6 health benefits from drinking coffee
Caffeine is the world’s most widely used central nervous system stimulant, with approximately 80% consumed in the form of coffee.
Although studies have historically shown the negative side effects of coffee, recent studies indicate that it can actually improve your health – from boosting brain power, to delaying Alzheimer’s disease and improving memory as you age.
“There is certainly much more good news than bad news, in terms of coffee and health,” says Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Read on to learn more about the surprising benefits of coffee on the body and mind.
1. Coffee can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
Coffee has also been linked to lower risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease as well as Parkinson’s disease.
Studies show that caffeine and coffee can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, even in seniors who already have some form of mild dementia. Research shows that caffeine blocks inflammation in the brain, specifically adenosine receptors, which can start a chain reaction that begins the mind’s cognitive decline.
Coffee can have such a positive effect on inflammation in the brain, which adults over the age of 65 who had higher levels of caffeine in their blood, were found to avoid or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Neuroscientist Chuanhai Cao, said of the study: “These intriguing results suggest that older adults with mild memory impairment who drink moderate levels of coffee – about three cups a day – will not convert to Alzheimer’s disease or at least will experience a substantial delay before converting to Alzheimer’s.”
A 2009 study from Finland and Sweden showed that, out of 1,400 people followed for about 20 years, those who reported drinking 3-5 cups of coffee daily were 65% less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, compared with non-drinkers or occasional coffee drinkers.
“For Parkinson’s disease, the data have always been very consistent: higher consumption of coffee is associated with decreased risk of Parkinson’s,” Hu tells WebMD. That seems to be due to caffeine, though exactly how that works isn’t clear, Hu notes.
2. Coffee lowers the risk of Type 2 Diabetes
The data on coffee and type 2 diabetes is convincing, based on more than 15 published studies.
“The vast majority of those studies have shown a benefit of coffee on the prevention of diabetes. And now there is also evidence that decaffeinated coffee may have the same benefit as regular coffee,” says Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.
In 2005, Hu’s team reviewed nine studies on coffee and type 2 diabetes. Of more than 193,000 people, those who said they drank more than six or seven cups daily were 35% less likely to have type 2 diabetes than people who drank fewer than two cups daily. There was a smaller perk — a 28% lower risk — for people who drank 4-6 cups a day. The findings held regardless of sex, weight, or geographic location (U.S. or Europe). More recently, Australian researchers looked at 18 studies of nearly 458,000 people. They found a 7% drop in the odds of having type 2 diabetes for every additional cup of coffee drunk daily.
So how might coffee keep diabetes at bay? “It’s the whole package,” Hu says. He points to antioxidants – nutrients that help prevent tissue damage caused by molecules called oxygen-free radicals. “We know that coffee has a very strong antioxidant capacity,” Hu says.
Coffee also contains minerals such as magnesium and chromium, which help the body use the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar (glucose). In type 2 diabetes, the body loses its ability to use insulin and regulate blood sugar effectively.
3. Coffee may counter heart disease and stroke
Coffee may counter several risk factors for heart attack and stroke.
First, there’s the potential effect on type 2 diabetes risk. Type 2 diabetes makes heart disease and stroke more likely.
Besides that, coffee has been linked to lower risks for heart rhythm disturbances (another heart attack and stroke risk factor) in men and women, and lower risk for strokes in women.
In a study of about 130,000 Kaiser Permanente health plan members, people who reported drinking 1-3 cups of coffee per day were 20% less likely to be hospitalised for abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) than non-drinkers, regardless of other risk factors.
And, for women, coffee may mean a lower risk of stroke.
In 2009, a study of 83,700 nurses enrolled in the long-term Nurses’ Health Study showed a 20% lower risk of stroke in those who reported drinking two or more cups of coffee daily compared to women who drank less coffee or none at all. That pattern held regardless of whether the women had high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and type 2 diabetes.
4. Reduces suicide risk and Depression
The Archives of Internal Medicine released a 10-year study of 86,626 female nurses showed a strong associated between coffee intake and a reduced risk of suicide. The nurses participants were aged 34 to 59 years in 1980, and were free of diagnosed coronary heart disease, stroke, or cancer.
Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study of 50,739 women aged 63 years, spanning a 10-year span, and concluded that women who drink 4 or more cups of coffee were 20% less likely to suffer from depression. Though it was suggested that further investigations were needed to confirm this finding and to determine whether usual caffeinated coffee consumption can contribute to depression prevention.
5. Coffee reduces colorectal cancer risk
Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center of Keck Medicine of USC have found that coffee consumption decreases the risk of colorectal cancer.
The study examined over 5,100 men and women who had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer within the past six months, along with an additional 4,000 men and women with no history of colorectal cancer to serve as a control group. Participants reported their daily consumption of boiled (espresso), instant, decaffeinated and filtered coffee, as well as their total consumption of other liquids. A questionnaire also gathered information about many other factors that influence the risk of colorectal cancer, including family history of cancer, diet, physical activity and smoking.
“We found that drinking coffee is associated with lower risk of colorectal cancer, and the more coffee consumed, the lower the risk,” said Stephen Gruber, MD, PhD, MPH, director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and senior author of the study.
The data showed that even moderate coffee consumption, between one to two servings a day, was associated with a 26 percent reduction in the odds of developing colorectal cancer after adjusting for known risk factors. Moreover, the risk of developing colorectal cancer continued to decrease to up to 50 percent when participants drank more than 2.5 servings of coffee each day. The indication of decreased risk was seen across all types of coffee, both caffeinated and decaffeinated.
“The levels of beneficial compounds per serving of coffee vary depending on the bean, roast and brewing method,” said first author Stephanie Schmit, PhD, MPH. “The good news is that our data presents a decreased risk of colorectal cancer regardless of what flavour or form of coffee you prefer.”
6. Coffee promotes health from Antioxidants
Coffee’s health promoting properties are likely due to the antioxidants naturally occurring in the coffee bean.
- A typical serving of coffee contains more antioxidants than typical servings of grape juice, blueberries, raspberries, and oranges.
- Antioxidants in coffee may dampen inflammation, reducing the risk of disorders related to it, like cardiovascular disease.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are man-made or natural substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage. Antioxidants are found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables. They are also available as dietary supplements.
Examples of antioxidants include: Beta-carotene, Lutein, Lycopene, Selenium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E.
Vegetables and fruits are rich sources of antioxidants. There is good evidence that eating a diet with lots of vegetables and fruits is healthy and lowers risks of certain diseases. But it isn’t clear whether this is because of the antioxidants, something else in the foods, or other factors.
How safe or beneficial is coffee then?
For most people, coffee can be a healthy part of the diet and there is no reason to not enjoy a couple cups a day unless you can’t control your consumption.
However, coffee may not be beneficial for everyone. Those with certain heart conditions, caffeine sensitivity, and woman who are pregnant should stick to decaf or tea.
Also, those that drink coffee in excess may be negating some of the benefits because of the large amounts of caffeine they are consuming. These people may benefit from a caffeine detox to reset their caffeine tolerance to more moderate levels.
The key is moderation, which is typically 2-3 cups a day, to get the coffee health benefits but avoid the negative issues associated with too much caffeine.
For more information on the possible negative aspects of coffee / caffeine, read our blog article Negative effects of coffee: The ups and downs of caffeine.
Read more on the importance of keeping health over 60 in volume 2.
Volume two: Looking after your health and well-being after 60
– EurekAlert!, New study links coffee consumption to decreased risk of colorectal cancer, 1 April 2016. Read full article
– 4 Surprising Benefits of Coffee, January 4, 2017, Alissa Sauer. Read full article
– WebMD, Coffee and Your Health, Neil Osterweil. Read full article
– Archives of Internal Medicine, A prospective study of coffee drinking and suicide in women. Kawachi I; Willett, W; Colditz, G; Stampfer M; Speizer, F. 11 March 1996. Read full article
– The JAMA Network, Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Depression Among Women. Lucas, M; Mirzaei, F; Pan, A. 26 September, 2011. Read full article
– Caffeineinformer, 19 Good Health Reasons To Drink Coffee. Read full article
– MedlinePlus, Antioxidants. Read more
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