The Health Benefits of Coffee
Last edited 30 December 2020
Drinking coffee daily in moderation is heathy and something to relax about (sorry baristas, 7 espressos when dialling in the machine is not in moderation). Before we get scientific, I’d like to say I use coffee as a cure-all, a panacea. Got a headache? Have a coffee. Can't sleep? Have a coffee. Constipated…? Have a coffee.
But remember, moderation. That is 2-4 cups of coffee a day without milk and sugar. Below I have separated the health benefits of coffee and caffeine into those with scientifically strong evidence and researches that show correlations where cause and effect is not clear. Anecdotal or ‘washy’ evidence is ignored. We don't want to share misinformation!
Note – Some health benefits are associated with caffeine specifically. There is generally less caffeine in specialty coffee than commercial. This article on caffeine content gives a more in depth explanation.
I also recommend reading Ben Goldacre's Bad Science for protecting yourself from Bull Shit.
Attention - Evidence shows that caffeine has clear beneficial effects on attention, and that the effects are even more widespread than previously assumed.
Reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes – Several large scale studies show there is a 25-50% reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes in regular coffee drinkers. This is partly due to an increase in plasma levels of a protein which regulates the human sex hormones, thought to be involved in the development of Type 2 diabetes. Studies also show the Chlorogenic acid in coffee can inhibit absorption of glucose, thus balancing insulin levels.
Cardiovascular Disease – There is a reduced risk of heart failure and strokes in coffee drinkers, with the biggest reduction seen in those who drink 4 cups a day. This is seen in European cultures where there is an 11% risk reduction.
Pain Relief – Caffeine kills our perception of pain through reducing inflammation and repairing tissue damage, also by blocking certain pain signals in the brain. There is evidence it boosts the efficacy of aspirin and ibuprofen too.
Fat Burner – There’s a reason why most fat burning supplements contain caffeine. It increases the body’s metabolic rate. Just don’t add sugar or commercial coffee chain amounts of milk to your coffee!
Source of essential nutrients – Coffee is a good source of Vitamin B2 and B5, as well providing small amounts of Manganese, Potassium, Magnesium and Niacin per cup. Benefits of these nutrients include metabolism of carbs into energy, blood sugar regulation, calcium absorption, improvement of cholesterol levels and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Anti-Depressive effects – Studies in both men and women have found a correlation with higher caffeine doses and a reduction in depression, as well as suicide rates. It is thought this may be a result of caffeine blocking adenosine receptors, a hormone that makes us sleepy, leading to an increase of dopamine and norepinephrine, hormones which make us feel good.
However, for those with anxiety problems or insomnia, it may not have this desired effect. These variables should be paid attention to.
Liver – There is evidence that coffee is a protector of the liver, with both cirrhosis and cancer rates reduced in coffee drinkers. For what reason though, has escaped the researchers.
Colorectal Cancer – Coffee is linked to a 26% drop in the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Cognitive Impairment – Drinking coffee is linked with the delay or resistance of Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Parkinson’s – Men who do not drink coffee are 2 to 3 times more likely to get Parkinson’s disease. The link with women is not as clear but women undergoing Hormone Replacement Therapy and who drink more than 4 cups of coffee a day appear to be at greater risk of the disease.
Gout – There is a link between drinking coffee and a reduced risk of gout. With those who have gout already though, it might bring on inflammation if not a regular consumer.
Multiple Sclerosis – A study has shown those who drink 4 to 6 cups of coffee a day are a third less likely to develop Multiple Sclerosis. However, further research is needed to rule out other lifestyle factors, seeing as the study only looked at Swedes and US citizens.
In mice, high doses of caffeine blocks part of the inflammatory process that damages nerves but this is not yet conclusive in humans.
Cafestol and Kahweol
These are diterpenes, oily LDL cholesterol-raising substances once seen as bad. They can be removed from coffee with the use of a paper filter but if they remain, they have shown to have anticancer properties and benefit the liver. Those not concerned by high cholesterol can brew with the French Press and metal meshes to take advantage of these benefits.
Caffeine intake under 200mg (a cup of coffee a day) does not appear to cause miscarriage, premature delivery or affect foetal growth in pregnant women. The effect of larger doses is still inconclusive.
A word on Antioxidants
Fresh coffee is a great source of antioxidants (electron-donors), chemicals which are said to have numerous health benefits. However, more work is to be done before these results are proved conclusive. In fact, many studies have shown negative or minimal positive results for the supposed benefits that are often spouted as truth.
Links to more information and fuller scientific explanations can be found below.