The Truth About Coffee

Cup of coffeeMost of us truly love our coffee and especially look forward to that first cup in the morning.  It’s delicious, it helps you wake up, and quite honestly, most of us are addicted to this wonderful brew.  But are we going to regret this delicious indulgence some day? 

A number of researchers have recently investigated the health benefits of coffee and found that drinking regular coffee on a routine basis was associated with many important health benefits such as a decreased risk of stroke, diabetes and dementia.  Also, several studies have found that people who drink coffee on a regular basis are up to 80% less likely to develop Parkinson’s.  Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily was linked to a 25% reduced risk of colon cancer, an 80% drop in liver cirrhosis risk, and nearly half the risk of gallstones.

Coffee has been found to be helpful in people who have asthma.  It also has been known to stop a headache,  improve mood, increase concentration and give you that extra energy needed to get through the day.  

Some of the health benefits of coffee are merely from the caffeine.  An eight ounce cup of drip-brewed coffee contains about 85 mg of caffeine, whereas eight ounces of black tea only has about 45 mg of caffeine and 12 ounces of Coke has 35 mg of caffeine. Many of the so called “Sports/Energy Drinks” on the market are loading up on caffeine for that extra jolt and may contain over 150 mg of caffeine.

Researchers believe that most of the health benefits from coffee probably originate from substances other than caffeine. Phenolic compounds in coffee have strong antioxidant properties, which may improve endothelial function.  Caffeinated coffee appears to have beneficial effects on glucose metabolism, inflammation, and endothelial function which would account for protection against diabetes and stroke.

Of course adding cream which is loaded with fat may counteract some of the health benefits of coffee, and pouring several spoons full of sugar into the cup adds another carbohydrate load that is not beneficial. 

While these studies are very good news for coffee drinkers, be aware that coffee can lead to a number of health problems. These can include fast heart rate, tremors, irritable bladder, excessive urination, stomach irritation, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), nausea, vomiting, restlessness, anxiety, depression,  and difficulty sleeping.

Caffeine is notorious for interfering with much-needed sleep. Many people get in a viscious cycle of using caffeine to mask their sleep deprivation, but then the excess caffeine keeps them from falling asleep the following night. The best way to break this cycle is to avoid all caffeine eight to ten hours before your desired bedtime.  Drinking coffee later in the day is more likely to cause insomnia as well as stomach irritation and reflux for many people. 

Another drawback of coffee is that certain drugs can interact with caffeine. Pregnant women and people with coronary heart disease or peptic ulcers are often advised to restrict or avoid using caffeine altogether. 

Contrary to the popular belief that coffee will sober you up after drinking too much alcohol, it can actually worsen the problem.  A recent study found that a high caffeine energy drink mixed with vodka actually reduced the participants’ perception of motor coordination compared with vodka alone.  This could obviously lead to disasterous consequences in a person who is drinking heavily away from home and has several cups of coffee to sober up before driving home.

So, is coffee good for us?  It depends on who you are, how much you drink, and when you drink it.  It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about the amount of coffee you drink. 

Source: “High Coffee Consumption Linked to Lower Stroke Risk for Women”, MedPage Today, February 17, 2009
Source: Lopez-Garcia E, et al “Coffee consumption and risk of stroke in women” Circulation 2009; 119: 1116-1123.

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