for something special you are going to need to look for a decent local roaster as this is where you will find that something special
How fresh is the coffee – it is well known that the freshness of your ground coffee has an impact on the quality of the coffee that you are going to be drinking making sure you invest in a good coffee grinder will go a long way in helping you with this. There are manual coffee grinders like these or there are the more specialised burr coffee grinders
The machine that makes the coffee – Depending on your budget and just how passionate you are about coffee, you can invest in a coffee machine that will make all of the difference on the type of coffee you drink. I have the Aeropress coffee maker or if you have the cash, something like the Sage Barista Express coffee machine. There are also bean to cup coffee machines that are a little more expensive but will produce good tasting fresh coffee. Coffee pod machines are also great and the Bosh Tassimo Vivi 2 is one of the more popular ones on the market
The key takeaway here is that quality is always better than quantity when it comes to coffee and the impact it will have on your health.
It is not all good news, Here are the negatives
Now we’ve looked at the positive impact that coffee can have, we need to balance the argument, and examine some of the negative effects that coffee can have.
Anyone who has consumed too much caffeine knows the effect that it can have. Physically, you experience shaking and even heart palpitations.
Mentally, it can cause increased anxiety and lead to panic attacks, as shown in this study. It has been shown to be particularly harmful to those who already have psychiatric disorders, and caffeine consumption should be a routine part of any evaluation.
For those that feel the need to drink a lot of coffee, there is the option of drinking decaf coffee. You can read more about it here in this article
Coffee is a stimulant. It has already been discussed that caffeine works by blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine, which is responsible for inducing sleep. Too much caffeine consumption, particularly later in the day can cause sleeplessness. It takes around six hours for the effects of caffeine to wear off, so it’s better to consume coffee in the earlier part of the day.
Addiction and withdrawal
Like many stimulants, caffeine can become addictive. Our body adjusts to the amount of caffeine we consume meaning that, over time, we need to drink more and more coffee to experience the same effects at the same intensity, such as alertness, as this small study showed.
And, with addiction, comes withdrawal effects. Missing even a few cups of coffee can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, tiredness, muscle aches, brain fog and irritability. These can last for at least a few days as your body adjusts to living without caffeine.
Increased cholesterol levels
There is some evidence that coffee can increase cholesterol levels. This is due to the fact that coffee contains substances known as cafestol and kahweol.
It has been shown that consuming 10mg of cafestol can raise cholesterol by as much as 5mg/dL. However, using a filter paper reduces the levels of cafestol, while methods such as French press, or cafetiere, contain the highest levels.
Increased calorie consumption
The coffee itself is low in calories. However many people add sugar and milk, and even cream to their coffee. Over time, these calories add up and can contribute to weight gain, especially where the drinker prefers sweeter coffee and drinks a high volume of coffee.
Caffeine and pregnancy
It is recommended that pregnant women limit their coffee and caffeine intake. This is because caffeine is a stimulant, which can increase blood pressure, something which can be dangerous in pregnancy.
As with anything consumed in pregnancy, coffee will cross the placenta and can affect the foetus, which is unable to properly metabolise the caffeine. In later pregnancy, it can also affect the sleep pattern and normal movement pattern of the baby, keeping it awake when it should be developing a sleep pattern.
Studies on animals have shown that caffeine can have a detrimental effect on the foetus, such as causing defects, or premature labour. However, there are no conclusive studies when it comes to humans. It is probably better to err on the side of caution, however, with experts recommending that pregnant women limit their intake to no more than 200mg per day.
As already discussed, decaffeinated coffee has many of the same benefits as normal coffee, and doesn’t have some of the negatives. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that decaffeinated coffee is made by rinsing the beans with chemical solvents. This reduces the levels of antioxidants, as well as that of the caffeine.
Different coffee types and nutrition
Coffee is available in many forms: whole beans, pre-ground, and freeze-dried. To maintain the best condition of your coffee, it should always be stored in a dry – and preferably airtight container.
In terms of nutrition, organic black, fresh coffee (whether beans or ground) is best as it contains the highest level of nutrients.
As with most things, when it comes to coffee consumption, there are two sides to the story. Coffee can have both positive and negative effects on us but, overall, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, with many of the negative effects lasting just a short period of time.
In fact, the USDA’s dietary guidelines for 2015 advised drinking coffee for better health. It’s great news for coffee drinkers, who can enjoy their favourite coffee with a clear conscience.
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