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Is Drinking Coffee Healthy?

By Paula Vargas September 14, 2020

Is Drinking Coffee Healthy?

It’s safe to say, coffee is the world’s stimulant of choice. No matter where you are, you’re likely to find a coffee shop near you. If not, your local store will have you covered with instant varieties. From long blacks to frothy cappuccinos, there’s something for everyone from the novice to the coffee connoisseur. The drifting aroma of that morning coffee brewing at your local café can be enough to put a grin on your face, anticipating the glory of that first sip. 

Coffee has become a sacred ritual for many of us around the globe, and some may find they can’t start their Monday’s without one! Do you live on the motto of ‘but first, coffee’? Whether it’s your wake-up beverage on the daily or you just like to enjoy a cup with your friends on the weekend, you may be wondering if it’s good for you. You'll be glad to know, many studies have been done on your cup of liquid gold, with some positive results!

Health Benefits of Coffee:

  • Gives you energy, focus and mood:  

Caffeine keeps you alert because it blocks adenosine receptors in the brain (which make you sleepy). It can help keep you awake, even though you use it regularly! Coffee also increases dopamine and adrenaline in the body, which improve mood and focus. However, this is found to decrease with regular consumption, so if you want the same effects, you should consider cycling caffeine or doing a ‘detox’ for a few days, so you become sensitised to it again.  

  • Helps your exercise performance and burn fat:  

Increased power output during exercise was found with doses of 400mg, a great way to improve strength. For reference, a standard coffee may contain approximately 95mg of caffeine. A regular pre-workout will have 300-400mg of caffeine (or more!). Having caffeine with carbohydrates was also found to improve glycogen replenishment after exhaustive, glycogen-depleting exercise. Excellent for you hard-training athletes looking to refuel your muscles!  

Coffee has been found to have a thermogenic effect (which is why you’ll see it in most fat burner supplements), and it helps the body to release fatty acids which can be used as fuel.  

  • Protects against neurological and heart conditions:  

Coffee is shown to help blood flow to the brain, which supports your cognition. Studies are looking at coffee as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders. It may assist you to protect your memory as you age.  

Scientific analysis also found that drinking coffee was linked to a lower risk of stroke, coronary heart disease and heart failure. If you have high blood pressure, however, you should be careful about your caffeine consumption. Always listen to your body and find out what your tolerance level is. 

  • May offer protection against diabetes and cancer:  

Evidence suggests that by drinking coffee regularly, the risk for type 2 diabetes is lessened. One of the antioxidants found in coffee, chlorogenic acid, may also decrease glucose absorption from high carbohydrate foods. But - what? You just read that coffee can help glycogen replenishment after exercise. It should be noted that the athletes studies had depleted glycogen stores. A systematic review of clinical trials on caffeine and glucose metabolism found that 'consumption of caffeinated coffee may lead to unfavourable acute effects; however, an improvement on glucose metabolism was found on long-term follow-up'. Over the long term, it was found that there was more time for chlorogenic acid to provide the antioxidant and anti-inlammatory effects.

A 2001 study compared the antioxidant activity of common polyphenolic beverages. It was found that coffee has ‘significant antioxidant activity’, more than cocoa, green tea, black tea and herbal tea.  

A meta-analysis looking into coffee consumption and cancer risk found it was ‘associated with reduced risk of oral, pharynx, liver, colon, prostate, endometrial cancer and melanoma’.  

  • Other health benefits: 

Coffee may improve digestive health, by increasing the movement of the bowels. For those with inflammatory bowel conditions, however, it should be noted that coffee can sometimes make it worse. 

Coffee can aid liver health. According to a 2017 scientific review, coffee was considered to reduce the risk of cancer, slow down fibrotic disease in a variety of liver diseases, and possibly reduce the replication of hepatitis C.  

Coffee may assist with asthma management: Though it’s not an adequate treatment, it may help you manage symptoms being a mild bronchodilator, providing benefits for 2-4 hours after ingestion. 

Some pretty awesome benefits here, aren't there? Before you rush off for another brew, keep in mind that there's no such thing as a positive without a negative.

Coffee downsides:

  • It can be addictive  
  • Your body becomes desensitized to it, so you need more (and more!) to feel the original effects  
  • You may get sleep disturbances  
  • Coffee causes digestive issues in some  
  • You may experience increased anxiety and nervousness  
  • Irritability and depression, as well as low energy, can come from continuously depending on coffee
  • Coffee can stain teeth, erode tooth enamel and cause bad breath

By finding your optimal coffee dosage per day, you can mitigate most of these. If you feel like your coffee just isn't giving you that life spark anymore, try and cut back for a few days to a couple of weeks, so that your body has a chance to become sensitised to it again.

Final thoughts - How much coffee?  

The key is to find your ‘sweet spot’. Some people may naturally have a high caffeine tolerance, and others can’t afford to have even one a day! Apart from your genetics and how your body metabolises caffeine, it is also impacted by other factors, such as pre-existing gastrointestinal disorders, stress levels, the use of other stimulants and certain medications. If you suffer from anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia or are prone to digestive disorders, you may want to give it a miss, or at least keep your consumption on the lower end. For healthy adults, up to 400-500mg per day is the upper limit. The limit for pregnant or nursing women is much lower, at 200mg. Of course, this depends on your tolerance level. If you love your daily cup of joe, know that it's a not-so-guilty pleasure you can enjoy over the long haul!

By Paula Vargas Duran

References:

  • American Heart Association. 2020. Drinking Coffee May Be Associated With Reduced Risk Of Heart Failure And Stroke. [online] Available at: <https://newsroom.heart.org/news/drinking-coffee-may-be-associated-with-reduced-risk-of-heart-failure-and-stroke> [Accessed 14 September 2020].
  • Examine.com. 2020. The Science Behind Caffeine. [online] Available at: <https://examine.com/nutrition/science-behind-caffeine/> [Accessed 13 September 2020]. Heath et. Al, R., 2020. Coffee: The Magical Bean For Liver Diseases. [online] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440772/> [Accessed 14 September 2020].
  • Huxley R, Lee CM, Barzi F, et al. Coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea consumption in relation to incident type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(22):2053-2063. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.439
  • Richelle M, Tavazzi I, Offord E. Comparison of the antioxidant activity of commonly consumed polyphenolic beverages (coffee, cocoa, and tea) prepared per cup serving. J Agric Food Chem. 2001;49(7):3438-3442. doi:10.1021/jf0101410
  • Reis et. Al, C., 2020. Effects Of Coffee Consumption On Glucose Metabolism: A Systematic Review Of Clinical Trials. [online] ScienceDirect. Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411018300014#sec5> [Accessed 14 September 2020].
  • Taylor & Francis. 2020. Coffee And Health: A Review Of Recent Human Research. [online] Available at: <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408390500400009?scroll=top&needAccess=true> [Accessed 13 September 2020].
  • Wang, A., Wang, S., Zhu, C., Huang, H., Wu, L., Wan, X., Yang, X., Zhang, H., Miao, R., He, L., Sang, X. and Zhao, H., 2020. Coffee And Cancer Risk: A Meta-Analysis Of Prospective Observational Studies. [online] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5036059/> [Accessed 14 September 2020].

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