I always look forward to my morning cup of coffee. Warm, comforting, and energizing, all in one! And now it tastes even better, knowing the health benefits. Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in America, with over 150,000,000 daily consumers. But it has not arrived at its current level of popularity without some controversy along the way.
Is coffee good for us or not? The short answer is “Yes, it is a true ‘health drink’.” Coffee is rich in biologically active natural compounds that can actually enhance our metabolism. And it is not just the caffeine. As more research has become available, it now seems quite clear that….
Unless you have caffeine intolerance, you should consider making coffee one of your routine beverages.
There are 5 mental and physical health benefits that should at least get your attention:
Coffee Benefit # 1: Diabetes Prevention
One recent study showed that each additional daily cup of coffee lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 11% (a 34% lower risk for 3 or more cups daily!). Since diabetes is now at epidemic levels, anything that lowers our risk should be embraced. 3-5 cups daily seems to be optimal. Biologically active compounds like chlorogenic acid in coffee alter sugar metabolism. And if you are already a coffee drinker, beware of stopping! Your risk of diabetes can actually increase by 17% if you give up coffee!
Coffee Benefit # 2: Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention
In previous years, it was assumed that the caffeine content of coffee might raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease or stroke. In fact, research on over 1 million individuals proves otherwise. Those individuals who consume 3-5 cups of coffee on a daily basis have the lowest risk of heart disease, with a 15% reduction in heart attack risk compared to coffee abstainers. The risk of dying from stroke drops 23% for those consuming 3-4 cups per day.
Important Note: Believe it or not, decaffeinated coffee is an exception! Due to its effects on lipase enzymes, decaf coffee actually raises bad LDL cholesterol by several points, potentially increasing heart disease risks by 5-10%. Decaf coffee has not been shown to have the same preventive benefits as regular coffee.
Coffee Benefit # 3: Brain Function Enhancement
Our cognitive function is defined as our ability to learn and understand information. Studies have shown better cognitive function among coffee drinkers for many years. Caffeine is known to enhance information processing, attention, and reaction time. Some studies suggest less mental decline among coffee drinkers. Those drinking 3-5 cups of coffee daily in mid-life have shown a 65% decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
Coffee Benefit # 4: Mood Enhancement
The Harvard School of Public Health found that coffee increases the production of “feel good” brain chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. In fact, the mood change seems to be significant enough to lower the suicide risk of coffee drinkers (2-3 cups per day) by as much as 50% compared to the general population! Depression scores in women are 20% lower, on average, for those consuming 4 cups per day.
Coffee Benefit # 5: Cancer Risk Reduction
Of interest, colon cancer risks are 15% lower in those drinking 4-5 cups of coffee daily. Other studies show a reduction in risk of breast cancer, glioma brain tumors, oral cancers, basal cell skin cancers, and prostate cancer. Biologically active compounds in coffee deserve more research, but this association with lower cancer risk is reassuring, especially when so many foods and beverages are associated with an increase in cancer risk!
Caution Regarding Caffeine Sensitivity:
Note: Some individuals are highly sensitive to caffeine. If your physician has recommended you avoid caffeine due to an unstable heart rhythm or due to anxiety or insomnia, be cautious. Some individuals have an increase in heart rate or blood pressure after drinking caffeinated beverages. Simply check your pulse and blood pressure before drinking coffee and then 30-60 minutes after drinking a cup to see if you are affected. Increases of 10 beats per minute or 10 mm Hg are indicators for caution. If an increase is noted, either abstain or go slow with introducing coffee and let your body adapt. In most people the heart-stimulating effects wear off within 3 weeks. Check with your physician if questions. Avoiding coffee after 4 pm will prevent insomnia in most people.
Summary: Coffee is one of America’s most popular and healthiest beverages. Just don’t ruin it by adding toxic sugar! Flavored “sweet” coffees typically contain over 200 “empty” calories, enough to trigger long term weight gain and a risk of diabetes and heart disease. Drinking coffee black, sweetened with sucralose, or with skim milk or a non-fat creamer are all options. Avoid decaf due to its effects on cholesterol and consider drinking 3-5 cups of coffee daily as part of your routine for Optimum Health!
For Optimum Health,
Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H.