I love coffee!
I do not start my day without first having a hot cup of coffee. So, of course my friends, family and co-workers have dubbed me a “coffee addict”.
This leaves me open to such questions as, “What is the difference between your morning cup of coffee and my morning cigarette? They are both unhealthy! Right?”
To be perfectly honest, I used to brush off such questions and remarks simply because I didn’t know the answer. Of course, that was my fault for not having done the necessary research.
As a health conscious person, I pride myself in knowing whether or not what I put in my body is healthy. Therefore, I decided to look into the health benefits of coffee. The following is what I discovered about the health benefits of America’s favorite drink.
What Is America’s Favorite Drink?
What we recognize as coffee today is made of the seed of the coffee tree fruit, commonly referred to as “cherries”. This means that when we drink a cup of coffee we are in fact drinking a fruit seed extract.
Coffee beans contain high levels of caffeine which is, “the most widely consumed drug in the world”. (source)
The fact that coffee contains caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant, is the reason why the medical community remained divided regarding the health benefits of America’s favorite drink until recently. However, backed by a number of scientific studies, the medical community now agrees on the fact that moderate coffee consumption (3-4 cups a day) has a number of unique health benefits.
Note: In this article the term “coffee” refers to low-calorie, fat-free, plain black coffee, not the commercially prepared “Starbucks Latte” types of coffees that contain over 300 calories, 6 grams of fat and 30 grams of sugar, on average, per serving.
Reduced Breast Cancer Risk
Scientifically speaking, coffee is one of the most interesting compounds found in nature. What makes coffee interesting is its complex make-up of chemicals, mainly caffeine and polyphenols, which are a class of antioxidants known to have cancer fighting properties.
Current research also strongly supports the notion that polyphenols play a major role in the prevention of other health issues such as colon cancer, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, Diabetes and various neuro-degenerative diseases. (source)
One of the most notable studies into the link between caffeine consumption and breast cancer was conducted in Sweden, where coffee consumption is amongst the highest in the world.
Though not 100% conclusive, due to the complex nature of breast cancer, this study’s main finding implies that there is no overall increase in the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women who consume moderate amounts of caffeine. But, more interesting is the fact that this study established a clear link between high amounts of daily coffee consumption and a significant decrease in estrogen negative breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
In other words, drinking a lot of coffee, and consequently having high amounts of caffeine in your blood stream, does not lead to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Reduced Skin Cancer Risk
According to a 2012 study published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, increasing your daily coffee consumption may help lower your chances of developing basal cell carcinoma which is the most common form of skin cancer diagnosed in the United States.
What makes this study unique is the fact that the researchers analyzed all possible sources of caffeine in the participants’ diets including coffee, tea, chocolate, and soft drinks. Using this data, the study’s findings seem to imply that it is the caffeine in coffee, and not the polyphenols, that is responsible for the decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma.
This conclusion stems from the fact that the study’s participants all had various sources of caffeine in their diets. Therefore, the researchers were able to rule out the cancer fighting abilities of coffee’s antioxidants as being responsible for this decreased risk of skin cancer. This implied that caffeine is the cancer fighting culprit but more research on the topic is needed.
However, before you increase your daily caffeine consumption, keep in mind that consuming large amounts of caffeine may lead to premature skin aging, mainly because of caffeine’s ability to dehydrate the body. The following article explains the negative impact of high caffeine consumption on the health and beauty of your skin:
Reduced Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes
According to the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC), which is a non-profit organization devoted to the study of coffee, drinking at least 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day can help prevent the onset of type 2 Diabetes.
These findings are useful in the sense that they provide researchers with a set of numbers with which to measure the effect of coffee consumption on the decline of the public’s risk of developing type 2 Diabetes.
These finding show that drinking at least 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day is associated with an approximate 25% lowered risk of developing type 2 Diabetes. Most interestingly though, these finding also show that each additional cup of coffee consumed, lowered the risk of developing type 2 Diabetes by an average of 7 to 8%.
Unfortunately though, this study was not able to find out how coffee consumption helps reduce the risk of developing type 2 Diabetes. In other words, research has clearly shown that coffee consumption is linked to an overall reduced risk of developing type 2 Diabetes but is unable to identify the compounds in coffee that help reduce this risk.
Reduced Risk of Heart Rhythm Disturbances
According to a report presented to the American Heart association, those who consume moderate amounts of coffee may be less likely to be hospitalized for heart rhythm disturbances.
This research, which was conducted at Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland, California, found that men and women who reported drinking 4 or more cups of coffee a day had an 18% lower risk of hospitalization for heart rhythm disturbances. The interesting aspect of this research is that the 18% reduction in risk was consistent among men and women, different ethnic groups, and smokers and nonsmokers.
Unfortunately, this research was not able to establish cause and effect. This prompted the study’s author Dr. Arthur Klatsky, to state, “This study does not mean that people should drink coffee to prevent rhythm problems. It supports the idea that people who are at risk for rhythm problems or who have rhythm problems do not need to abstain from coffee.” (source)
Delayed Onset of Alzheimer’s Disease
For years scientists have known that moderate amounts of caffeine consumption is linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other neuro-degenerative disorders. Scientists also knew that caffeine accomplished this task by suppressing the rise of amyloid plaques in the brain. However, why caffeine acted in this manner remained a mystery until recently.
A recent mice study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease implied that caffeine is able to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by blocking inflammation in the brain. This finding is significant because it can lead to the production of drugs which can prevent or even reverse some forms of cognitive impairment. (source)
Effects of Caffeine on Pregnancy
If you are pregnant and miss your morning cup of coffee I have good news for you!
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), moderate caffeine consumption which is defined as drinking about 12 ounces of coffee (proximately 1 1/2 cups) a day, does not have any major effects on the rate of miscarriage, premature delivery, or fetal growth.
But the organization also warns that the effects of larger caffeine doses are unknown. Other research studies have implied that pregnant women who drink many cups of coffee a day (or otherwise consume high amounts of caffeine via energy drinks, soft drinks, tea, etc.) are putting themselves at a greater risk for miscarriage. (source)