Is Coffee Healthy?
Yes it’s true, your favourite morning brew may actually be healthy for you. Rejoice! Article over.
No, please keep reading and let me explain…
There are many misconceptions about coffee and health that can lead to confusion about whether coffee consumption can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Epidemiological studies and experimental research suggests that coffee consumption (3 to 4 cups/day) may help to lower risks for several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s), liver diseases, and inflammatory conditions.
Before you get too excited, it’s also important to note that coffee may increase the risks of anxiety; insomnia; headaches; palpitations, especially for heavy drinkers; the risk of fracture in women; and the risk of low birth weight and preterm birth when consumed during pregnancy. These risks may be associated with a high caffeine content or the lack of appropriate metabolic enzymes - in other words, individual to the person and the ability for their liver to breakdown and eliminate caffeine.
A number of factors can affect the way in which an individual tolerates caffeine including how much and how often its consumed, the quality of coffee consumed, and individual biochemistry (age, weight, body fat, genetics, stress levels, metabolic enzymes). Each person’s sensitivity or tolerance to caffeine can vary, and this can change depending on stress and energy levels, health or medical conditions (including pregnancy), food intake, medication, liver and kidney function.
The bioactive compound in coffee, caffeine, is the most commonly consumed stimulant and psychoactive substance in the world. The caffeine content in a coffee can vary from around 50-165mg.
The average half-life of caffeine is 5-7 hours (depending on the person), meaning that is how long it takes the caffeine to clear and stop having an effect on your body. However, it takes 1.15 days to fully clear caffeine from your system.
When caffeine is consumed it is metabolised by the liver and absorbed into the bloodstream. It then travels to the brain and attaches to adenosine receptors, blocking the ability for adenosine to attach to these receptors. When adenosine is blocked, it allows neurons in the brain to fire more and increase brain activity, as well as increased release of stimulatory neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and adrenaline.
This increased stimulation gives us short term improvement in brain cognitive function such as memory, focus, mood, reaction times and energy levels. Studies have also shown caffeine to increase metabolic rate, thermogenesis and fat oxidation short-term.
However, adenosine is also responsible for regulating melatonin production, which in turn regulates our circadian rhythm and the quality and quantity of our sleep. Therefore, having caffeine too close to bed time may interrupt sleep quality.
Health benefits of coffee
Coffee contains a potent source of antioxidants, which provide numerous health benefits by scavenging free-radicals and reducing oxidative stress. The antioxidants are what is believed to provide benefits against lowering disease risk. However, fruits and vegetables are plentiful in antioxidants, so we don’t need coffee to get a good source of antioxidants.
Studies have shown caffeine to be effective at improving athletic performance by increasing adrenaline (our fight or flight hormone), mobilising fat cells (which can be used for energy during exercise), increasing fat burning, and increasing stamina. It also increases brain function, focus, reaction times and energy levels.
A study found drinking a few cups of coffee a day could improve mental health by helping to release neurotransmitters such as dopamine that make us feel good.
Lowered risk of chronic diseases:
Studies have shown long-term regular coffee consumption to be associated with a lowered risk of type-2 diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as a longer life expectancy.
However, the results of these studies are not black and white. Some research found a lowered risk of mortality and disease rates, whilst others showed a higher risk or no change at all. What was discovered was that heavy coffee drinkers tended to be smokers and/or physically inactive, or may have drank their coffee with added sugar and/or milk, impacting their disease risk. Whether coffee is beneficial to health realistically comes down to overall lifestyle and diet quality.
Negative effects of coffee
As with any non-organic source, coffee bean crops are heavily sprayed with pesticides. If you buy coffee for home, stick to an organic coffee bean, and find a local café that uses organic coffee where possible.
Too much caffeine can lead to restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, dizziness, irritability, upset stomach (due to the acidity), rapid heartbeat and tremors. Caffeine also raises blood sugar levels (due to the action of adrenalin), which may affect management of diabetes. The amount which causes side effects can vary from person to person.
Not only does caffeine stimulate the nervous system and adrenal glands, but a dependency on caffeine for energy can signal a problem with adrenal health. Too much stress on the adrenal glands over a period of time can potentially lead to adrenal maladaptation or fatigue. Eliminating caffeine can even cause short-term withdrawal symptoms.
Coffee is a diuretic, meaning it increases water loss through urine. Just make sure you are hydrating with adequate water daily.
Caffeine can interact with some medications, so best to check with your Doctor.
Take home message
The take home message is that caffeine affects each of us differently, so listen to your body to find your own tolerance levels. Be aware about how much coffee you drink, time of day you drink it, whether you are getting caffeine from other sources (check your supplements), and how you drink your coffee (i.e. are you adding sugar and milk?). Everything in moderation and to suit the individual.