The health effects of coffee are controversial.
Despite what you may have heard, there are plenty of good things to be said about coffee.
It’s high in antioxidants and linked to a reduced risk of many diseases.
However, it also contains caffeine, a stimulant that can cause problems in some people and disrupt sleep.
This article takes a detailed look at coffee and its health effects, looking at both the positives and negatives.
Coffee is rich in many of the nutrients naturally found in coffee beans.
A typical 8-ounce (240-ml) cup of coffee contains some of the following benefits:
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 11% of the DV
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 6% of the DV
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 2% of the DV
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 2% of the DV
- Folate: 1% of the DV
- Manganese: 3% of the DV
- Potassium: 3% of the DV
- Magnesium: 2% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 1% of the DV
This may not seem like a lot, but try multiplying it with the number of cups you drink per day — it can add up to a significant portion of your daily nutrient intake.
But coffee really shines in its high content of antioxidants.
In fact, the typical Western diet provides more antioxidants from coffee than from fruits and vegetables combined.
Coffee Contains Caffeine, a Stimulant That Can Enhance Brain Function and Boost Metabolism
Caffeine is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world.
Soft drinks, tea and chocolate all contain caffeine, but coffee is the biggest source.
The caffeine content of a single cup can range from 30–300 mg, but the average cup is somewhere around 90–100 mg.
Caffeine is a known stimulant. In your brain, it blocks the function of an inhibitory neurotransmitter (brain hormone) called adenosine.
By blocking adenosine, caffeine increases activity in your brain and releases other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine. This reduces tiredness and makes you feel more alert.
Numerous studies demonstrate that caffeine can lead to a short-term boost in brain function, improving mood, reaction time, vigilance and general cognitive function.
Caffeine can also boost metabolism by 3–11% and exercise performance by 11–12%, on average.
However, some of these effects are likely short-term. If you drink coffee every day, you will build up a tolerance — and with it, the effects will be less powerful.
Some Studies Show That Coffee Drinkers Live Longer
Given that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of many common, deadly diseases — as well as suicide — coffee could help you live longer.
Long-term research in 402,260 individuals aged 50–71 found that coffee drinkers had a much lower risk of dying over the 12–13 year study period.
The sweet spot seems to be at 4–5 cups per day, with men and women having a 12% and 16% reduced risk of death respectively.
Caffeine Can Cause Anxiety and Disrupt Sleep
It wouldn’t be right to only talk about the good without mentioning the bad.
The truth is, there are some negative aspects to coffee as well, although this depends on the individual.
Consuming too much caffeine can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations and even exacerbated panic attacks
If you are sensitive to caffeine and tend to become overstimulated, you may want to avoid coffee altogether.
Another unwanted side effect is that it can disrupt sleep.
If coffee reduces your sleep quality, try quitting coffee late in the day, such as after 2:00 p.m.
Caffeine can also have diuretic and blood pressure-raising effects, though these usually dissipate with regular use. However, a slight increase in blood pressure of 1–2 mm/Hg may persist.
Caffeine Is Addictive and Missing a Few Cups Can Lead to Withdrawal
Another issue with caffeine is that it can lead to addiction.
When people consume caffeine regularly, they become tolerant to it. It either stops working as it did, or a larger dose is needed to produce the same effects.
When people abstain from caffeine, they get withdraw symptoms, such as headaches, exhaustion, brain fog, and irritability. This can last for a few days.
Tolerance and withdrawal are the hallmarks of physical addiction.
The Difference Between Regular and Decaf
Some people opt for caffeinated coffee instead of regular.
Decaffeinated coffee is usually made by rinsing coffee beans with chemical solvents.
Each time beans are rinsed, some percentage of the caffeine dissolves in the solvent. This process is repeated until most of the caffeine has been removed.
Keep in mind that even decaffeinated coffee does contain some caffeine, just much less than regular coffee.
How to Maximize the Health Benefits
There are some things you can do to maximize the beneficial health effects of coffee.
The most important is to not add a lot of sugar.
Another technique is to brew coffee with a paper filter. Unfiltered coffee — such as from a Turkish or French press — contains cafestol, a substance that can increase cholesterol levels.
Bear in mind that some coffee drinks at cafés and franchises contain hundreds of calories and a lot of sugar. These drinks are unhealthy if consumed regularly.
Finally, make sure to not drink excessive amounts of coffee.
Should You be Drinking Coffee?
Some people — especially pregnant women — should definitely avoid or severely limit coffee consumption.
People with anxiety issues, high blood pressure or insomnia might also want to reduce their intake for a while to see if it helps.
There is also some evidence that people who metabolize caffeine slowly have an increased risk of heart attacks from drinking coffee.
That said, coffee can have important beneficial effects on health for the average person.
If you don’t already drink coffee, these benefits are not a compelling reason to start doing it. There are downsides as well.
But if you already drink coffee and you enjoy it, the benefits appear to far outweigh the negatives.
It’s important to keep in mind that many of the studies referenced in this article are observational. They examined the association between coffee drinking and disease outcomes but do not prove a cause and effect.
However, given that the association is strong and consistent among studies, coffee may indeed play a positive role in your health.
Though it was demonized in the past, coffee is likely very healthy for most people, according to scientific evidence.
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