As I sit here writing this to you, I’m accompanied by my ritual evening mug of coffee laced with 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, some low fat cream, and a few packets of stevia topped off with a swirl of real whipped cream with cinnamon sprinkled on top. It’s my low fat, very low sugar version of a trendy coffee house caffe mocha without the cost!
Many of my patients love coffee as I do – the smell, the taste, the pick up it gives, but they frequently ask me if it’s bad for them and if they should cut down on the amount they drink. Perhaps you love your coffee too and are wondering the same thing. You’ll likely be as surprised as my patients are when I tell them that research has shown that several cups of coffee a day have some amazing health benefits! But like most good things, coffee also has a few drawbacks. Let me explain.
Coffee: The Good News
Coffee has been consumed around the world for ages. The world leaders in coffee consumption are the Scandinavian countries, with Finland no.1, Sweden next, followed by Norway and Denmark with the United States trailing far behind at no. 27 on the list! The world loves its coffee and research has found some very good health reasons why we should love it and drink it!
Speaking of coffee drinkers in Finland, a study done there in 2009 found that people who drank 3-5 cups of coffee a day had a 65% decreased risk of developing Alzheimer disease. We always knew that drinking coffee made us more alert and helped us do better on cognitive tests, but the results of this Finnish study were a real boon to Alzheimer disease research.
In addition, several years ago, a Harvard University questioned whether coffee had any effect on type 2 diabetes. It was found that, indeed, several cups of coffee a day can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These findings were not related entirely to the caffeine content as decaffeinated versions also showed protective benefits, however, less so.
Coffee, like black, green and white teas, has rather strong antioxidant properties to it. It contains antioxidants like chlorogenic acid and magnesium which help improve insulin sensitivity which likely accounts for its anti-diabetic effect.
Coffee also contains chemical compounds theophylline and alkaloids which work to relax smooth muscles, as well as inflammation reducing properties. This may be why a 2008 study showed that coffee prevented strokes in men who smoked, but also drank 8 cups of coffee, or black tea, a day.
In yet two other studies called the Nurses Health Study and The Health Professionals Study, male and female participants were studied for 25 years. The results showed that people who drank coffee were far more likely to live into old age! That’s right! People who drank 4 cups of coffee a day were found much less likely to die in middle age, especially women. It also concluded that women who drank 2-3 cups of coffee a day had a 25% lower chance of dying from heart disease as well. Men, too, had lowered risks but not as much as women.
In addition to those listed above, other benefits afforded by coffee include:
- Boosts metabolism, appetite control and weight loss
- Helps ease certain headache
- Lifts mood
- May contribute to decreased risk of some cancers
- Can help certain heart rhythm problems
Coffee: The Not So Good News
Okay, now that I’ve told you all the best things about coffee, I would be remiss as a doctor if I didn’t tell you about its drawbacks. Fortunately, there are not many and most can be avoided if you watch how you drink coffee as well as the rest of your diet. Here’s what I mean:
- Heartburn/acid reflux disease – the acids in coffee can really aggravate these conditions. I suggest trying low acid coffee and/or organic varieties. Cut the amount of cups you drink daily, drink it with food, and use cream to cut the acid.
- Dehydration – caffeine causes increased urination which can lead to dehydration and its unhealthy side effects. You can avoid dehydration by replacing every cup of coffee you drink with 1 cup of water and drinking half your weight in water daily in addition.
- Racing heart/anxiety/irritability – some people cannot tolerate a lot of caffeine. Too much can make your heart race, make you nervous and irritable. Limit the amount of cups you drink per day. Also, supplement with some extra magnesium to calm a racing heart, anxiety and irritability.
- Decaffeinated coffee – some decaf coffee is made using chemicals like methylene chloride and/or ethyl acetate to extract the caffeine and although coffee manufacturers claim they are safe, I feel their health effect is questionable as a small amount lingers in the processed coffee beans. Look for steam process, or Swiss water process, brands, which removes the caffeine by soaking in water rather than using these chemicals. Organic decaf coffees do not use these chemicals. Also, research shows that people who drink 3-6 cups of decaffeinated coffee daily had an 18% rise in levels of “bad LDL cholesterol” where caffeinated coffee drinkers did not. If you only drink 1 or 2 cups of decaf coffee a day, however, these statistics likely won’t affect you.
Coffee drinking is an activity enjoyed by many people and, as research shows, can offer certain health benefits. If you’ve been instructed by your physician to stick to decaffeinated coffee, however, I recommend limiting it to 2 cups daily of water-process decaf. Also, be sure to also drink enough pure water daily with your coffee to stay hydrated, especially in hot weather. If you’re like me and have no problems with caffeine keeping you awake at night, or problems with it causing too much acid or heart palpitations, go ahead and enjoy your coffee in moderation!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Coffee and Diabetes – The Harvard Study, http://www.talkaboutcoffee.com/coffee-and-diabetes-the-harvard-study.html
Coffee Protects Against Stroke, http://www.talkaboutcoffee.com/coffee-protects-against-stroke-study-says.html
Coffee: Health Benefits, http://www.avianweb.com/coffeeandcaffeine.html
Health Benefits of Coffee, http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/coffee-new-health-food
photo credit: en.wikipedia.org