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Effects of Coffee on Health

Updated on April 3, 2012

Rarin' to Go Joe

Original Drawing in Chalk Pastel By Billi Grossman
Original Drawing in Chalk Pastel By Billi Grossman

Benefits and Risks of Coffee Consumption


I love coffee. I love the aroma of freshly roasted and ground beans at my local coffee house. I love the scent of just brewed coffee as the steam wafts up from my cup. I savor the rich dark flavor of a good French roast, the smooth sweetness of Kona, the fruit, butter and honey from Kenya or the woodsy boldness of Sumatra.

Like me, just a little over half of Americans drink coffee. Does that include you? Coffee drinkers consume about 2 ½ cups per day on average. We have our rituals. I prefer to drink it hot. I shake the sugar packet down before tearing it open, pour the milk generously and stir well.

Recently, I stopped drinking coffee (for a couple of days) and then switched to decaf in order to reduce my blood pressure. Which got me to thinking… is it really unhealthy?

Coffee Nutrition

Coffee itself does not contain a lot of identifiable nutrition. Black, it provides about 2.5 calories per cup. It contains small amounts of B vitamins and vitamin K, as well as some minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium and chromium. It is acidic, contains caffeine and offers a powerful dose of antioxidants. These components contribute to both benefits and risks.

Coffee Risks

Excessive, ill-timed use of caffeine can cause restlessness, anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness. High intakes may contribute to elevated cholesterol, blood pressure and homocysteine (a marker for risk of heart attack or stroke). The acid in coffee may trigger gastric reflux. Coffee is a mild diuretic (though there is a net gain in water for every cup consumed). It may lead to headaches, probably due to tightening of blood vessels with caffeine.

Health Benefits of Coffee

Health benefits from coffee are broadly credited to antioxidant activity or caffeine. Freshly brewed coffee has more antioxidants than tea. And there are some benefits to caffeine.

Coffee may have positive effects on the brain. Consistent data has shown that increased consumption of coffee is associated with a decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease. Scientists believe caffeine from 2-3 cups of coffee is enough to stimulate the brain, though exactly how that occurs is not well understood. Coffee consumption has also been linked to reduced risk of dementia, including Alzheimers. Researchers believe that coffee boosts levels of GCSF, a growth factor which stimulates stem cells to enter the brain and fight amyloid plaques. GCSF encourages production of new neurons and brain cell connections. Caffeine has been shown to modulate mood transmitters and one study suggests that it may help to lower risk of depression in women.

For heart disease, the jury is still out. Drinking more than 2 cups per day may increase risk of heart attack or stroke, though coffee intake also has been linked to reduced risk of arrhythmias (another risk factor). The Nurses Health Study showed a 20% lower risk of stroke in women who drank more than 2 cups per day when compared to women who drank less than 2 cups per day, regardless of other risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

Antioxidants in coffee, both caffeinated and decaf, may help reduce risk of Diabetes and the beneficial effect of chromium on blood sugar is well documented. One Australian study showed a 7% decrease in risk for every additional cup of coffee drunk.

Coffee may be protective against several types of cancers. Data showing high coffee consumption reduces risk of liver cancer is consistent. A recent Harvard study showed a significant decrease in risk of Prostate Cancer with as little as 1-3 cups per day. In another study, coffee was effective in reducing risk of basal cell carcinoma in both men and women.

And coffee has been said to increase athletic endurance and prevent post workout soreness.

So depending on your metabolism and your personal health, coffee may be somewhat beneficial. It’sprobably not bad for you, though excessive consumption is not advised.

Chef’s all over America are cashing in on our love of coffee - roasting beans and rustling up business. New trends include regional, single estate, fair trade selections, cold brews, pour over coffee, using coffee as an ingredient, and pairing coffee with food. I for one, am delighted that one of my favorite flavors is expanding into our cuisine.

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    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      Love a good cup of coffee each day; I am delighted to see it has some benefits:)