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Coffee: Good or Bad – Here’s the Truth, Backed by Research

coffee good or bad

Is coffee good or bad for you? Most of us grew up hearing that coffee is bad for you – that you (or your parents) drink too much of it, that they need to cut down, that it stunts your growth (not true) and that overall it’s not a healthy beverage.

However, if you really look at the research, you’ll see that most of it is overwhelmingly positive.  Below I’ve outlined the numerous benefits (and a few potential disadvantages) that drinking coffee provides.

Here’s a complete list of the good and the bad, along with the relevant scientific facts.  Please note that this if a study shows that drinking 4 cups of coffee is beneficial, they’re generally discussing an 8 oz. serving of black, caffeinated coffee.  It contains no sugar, no milk or cream, and is 5 calories or less.

If you think the double mocha Frappuchino with whipped cream and extra foam is anything except a sugar bomb dressed in coffee flavors, you should really study this site more :).

COFFEE – THE GOOD:

  1. It may make you live longer
    According to a 2012 study of more than 600,000 individuals, a habit of drinking coffee seems to result in longer life. This was also true for people suffering from heart disease, stroke, diabetics, and inflammatory diseases.

“Since coffee contains caffeine, a stimulant, coffee drinking is not generally considered to be part of a healthy lifestyle. However, coffee is a rich source of antioxidants and other bio-active compounds, and studies have shown inverse associations between coffee consumption and serum bio-markers of inflammation and insulin resistance.”

  1. It reduces your chances of developing Diabetes
    Another study has shown that habitual, consistent coffee consumption is linked to a reduced risk of developing Diabetes and insulin resistance. Coffee ingenstion also improved a fatty liver in mice – another consequence of a high sugar diet.

“These results suggest that coffee exerts a suppressive effect on hyperglycemia by improving insulin sensitivity, partly due to reducing inflammatory cytokine expression and improving fatty liver. Moreover, caffeine may be one of the effective anti-diabetic compounds in coffee.”

  1. It helps prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
    In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, a team of researchers tracked coffee consumption in 1,409 men and women for about 21 years. After controlling for other health factors, the researchers discovered that people who had at least 3 cups of coffee daily were 65% less likely to develop Dementia.
  1. Reduced Risk of Parkinson disease
    Parkinson disease causes the brain cells that help control movement and coordination to die. The disease leads to shaking, and eventually completely restricts walking and movement. It usually develops in people after the age of 50 and is one of the most common nervous system ailments in aging adults.

Several large studies have shown that caffeine intake (whether from tea, coffee, or other substances) is linked to a reduced risk of Parkinson’s in men.

“Adjusting for other factors, the researchers estimated that non-coffee drinkers were two to three times as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as coffee drinkers consuming 4 to 24 ounces per day. When compared to men who drank the highest amount of coffee (28 ounces or more per day), nondrinkers were five times as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.” Source: 8/1/2012 online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology

  1. Coffee can Make You Smarter
    When you drink coffee, it’s absorbed into the bloodstream and the eventually finds it’s way into your brain. In the brain, one of the effects of caffeine is to block a neurotransmitter called Adenosine. Your brain makes up for it by releasing other neurotransmitters, like norepinephrine and dopamine.  These neurotransmitters lead to neurons in your brain firing more rapidly, making you (temporarily) smarter and more alert.  It also has been proven to improve short term memory.
  2. Coffee Speeds Up Your Metabolism
    The number of calories we burn over a specific period of time is determined by our sex, weight, activity level, body fat percentage, genetics, and a host of other factors. The higher your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is, the more calories you burn naturally, without any activity (like when you’re sleeping, and who doesn’t want to burn more calories while asleep?!).

Studies have shown that drinking coffee can increase your RMR by 3 – 11%, with larger doses causing a bigger effect.  This is almost entirely due to the intake of caffeine.  However, you do get used to this effect, so you should only use it for short bursts when you need to lose weight quickly.

  1. Coffee Improves Exercise Performance
    Many people don’t know that caffeine is on the list of prohibited substances by the International Olympic Committee. Athletes who test positive for 12 micro-grams/ml of caffeine in their urine (the amount in about 5 cups of coffee) are penalized or banned from participating in the Olympic games.

There’s a good reason for this ban.  Caffeine is known to drastically improve physical performance.  It stimulates the levels of Adrenalin (Epinephrine) in the blood.  Adrenalin is the “fight or flight” hormone that readies our body for intense and immediate physical exertion.  In a well known study caffeine improved short-term endurance performance by an average of 12.3%.

  1. Coffee Reduces Appetite (in Men)
    According to a study by PrecisionNutrition, decaffeinated coffee resulted in a significant reduction in feelings of hunger for up to three hours after consumption of the beverage.

“Ratings of hunger (at 180 minutes): For time vs. beverage effect, decaffeinated coffee yielded statistically significantly lower hunger levels than placebo and caffeine during the whole study period. Hunger yielded similar results and was statistically significantly lower following consumption of decaffeinated coffee vs. placebo and caffeine.  Hunger for caffeinated coffee was not significantly different for caffeinated vs. decaffeinated coffee. However, hunger after caffeinated coffee was not significantly lower than after placebo or caffeine.”

  1. Coffee is full of antioxidants and nutrients
    The health effects of tea, especially green tea, are widely known and publicized. However, coffee also contains a substantial amount of nutrients, and many of the nutrients found in the common coffee bean actually make it into the beverage, and into your body upon consumption.

A single cup of black coffee contains significant amounts of Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5), Manganese, Potassium, Magnesium, and Niacin, to name a few.  Studies actually show that many people get more antioxidants from their daily coffee intake than from fruits and vegetables.

  1. Protect your Liver
    Drinking one or more cups of coffee each day can help protect your liver against Cirrhosis and other diseases. Heavy alcohol use is the most common cause of Cirrhosis in developed countries (although viruses such as Hepatitis C can also cause it). From the study:

“By the end of 2001, 330 participants had been diagnosed with cirrhosis, including 199 with alcoholic cirrhosis. For each cup of coffee they drank per day, participants were 22 percent less likely to develop alcoholic cirrhosis. Drinking coffee was also associated with a slight reduction in risk for other types of cirrhosis. Among those who had their blood drawn, liver enzyme levels were higher among individuals who drank more alcohol, indicating liver disease or damage; however, those who drank both alcohol and coffee had lower levels than those who drank alcohol but did not drink coffee, with the strongest link among the heaviest drinkers.”

Tea drinking was not associated with any reduced risk of Cirrhosis or other forms of liver disease, which suggests that the caffeine in coffee is not responsible for the reduced risk.

  1. Coffee Helps Prevent Depression and Suicide
    A study done by the Harvard School of Public Health demonstrated that drinking two or more cups of coffee a day can reduce the risk of suicide in both men and women by 50%. The reason is that caffeine is a well-known anti-depressant – it helps produce neurotransmitters in the brain that make you feel good, such as serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline.
  2. Coffee Reduces the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
    In 2014, a very large meta-analysis (a study of studies) of 36 studies involving 1,279,804 participants showed that the people who drank 3 – 5 cups of coffee each day were at the lowest risk for cardiovascular disease. Heavy coffee consumption (more than 5 cups per day) was not associated with any increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  3. Reduced Risk of Stroke
    Another meta-analysis prepared in June of 2011 reviewed 11 studies involving almost 480,000 people. It showed that drinking 2-6 cups of coffee per day were linked to a lower risk of stroke. Another study published in 2012 reviewed 9 studies.  Again, the study showed that “coffee consumption of 4 cups or more per day showed a preventive effect on stroke in this meta-analysis.”
  4. Lowers Your Chance of Heart Failure
    A meta-study published in 2012 in the American Heart Association Journals concluded that the consumption of 4 cups of coffee per day is associated with a reduced risk of heart failure. The meta-study analyzed studies from 1966 through 2011 and examined 6,522 heart failure events and a total of 140,220 participants.
  5. Coffee Contains Fiber
    Fiber has a number of health benefits and it’s been shown that the fiber from the coffee bean actually trickles down into a cup of coffee as well.

 

COFFEE – THE BAD:
There are some negative effects from drinking coffee – most of them are temporary and are probably due to the caffeine intake, but there are also some studies, shown below, that discuss some potential negative effects of the beverage.

Caffeine can definitely make some people jittery and nervous, and can affect your mood.  It can also keep you awake at night.  It’s important to keep in mind that these studies are based on the effects of coffee on thousands of people – and that if you don’t feel good when drinking it, you should avoid it (or drink decaff).

  1. Short-Term (3 hours) Risk of High Blood Pressure
    A 2005 meta-analysis found that caffeine was linked to an increase in blood pressure. This lasts at least 3 hours. There is no significant relationship between drinking coffee (or caffeine intake) and higher blood pressure over long-term periods.

An additional study performed in 2012 confirmed that there is no long-term link between coffee or caffeine consumption and high blood pressure.  The effect lasts for 3 or more hours, but eventually goes away as the caffeine leaves your system.

  1. Drinking Unfiltered Coffee Can Increase LDL Cholesterol Levels and Triglycerides
    A review of 12 scientific studies found a link between drinking unfiltered coffee (such as Turkish or Greek coffee or coffee from a French Press) and an increase in LDL Cholesterol (the bad kind) and Triglycerides. It seems that patients with high cholesterol already seem to be more sensitive to these types of coffee.

This effect seems to come from the compounds in coffee called Diterpenes, specifically one called Cafestol, which is found in both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.

Summary
Coffee is one of the most common beverages around the world.  It’s been a drink consumed by people for at least a thousand years – with roots found in Ethiopia around the 10th century.  Its use really took off in the 15th century in Yemen, and then spread over the next hundred years to most of the Middle East.

People have been enjoying the caffeine boost and bitter flavor for hundreds of years.  Depending on the circumstances, drinking coffee can be helpful or harmful in surprising ways – some, but not all of it, due to the caffeine content.

While there has been a lot of hype around reducing the amount of coffee you should consume, most of it is just that – hype.  The truth is there are literally hundreds of scientific studies showing benefits directly from drinking a moderate amount of coffee daily.  I, for one, plan on continuing my coffee habit well into old age.

Just remember, drink your coffee black – don’t add sugar, cream, and definitely don’t buy any of those overpriced calorie bombs full of sugar with coffee flavoring!

Join me on my journey to end the confusion, cut through the nonsense, and discover simple nutrition that works.