I don’t know about you but whenever I think of coffee (which is rather a lot) ‘healthy’ is not the first word that comes to mind. Instead we have often been conditioned to think that high intake of coffee increases heart rate, may cause cancer, and is generally detrimental to your health. However, recent scholarship is increasingly showing that not only is this misinformed but the exact opposite is true!
A 2017 article in the British Medical Journal surveyed over 200 scholarly articles on the relationship between coffee and health and concluded that:
“Coffee consumption seems generally safe within usual levels of intake, with summary estimates indicating largest risk reduction for various health outcomes at three to four cups a day, and more likely to benefit health than harm.”
That is, drinking three to four cups of coffee a day is not only safe but likely to benefit your health! And these are not just the wishful words of a coffee lover but instead an academic thesis reached on the basis of thorough research. So if like us you love coffee and drink enough to make you feel vaguely guilty, then good news, you may actually be contributing to your overall health!
In this article we will sketch seven proven health benefits of coffee before giving some advice about healthy coffee consumption.
The Health Benefits of Coffee
Coffee Can Improve Brain Function a.k.a. Make you Smarter
The high levels of caffeine in coffee enhance various aspects of brain function including memory, mood, energy levels, reaction time, and general functionality. Basically, the way this works is that both Robusta and Arabica beans from which coffee comes contain high levels of caffeine. When drunk this caffeine is absorbed into the bloodstream from where it travels into the brain. The caffeine then blocks an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain which results in a stimulant effect through the enhanced firing of neurons (if that doesn’t get you excited then I don’t know what will!).
The long and the short of it is coffee contains caffeine and caffeine acts as a stimulant in the brain leading to enhanced mental performance. So if you have an essay to write, a particularly important report to pen, or an issue to think through then a good old hit of caffeinated goodness may legitimately be just what you need!
Coffee Can Improve Physical Performance and Help Burn Fat
As well as impacting brain function coffee has been shown to improve physical performance and decrease muscle pain. One 2005 study found that caffeine improves physical performance by 11.2%. Another 2007 study discovered that drinking two cups of brewed coffee can reduce post-exercise muscle pain by as much as 48%! In fact, this potential for physical performance is so potent that between 1984 and 2004 Olympic athletes were forbidden to drink any high concentrations of caffeine (aka coffee) before competing.
In addition to its function as a performance enhancer, coffee can also help to raise your metabolism causing you to burn fat faster. The way this works is that caffeine stimulates the nervous system which signals fat cells to break down body fat. While this may differ between long term coffee drinkers and newbies, the science is hard to argue with. Coffee enhances physical performance and helps you to burn fat faster while you are engaged in exercise. So coffee before and after exercise is a scientifically-proven good idea! I mean if we are serious with ourselves we would drink it even if the science didn’t back it, but it is nice to not have to feel guilty about it!
Coffee Can Lower the Risk of Type Two Diabetes
Studies have recently discovered that regular coffee drinking can significantly decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. One study followed close to 100,000 women and 28,000 men over a four year period and found that those who increased their coffee intake by one cup per day had an 11% lower risk of type two diabetes while those who had one less cup per day increased risk of diabetes by 17%. Another study following 40,000 participants for around 10 years discovered that those who drank at least three cups of coffee per day reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 42%.
Type 2 diabetes is characterised by high blood sugar levels which are the result of a resistance to insulin and insulin-producing cells. Coffee helps the body to resist this health problem by protecting insulin-producing cells, reducing tissue damage, and fighting inflammation. Again the science is irrefutable, regular to heavy consumption of coffee significantly lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Coffee can Lower the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinsons
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and includes problems associated with memory, thinking, and behavior. This horrible disease is often found in people over 65 and is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. While at present there is no known cure to this disease, there are a number of factors that have been proven to help prevent it including healthy eating, exercise, and … drinking coffee. A study done out of the Faculty of Medicine at Lisbon found that “Caffeine intake was associated with a significantly lower risk for Alzheimer’s Disease, independently of other possible confounding variables.” So not only does this magic drink help you physically and mentally, it may also be acting as a preventative to a range of medical diseases.
Another one of these diseases is Parkinson’s which is a degenerative condition which also has no known cure and often involves tremor, slowness of movements, limb rigidity, and balance problems. A range of studies have now shown that moderate to high coffee consumption (3+ cups a day) may help prevent the risk of this horrible disease among both men and women. So if you didn’t already love coffee (which is unlikely if you are reading this article) then here is another reason to love this drink; it may be helping to protect your body from a range of diseases!
Coffee can Lower the Risk of Liver Damage and Certain Forms of Cancer
I hope you are starting to get the picture that far from being the bad guy, coffee is actually aiding your physical health and performance in a wide range of ways. Another one of these health benefits is protection of the liver from cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can be the result of a range of diseases in the liver and leads to the liver being largely replaced by scar tissue. A study done out of an Italian University found that those who drink 4 or more cups of coffee per day can have up to a whopping 84% decreased cirrhosis risk. So that coffee hobby/passion/addiction that your workmates give you slack for may actually be actively protecting your liver!
In addition, coffee has been proven to reduce the risk of various forms of cancer. While it used to be widely thought that coffee consumption could help cause cancerous growths this is now widely disproved. In fact, in 2016 the World Health Organisation even officially removed coffee from its list of carcinogens (substances or chemicals capable of causing cancer or tumours). One study found that those who increase their coffee consumption by two cups per day have a 43% reduced risk of liver cancer. Similarly, it has been shown that there is a relationship between coffee drinking and reduced risk of colorectal cancer. In fact, even for those already diagnosed with colorectal cancer, drinking 4+ cups of coffee per day may decrease the risk of death by the cancer by up to 52%. All of which is hopefully driving the point home; coffee may be doing far more for your body than you think!
Coffee Can Make you Happier
Need I say any more? This is a point which every committed coffee lover can happily affirm. But while many of us find our happy place brewing, drinking, smelling, and thinking about coffee, what we may know is that coffee also chemically helps make us happier. One 2011 study found that women who drink 2-3 cups of coffee per day have a 15% decreased risk of depression while women who drink 4+ a day are 20% less likely to have clinical depression. This can also translate into a significantly reduced risk of suicide. The reason that coffee can help stave off depression is that caffeine stimulates neurotransmitters that control the dopamine and serotonin levels.
It is worth noting at this point that if you are suffering from depression or another physical or mental illness then we do not recommend changing your lifestyle or coffee consumption without consultation with a medical professional. Particularly if you are suffering from depression then any forms of treatment should be given and monitored by your local doctor, psychologist, or counsellor.
Coffee Can Help You Get Along With People
This has got to be my favourite health benefit of coffee. Science has finally proved what many of us have known to be true for a long time. A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that consuming a moderate amount of coffee aids participation in group activities, increased alertness, and positive evaluations of oneself and others in the group. So the old joke not to talk to me before I have had my morning coffee may not be so far off the mark!
Advice for Healthy Coffee Drinking
The first thing worth noting is that almost all the statistics and studies above were referring to black coffee without any additives. So while coffee itself is actually remarkably good for you, any milk(s), sugar, or cream you put in your morning brew at least in part nullify these health benefits. So if you want to maximise the health benefits of coffee then do the switch and start drinking black. And as a side note, drinking black coffee is not only healthier but also allows you to better taste the nuances of single origin coffees and is almost a prerequisite in the speciality coffee scene.
Don’t Feel Guilty for Drinking Lots of Coffee
Further, the various academic studies cited suggest that healthy adults should drink around 3-4 cups per day to best optimise coffee’s health benefits. This comes to around 400 mg of caffeine with your average home brewed cup of coffee containing anywhere from 50-100 mg of caffeine. So if you down 4 or even 5 cups per day (preferably black) then don’t feel guilty about it as you may actually be protecting rather than damaging your health. However, if you do drink 6+ cups of coffee daily then it is worth at least chatting to your local doctor about it. It may be absolutely fine but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Don’t Increase your Coffee Consumption for Health Reasons
While a moderate to heavy coffee consumption does have health benefits there is not yet enough proven causal relationship to increase your coffee consumption for this reason. So the point of this article is not to convince you to go from 1 cup to 4 cups per day. Instead it is to hopefully help you see that even if you do drink a lot of coffee it may be helping instead of harming your body.
Realise that Coffee Affects Different People Differently
It is also important to understand that coffee affects people’s bodies differently. So while 3-4 cups is the recommended intake, this may be very moderate for some and far too much for others. For example, people with caffeine sensitivity or certain heart conditions may need to forego coffee completely. Signs that your body might not be coping with your coffee consumption include increased anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, high blood pressure, fatigue, and rapid heart rate. If you even suspect some of these symptoms may be true of you then we recommend going to see a local doctor or medical professional. In extreme cases it may even be necessary to have a coffee detox at least for a time. While we love coffee literally enough to make a website about it, protecting your body is more important.
Furthermore, women who are either pregnant or breastfeeding should check with their local doctor or obstetrician before consuming any coffee.
Summing it Up
So the final word is that the next time somebody has the nerve to question your coffee consumption then stand your ground! Science shows that moderate coffee consumption aids your physical and mental health, helps prevent a range of diseases and disorders, and even helps you to get along with people better.
So if like us you already love coffee you can hopefully feel a little less guilty about downing the good stuff. And if you are still living in the myth that coffee is bad for your health then get with the times! Coffee is a scientifically-proven good idea!