Coffee, it would appear, is the fuel that drives our society. With the average American consuming 3.4 cups per day and masses of people seemingly unable to function without their morning caffeine hit, you’d think that it was an essential nutrient. The truth is that it is a drug – and a rather controversial one at that.
Every other week it seems that we read another study that either decries or glorifies the product of the cacao bean. Passionate advocates of the wonder beverage are balanced out by those who blame it on everything from cancer to infertility. So, what’s the truth about coffee? Does it harm or does it help the body? In this article, we’ll present you with the facts, so you can decide for yourself.
Lowered Diabetes Risk
There are antioxidants contained in coffee known as polyphenols. In a Harvard School of Public Health funded study, it was found that 88,000 women who consumed a single cup of coffee per day had a 13 percent lowered risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Those who consumed two cups per day had a lowered diabetes risk of 32 percent.
In a 2005 meta-analysis, it was shown that the more coffee you drink, the lowered diabetes risk. While those who drank four cups per day, had a decreased risk level of 30 percent, the risk went up to 35 percent when they had six cups per day.
Improved Cognitive Functioning
Studies have shown that consuming a single cup of coffee per day helps elderly people to think faster, remember better and have improved reasoning.
Another study compared the results on cognitive testing performed in the morning on two groups of subjects – one which had consumed a cup of coffee and one that hadn’t. The coffee drinkers performed better.
A further study, out of the University of Barcelona, Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychobiology showed that the combination of coffee and a sweet treat resulted in greater attention span and working memory. Exactly how it does this is unclear, but the combination appears to work on the areas of the brain which are responsible for memory and attention.
Reduced Risk of Colon Cancer
A study out of the US National Cancer Institute showed that people who drink four or more cups of coffee per day had a 15 percent lowered risk of developing colon cancer.
Coffee is increasingly being recognized as a valuable tool for weight loss. One way it does this is through its thermogenic effect. Because it acts as an energy booster, it speeds up the metabolism to allow you to burn more calories. In fact, studies have shown that the simple act of drinking coffee can boost the metabolism by between 3 and 11 percent.
Coffee also contains some key fat loss compounds. One of the most important is chlorogenic acid. When consumed after a meal, it will decrease the body’s production of glucose. It also decreases the production of new fat cells, while also breaking down body fat to be released into the bloodstream as free fatty acids to be used as energy.
However, studies show that you will only get these benefits if you take your coffee black.
Protects Against Parkinson’s Disease
Coffee contains some powerful antioxidants which have been shown to lower the risk of a number of conditions, including Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s appears to kill dopamine-producing neurons in the brain.
As we’ve seen, caffeine stimulates dopamine production, so researchers see a connection here. Whatever the specific cause, it is clear that the caffeine contained in the coffee has an effect here, as people who drank decaffeinated coffee did not have a lowered Parkinson’s risk.
Increases Energy Levels
Coffee contains the world’s most popular stimulant caffeine. As such, it is a great source of energy. When you drink a cup of coffee, the caffeine quickly gets absorbed into the bloodstream, which takes it to the brain. There it acts to block an inhibitory neurotransmitter which is called Adenosine. This allows for an increase in the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which produced increased neutron activity.
The result of all of this brain activity is that you will experience greater levels of energy. That is why caffeine is used in pre-workouts formulas to give you a training boost.
You’ll recall that one of the Pros of drinking coffee is that it provides you with a quick shot of energy. However, this is often followed by what is commonly referred to as a ‘caffeine crash’ where your energy levels take a sudden and, sometimes, drastic, dip. A study out of Brown University’s Health Department revealed that the effects of caffeine are mot pronounced about an hour after putting it into your system. After that the levels of dopamine and adrenaline with drop off, which leads to an energy drop off. It can also lead to a lessened mood effect.
When you’re downing a coffee every few hours throughout your day it’s pretty easy to get your total caffeine consumption up to around the 500 mg mark or beyond. This has been shown to lead to a wired, jittery feeling, along with insomnia, irritability, and headaches.
Caffeine can have a vasodilatory effect on the blood vessels in the body. As a result, blood will flow more rapidly, bringing more oxygen to the cells and the brain. For some people, this can cause a jittery, wired feeling, especially with higher dosages. Increased adrenaline release also contributes to the jittery effect.
Problematic to Women
Coffee flows easily to every cell in the body. Caffeine that is passed through breast milk has been known to cause irritability and sleep disturbances in babies.
When a pregnant woman drinks coffee, her ovaries and fetus are bathed in the liquid. This appears to have a negative impact on her reproductive ability. In a study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, women who consumed a single cup of coffee per day were seen to be only half as likely to get pregnant as those who did not drink any coffee.
Even more concerning are studies which have shown a link between coffee consumption and spontaneous abortion. In one study, involving nearly 3,000 pregnant women, it was shown that those who consumed three of more cups of coffee per day had a higher risk of spontaneous abortion.
It May Increase Risk of Osteoporosis
Coffee increases the level of acidity in the body. The neutralize these acids, the body needs calcium. However, because caffeine is a powerful diuretic, it leads to the excretion of caffeine from the body.
If the body doesn’t have enough calcium in the body to neutralize acids, it will use its own mineral reserves from bone tissue. This may cause coffee drinkers to lose significant amounts of calcium. This weakens the bone structure and increases the risk of osteoporosis.
It May Lead to Interstitial Cystitis
Interstitial cystitis is an acute inflammation of the bladder, brought on by a bacterial infection. Symptoms include discomfort, pressure, bladder pain and the urgent need to urinate.
The diuretic effects of coffee increase the undesirable urgency to urinate. Coffee also suppresses the immune system, increases the acidity of urine and increases the production of stress hormones.
A study out of New Zealand found that a high intake of coffee (four or more cups per day) was associated with double the risk of urinary incontinence in women. The study included 131 women with a condition known as unstable bladder and 128 healthy females. The researchers found that those who consumed three to four cups per day were more likely to suffer from an unstable bladder than those who consumed only two cups per day.
It’s Not Good for Your Skin
People who drink a lot of coffee often have unhealthy looking skin. Caffeine dehydrates the body, which decreases the moisture of the skin. In addition, caffeine stimulates the sweat glands, which can produce too much oil and clog the pores.
Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands, leading to overproduction of stress hormones. In excess, stress hormones can be toxic, negatively affecting the endocrine system.
The hormonal imbalance caused by excess coffee consumption leads to a decline in the production of DHEA, melatonin and other hormones. Uneven skin tone, redness, acne, itchiness, excessive oiliness, and dryness can also result from the hormonal imbalance that results from drinking too much coffee.
Many everyday coffee drinkers will develop a dependence on caffeine which can become an addiction. This is because the brain will inevitably demand caffeine. The earlier in life a person begins to drink coffee, the higher his chances of becoming seriously addicted to caffeine are.
Coffee addicts rely on their drug of choice both physically and emotionally. The very thought of a Cuppa’ Joe can give them an emotional lift, with anticipation of their morning coffee ritual inciting feelings of pleasure.
Even though it is nowhere near as destructive as much other addictive substance, caffeine does have withdrawal symptoms. The biochemical changes in the central and autonomic nervous systems brought on by coffee addiction can cause such negative emotions as fatigue, cravings, headache, sleep disorders, difficulty making decisions and short-term memory problems.
Withdrawal symptoms from coffee may include severe craving for a cup in the morning as a result of caffeine levels in the blood being depleted overnight. When you don’t get your morning fix, you are likely to experience discomfort, dizziness, drowsiness, sluggishness, headaches, irritability and the shakes.
Whats the Conclusion?
There it is – the pros and cons of coffee seem to pretty much balance each other out. So, where does that leave you?
Rather than cutting out coffee completely, the sensible course would appear to be to think in terms of limiting your total caffeine consumption to a maximum of 450 mg per day. Most of the negative effects of caffeine are associated with dosages above this level. With about 150 mg in your average cup that means that you shouldn’t be consuming more than 3 cups max over any 24-hour period. Doing so, will allow you to reap the benefits of your favorite indulgence without having to suffer the ramifications of excess.
Dlugosz, L. et al. Caffeine intake and spontaneous abortion, Epidemiology, May 1996; 7 (3):250-255.
Holroyd-Leduc, J.M., Straus, S.E. “Management of urinary incontinence in women,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 2004; 291:986-995.