Effect of Coffee on Your Health

I often hear my clients say “I am working on improving my diet – I gave up coffee” or “Is coffee really that bad? Can I have one cup a day?”  Coffee somehow has the reputation of being unhealthy. I am not exactly sure where it can from. On the contrary, research is showing that a  cup of coffee can not only help wake you up, it may have health benefits as well.

Coffee Perks

  • Lowers risk of diabetes: A review of 15 studies on coffee and type 2 diabetes published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who regularly drank coffee had lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Most people in the studies drank coffee prepared with the drip method. Decaffeinated coffee was not always identified, but in two of the studies, the decaf drinkers had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. So how does coffee have this effect of decreasing risk? Here is the potential mechanism… coffee contains many beneficial substances including chlorogenic acid, a compound in the antioxidant family that may improve glucose (sugar) metabolism.  Coffee also contains magnesium, a mineral that can also improve insulin sensitivity and enhance glucose tolerance
  • May lower risk of liver cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and possibly colon cancer.  At least six studies indicate that people who drink coffee on a regular basis are up to 80% less likely to develop Parkinson’s, with three showing the more they drink, the lower the risk. Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily can translate to a 25% reduced risk of colon cancer, an 80% drop in liver cirrhosis risk, and nearly half the risk of gallstones
  • Drinking coffee and exercising may prevent cancer in sun-damaged skin cells by spurring production of a tumor-blocking protein in the body, a study found. Exercise and caffeine, used in combination, doubled levels of a tumor-suppressing protein called phospho-p53, researchers found. Exercise alone spurred an 18 percent increase, and drinking the equivalent of two cups of coffee daily caused a 27 percent rise. The research was done in mice – obviously more research needs to be done on humans. ( Bloomberg News August 5, 2007)
  • Can increase energy levels, elevate mood and help decrease headaches
  • Italian researchers credit another compound called trigonelline, which gives coffee its aroma and bitter taste, for having both antibacterial and anti-adhesive properties to help prevent dental cavities from forming
  • Can enhance athletic performance and endurance
  •  Contains soluble fiber. This is the type of fiber that dissolves in water and helps prevent cholesterol from being absorbed by the intestines. As a registered dietitian, it never would have occurred to me that coffee has more soluble fiber than some fruits and vegetables. I associate higher fiber foods with foods that have more bulk. But in doing research for this post, I found the soluble fiber content of the following foods:
    espresso (per cup)  has 1.5 grams
    filtered coffee (per cup)  contained 1.1 grams
    instant coffee (per cup) contained the most — about 1.8 grams:
    cooked cauliflower 1/2 cup for 1 gm
    small banana for .6 grams
    cubed melon (1 cup) for .3 grams.
    For more info on this study, check out this link. Keep in mind the just because coffee contains soluble fiber, I am not suggesting that you substitute coffee for fruits and vegetables as they contain numerous other healthy components.
  • Can contribute towards fluid needs. In the past, it was believed that coffee dehydrated you. More recent studies show that coffee does not dehydrate habitual drinkers and can count toward your daily fluid quota.
  • Coffee is naturally calorie-free…unless you are loading it up with cream and sugar or drinking some of the high calorie coffee drinks (see my post on calories in starbucks drinks).

So What Has the Health Benefits – a Substance in the Coffee or the Caffeine? Actually both the caffeine and other substances found in coffee are responsible for health benefits.

Substances in the coffee: Coffee contains large amounts of antioxidants – even more than many fruits and vegetables.  Antioxidants are found naturally in many foods and beverages and are thought to provide health benefits in preventing diseases such as heart disease and cancer by fighting cellular damage caused by free radicals in the body. Free radicals are damaging substances that are produced through normal bodily processes.  The antioxidants may help in decreasing risk of diabetes.

– Caffeine content: Some of coffee’s reported benefits are a direct result of its caffeine content. For example, experts believe the evidence is very strong that regular coffee consumption reduces risk of Parkinson’s disease. In fact, Parkinson’s drugs are now being developed that contain a derivative of caffeine based on this evidence.  Caffeine is also what helps in treating asthma and headaches. This is one of the reasons why pain relievers such as Anacin or Excedrin contains up to 120 milligrams of caffeine. This is the same amount of caffeine found in a large cup of coffee.

Is There a Down Side to Coffee? While coffee has many perks, health experts are not recommending we substitute our water bottles for coffee cups. Here are some of the potential downsides:

  • Too much coffee (or any product that contains caffeine) can make some people jittery or increase irritability. (your boss always has a coffee cup in hand… hmm …that might explain a few things).
  • In my practice, I commonly see people who skip meals or go too long without eating and drink coffee all day long in atttempts to increase energy levels or ward off hunger. The has a negative health effect on your nutritional intake. While coffee can give you a quick energy boost, food is what provides you with more sustained energy levels.
  • While it can contribute towards your fluid needs, it does not replace water. I often see people who only drink coffee or diet soda during the day. Water is the preferred source of fluid.
  • Can cause rapid heartrate in some people. This actually happens to me. I used to love drinking several large cups of coffee a day, but after several episodes of a prolonged rapid heart rate, my doctor told me to limit regular coffee. I now drink 1/4 real coffee mixed with 3/4 decaf.
  • Can some people’s abiliity to sleep if consumed too close to bedtime (again, that would be me!)
  • Can stain your teeth (especially for you city girls who have invested in teeth whitening!)
  • Can aggravate certain stomach problems. Some reports claim that coffee can induce stomach ulcers and impair digestion by raising stomach acidity levels. Some also experience heartburn but there is no proof directly linking any of the aforementioned problems to coffee. Regardless, many individuals experience stomach problems after drinking coffee. And decaffeinated brews have the same effect as regular blends in that regard. I actually have GERD and when it “flares up”, I find both coffee and decaf to be irritants.
  • Some studies show a link between moderate to heavy consumption of coffee and increased inflammation and heart disease risk. Not all studies show this same link.
  • Again, some studies show that decaffeinated coffee can elevate fatty acids and raise LDL.
  • Pregnant women should limit their intake of coffee

Bottom line, if you are a coffee drinker, no need to cut it out (unless you have been told to do so by your doctor) as it may actually have some health benefits. However you still need to make an effort to eat a healthy diet and exercise. There are no set guidelines as to what is the maximum amount of coffee you should drink a day. My opinion is moderation… 2 cups a day might be a good guideline. Just my opinion!

Ok – so I was a spokesperson for the National Coffee Association a few years ago and lectured to editors on Food and Mood at the New York Academy of Science in Oct. 04…however this did not make me “pro-coffee” for that reason. My data is based on reseach!


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I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.

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