By Sharon Longo
REGION – Wake up in the morning; pour a mug of coffee. Meeting with a friend; grab a couple of lattes. People have been enjoying coffee for centuries. When America was first colonized, coffee was introduced here, but tea was the desired drink. Once the Boston Tea Party happened, however, coffee became the more favorable beverage. Did our forefathers know something? What’s the deal about coffee and your health?
Reduced risk for some cancers and neurodegenerative disorders
In 1991, the World Health Organization (WHO) determined that coffee might be a possible carcinogen. Fifteen years later, the drink was deemed as not being “associated with an increased risk of cancer.” In fact, WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer published over 1,000 studies showing insufficient evidence to prove that coffee caused cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research also concluded that coffee may “reduce the risk for endometrial and liver cancer.” According to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, of those who consume the beverage, caffeinated or not, they were about 26% “less likely to get colorectal cancer.” Another study showed that those with liver disease who drank two or more cups of coffee were less likely to get cancer of the liver. It was also noted that because DNA strands naturally break over time, this can lead to tumors or cancer, but drinking dark roast can lead to less breakage of the strands.
While there are mixed results, studies indicated that caffeine helped to greatly reduce the risk of getting Parkinson’s while also slowing its progression. Caffeine was also shown to help better control mobility in those who already have the disease. Drinking more coffee lowered the chance of developing Alzheimer’s, and drinking a moderate amount, including two to three cups for people aged 65 and up, helped to lower the chance of developing dementia and other types of cognitive impairment.
Heart and liver benefits
Studies have shown that consumption of coffee could help maintain a healthy liver and prohibit disease, while those already suffering from liver disease showed less scarring, less stiffness of the liver associated with scarring, and a lower risk of death from the disease. Both regular and decaffeinated coffee also help to regulate liver enzyme levels.
While love is good for the heart, love of coffee may be too. In a study of over 21,000 people, more coffee consumption showed a big decrease in the risk for possible heart failure. A review of 21 studies also showed that drinking three to four cups per day could reduce the risk of stroke, the fourth leading cause of death for women, by 21%. Coffee is also shown to have Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), magnesium, and potassium, which may also have some heart benefits, not to mention the antioxidants which help protect cells from damage.
Loaded with antioxidants
Dr. Uma Naidoo is a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutritional biologist and author of the national and international bestseller “This is Your Brain on Food.” “While you’ll often hear me say,” she said, “ ‘Eat the rainbow!’―it’s another one of my six pillars of nutritional psychiatry, after all―this directive also includes coffee!”
“Where a colorful plate makes for a nutrient-dense meal, the fact is that the phytonutrients in plant foods which give them color also confer immense antioxidant value―and the coffee bean is no exception,” she explained. “As a dark-colored bean, coffee is rich in polyphenols―powerful antioxidants implicated in the brain benefits observed with coffee intake―including a class of compounds called chlorogenic acids. These compounds,” Naidoo added, “are known to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant activities in the brain and body, with particularly beneficial effects upon our blood vessels and pressure, especially those in the brain.”
The antioxidants in coffee could affect insulin sensitivity, and drinking it often can help process sugar better, lowering the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, with each cup lowering the risk by six percent. Coffee, however, loses its health benefits when creams and sugary substances are added.
Weight management and energy
Studies showed that coffee could possibly help manage and maintain weight, supporting gut health and altering fat storage, with more coffee leading to less body fat.
Caffeine in coffee helps to stimulate the central nervous system, increasing neurotransmitters that regulate energy levels, reducing fatigue. One study showed that coffee before exercising helped with endurance. Another study of 126 older adults showed drinking coffee led to a faster gait and improved physical performance. With one to two cups daily helping partakers achieve the recommended activity levels, this can lead to better weight management.
Aside from the physical benefits some of the research has shown, there are also studies pointing to coffee as a catalyst to improve mental function. One study showed an improvement in reaction time and mood, as well as a help for better memory. The risk of depression was shown to be lowered by eight percent per cup, and out of over 200,000 people studied, the risk of suicidal death was lowered by the hearty brew.
Too good to be true?
Despite all the positive benefits, caffeine affects each person differently. Too much of the drug, considered such because it stimulates the central nervous system and for some people may be addictive, one may experience jitters and anxiety, as well as trouble sleeping. An elevated heart rate and/or increased blood pressure may also be a result that occurs, with each eight-ounce cup packed with about 70 to 140 milligrams in a cup of regular coffee. In that same sized cup of decaf, about seven milligrams of caffeine is present. Aside from that, caffeine can cause dehydration, and for elderly people who often drink less water, this can be an issue.
Some suggestions are to consume less than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, but everyone is different. It might be a good idea to find out how much caffeine is in each cup consumed, and some people might benefit from even less of the substance, opting only for a cup of decaf. Don’t drink the beverage later in the day to avoid disruptions to sleep. Also be careful of the added sugars or saturated fats that can be added to many popular coffee drinks. These may lead to other health issues. Finally, pregnant women should cut back on caffeine, consulting with their doctor, although it’s a good idea for everyone to check in with a physician for any risks or benefits.
Whether brewing a pot at home or grabbing a mocha cappuccino on the run, know what is in the coffee you consume, and appreciate any perks you might get.