Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Coffee

Without a doubt, coffee is one of our society’s favorite beverages.

But while many people wouldn’t even think of starting their day without savoring that hot, aromatic blend, it has been the subject of long standing debates on its health risks and benefits.

Aside from containing important antioxidants, polyphenols, proteins and fiber, coffee’s main ingredient is caffeine which is the source of most of the controversy.

The chemical name for caffeine is 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, and is found in 60 different plants.

It is the most popular drug in the world, 90% of Americans consuming it daily in one form or another.

A 6-7 oz. cup of coffee contains anywhere between 80 to 175 mg of caffeine. It is generally believed that 200-300 mg of caffeine per day is safe, but beyond that there is little agreement.

Benefits

Studies suggest not only that moderate coffee consumption causes no harm (as long as it is avoided by those who have certain risk factors), it has been shown to have possible health benefits.

For example, people who drink coffee regularly are less likely to develop Type II Diabetes than those who don’t. The caffeine in coffee reduces levels of C-peptide which is a substance in the blood that is an indicator of insulin resistance and risk for diabetes.

Also, coffee may reduce the risk of developing gallstones, discourage the development of colon cancer, improve cognitive function, increase endurance performance in long-duration physical activities, and may reduce the risk of liver damage in people at high risk for liver disease.

It is also believed to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease due to the levels of antioxidants contained in coffee.  (However, my father suffers from Parkinson’s despite having consumed coffee on a daily basis his entire life.)

And contrary to the long held belief that coffee could raise blood pressure, it has now been shown that it may even reduce the heightened blood pressure that often results from mental stress.

Studies have also shown that coffee may have protective effects on the skeletal, reproductive  nervous, and cardiovascular systems, including homocysteine and cholesterol levels, etc..

But while all of this sounds great to someone who loves coffee, conflicting evidence exists suggesting that these systems can also be compromised with excessive coffee consumption.

Risks

Although coffee does contain antioxidants, some believe that they are not enough to outweigh the associated health risks.

It is widely agreed that coffee should be avoided by anyone with high blood pressure, gastritis or ulcers, and particularly by pregnant or nursing mothers.

Pregnant and Nursing Mothers

Studies have indicated a link between consumption of over 300 mg of caffeine per day by expectant mothers and low birth weight, miscarriage, and some birth defects.

In addition, a fetus or infant’s liver is not developed enough to process caffeine and so it remains in the body for up to 4 days. Therefore, nursing mothers should avoid caffeine as well.

Adrenal Functions, Hormonal Impacts, and Nutrient Absorption

Caffeine stimulates the adrenal hormones, resulting from an activation of the sympathetic nervous system.  This controls the body’s “fight or flight response”, and should never be an extended condition. In this state, your body’s parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the rest and digest system) is inactive.

The parasympathetic nervous system regulates hormone levels, maintaining body temperature, digestion and nutrient absorption, is active under normal conditions.

But as the sympathetic nervous system remains active for extended periods, adrenal hormones are continually excreted, causing other hormones to become out of balance, precipitating numerous risk factors. Hormonal imbalances caused by extended periods of adrenal activity can lead, for example, to osteoporosis.

Excessive coffee consumption compromises the body’s ability to utilize B vitamins such as folica, B-12 and B-6, which are needed to maintain healthy homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood which in high levels has been associated with a variety of cardiovascular disorders.

It also decreases the absorption of essential minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Minerals are the most difficult of important nutrients for our bodies to absorb, even under normal conditions. Coffee cause the excretion of these minerals in the urine, especially calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron.

To Decaf or Not to Decaf?

Switching to decaf is not always the safer choice. One commonly used chemical in the decaffeination process is Methylene Chloride, which some argue is unsafe, even at the levels touted as safe by the FDA.

Even Ethyl Acetate, used in the most commonly, and ‘natural decaffeination’ touted process, is a manufactured chemical that mimics the naturally occurring one. Water and CO2 decaffeination are the safest, with no byproducts, but are much less commonly used.

Preparation and Cholesterol

Some indications of benefit vs. risk may be due to the preparation of coffee. For example, kahweol and cafestol, two substances in coffee known to raise cholesterol levels are filtered out when coffee is prepared using the drip method and paper filters. But for those who drink non-filtered coffee, such as lattes, the risk of increasing cholesterol levels is present.

Hydration

Regardless of the preparation, coffee is also a known diuretic, which limits the body’s ability to absorb water. For every cup of coffee a person should drink at least the same amount of water to make up the difference.

Acidity

Coffee consumption also raises blood acidity levels which causes calcium to be pulled from the bones to alkalize the blood, further increasing the risk for osteoporosis.

Pesticides

And a final note, coffee is one of the most heavily sprayed crops. And it is grown outside the US where pesticides are used that are against regulations in this country.  So if you do drink coffee, switch to an organic brand to avoid these dangerous chemicals and eliminate one more health risk.

Final Notes

So the moral of the story appears to be that moderation is key. If not taken in excess there seems enough evidence of some benefit to drinking coffee for those not having certain risk factors.

And if you do decide to give up coffee, or switch to decaf, do so gradually to avoid the headaches often associated with the cessation of stopping a daily caffeine habit.

When at one time I had issues with insomnia, and since then becoming aware of the link to osteoporosis, a condition which crippled my grandmother and with which my grandfather also suffered, I have given up my acquired coffee habit.

I will however still enjoy it on occasion, though I do choose organic blends, and never drink it late enough in the day that it will affect my sleep.  All the same, I can’t deny that it’s right in line behind chocolate as one of my favorite flavors!

That said, I’ll leave you with is a good study of caffeine’s affects on our bodies:

If You Enjoyed This, Please Share! These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Ask
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • LinkaGoGo
  • Live-MSN

18 Responses to “Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Coffee”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Writing this as I sip my coffee! I do love it but know that it needs to be limited. There is no doubt that drinking too much caffeine triggers adrenaline. As you say Vicki, moderation is the key… but not easy when it is so damn tasty!

    • Vicki says:

      I completely agree Liam! It’s so tasty that on the rare occasion when I allow myself to have it I will drink two large cups! I just have to be sure that I am done with them by 10am or I’ll be up all night!

  2. Ben Dover says:

    I do think that coffee in moderation probably has no detrimental effects.
    But exactly how much is “in moderation”? 2 cups a day? 1 Cup a day? 3 cups a week? Who knows.

    Most of the studies I run across seem to be based on junk science and are probably funded by interested parties.

    I have always been wary of the positive health claims attributed to coffee. For most of the positive health claims listed I know of many people who drank coffee for most of their lives who are suffering from the symptoms/illnesses listed. Similar to your father’s condition, my next door neighbor is also a prime example of someone who has drank coffee at least twice a day for most of his life and is starting to show symptoms of Parkinson’s. But coffee alone cannot be pointed to as the main culprit as most humans come into contact with many different substances and other environmental factors that are probably much higher contributors to illnesses.

  3. Ron says:

    Acidity & pesticides are enough reason for me not to drink coffee… Plus, caffiene increases the cortisol levels in the brain which inhibits muscle growth & weight loss. IOW, if you want to loose weight, then stop drinking coffee.

  4. Sam says:

    I’m intrigued by the statement about caffeine helping those with mild cases of ADD or ADHD focus. Any recommended readings?

  5. lana says:

    Hi Vicki,
    It is a very interesting article. i often have an argument with my dad about my morning cup of coffee. i have 2 cups before lunchtime as i would feel sick if i have it in the afternoon. i never thought about why.
    Any way to keep my body hydrated and look after my digestion i have in the morning 2 cups of water followed by a cup of coffee and after that a herbal tea.
    Lana

  6. Update: I’ve cut back from 6 to 3 double lattes a day. Added a couple cups of green tea. I am working the decaffeination at a bit of a steady slow pace. I used to go to bed at 1:30 every night and last night I was ready at 11:30. So I get an added benefit of having more normal waking hours too by cutting back on caffeine. I have excessive bone loss so the sooner I cut out caffeine the better.
    Thank you Vicki! It was this article that finally got me to change my ways.

    • Vicki says:

      Clay,

      That is so wonderful and thanks so much for keeping me up to date on your progress! It’s awesome that you’ll be getting more sleep now – I don’t know if you read my post on the importance of sleep but that might be even more encouragement for you :) I am so glad that you’re taking it gradually, the headaches that you can get coming off of a lot of caffeine can be dreadful! And I am so happy that I could make a difference, thanks again for the update here!

      Wishing You Good Health Always,
      Vicki

  7. Hi Vicki,

    Thanks for all this great info on coffee. I am in the midst of cleansing my body and find this post informative. Like you mention here, moderation is the key… even when eating chocolate! Both coffee and chocolate are my favorite foods!

    Carol @ Carebuzz

    • Vicki says:

      Thank you Carol! You’re right, moderation is key. Now that I don’t drink coffee as much as I used to (about twice a month now), I can really feel the effects of it. Not quite so good as before! I really have to limit my intake.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Great article…another lesser known fact is the caffeine in coffee helps people with mild ADD and ADHD focus.

  9. Wonderful Article Vicki. I wish I read this years ago. I have been a heavy coffee drinker all my life. Currently I drink about 6 double lattes a day and have osteoporosis. The bone doc said to cut back on coffee, yet your article explains why in a way that encourages a change in behavior. I’ll keep you posted on twitter how it goes. Thank you so much. @ClayFranklin

    • Vicki says:

      Hi Clay!

      Thanks! I am glad it has given you enough to consider cutting back. My grandparents both suffered from osteoporosis, and I know the terrible effects of that disease alone. And although I do love coffee, and had even thought why not start again to drink it every day. But then I began re-reading some of the sources from which I put this article together. The evidence is pretty sound that in excess, coffee can be a determent to your health! But I’ll still have my occasional cup, it’s a treat but often I pay in lack of sleep!

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting!
      To your Health!
      Vicki

  10. Alex Zorach says:

    I also add milk to coffee, but generally not to tea! Personally, I find coffee is rougher on my stomach, and also, the higher dose of caffeine does not agree with me very well.

  11. Alex Zorach says:

    I really like the way you’ve worked hard to create a balanced perspective here. Too much of what’s out there is focused on black-and-white thinking, like, “coffee is good” or “coffee is bad”. In reality, there are few substances that are completely good or completely bad, and too much of anything is always going to be bad for you.

    I’ve encountered some similar issues while researching tea; I maintain a page on the health benefits of tea, which is a huge buzzword, to the detriment of accurate information. I also have found that, like coffee, tea also has some risks, and not just from the caffeine: it can inhibit mineral absorption. Some teas can be acidic too. With herbal teas, which are very diverse, there are even more possible risks, but that’s a huge topic.

    I’m solidly convinced that for most people, tea is probably a healthier choice than coffee, if only because it contains much less caffeine, but possibly also because it’s gentler on the stomach.

    Perhaps a bigger issue though is the way people drink their tea or coffee…when you’re getting very large sizes of highly-sweetened drinks, adding extra shots of espresso, that’s going to be a lot harsher on your body than just drinking a single 8 ounce cup of medium-strength coffee in the morning.

    • Vicki says:

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I was going to suggest tea as an alternative for coffee as it does contain less caffeine, and is in most cases a healthier choice. But I confess, I do add creme and sugar to coffee, and with all that I prefer tea myself as I’m inclined to add less sweetener to it as well.

      Thanks again for your comment, and Happy New Year!

Leave A Comment...

*