Coffee is America’s favorite beverage. Latte, cappuccino, mocha—there are countless types, and almost half a billion cups are consumed in the country every day. That number is more than water, tea, and soda combined.
But what many people aren’t aware of is the huge range of positive effects coffee can have on your health and nutrition. Instead, many people choose to focus on outdated beliefs that contradict modern research.
From preventing disease to giving your brain a boost, studies have shown that it’s possible for a few cups of coffee a day to do it all. We aren’t saying that you should only drink coffee, “everything in moderation,” as the old saying goes. But gone are the days when coffee was believed utterly detrimental to your health.
It might seem like an exaggeration, but a couple of cups of coffee a day could save your life or improve its overall quality. It might surprise you how beneficial coffee can be.
Everyone knows that the energy boost you get from coffee derives from its most famous component, caffeine. It’s almost as though you can feel the coffee itself pumping through your veins. There is some truth to this, but that’s not exactly how it works.
Once coffee hits your stomach and small intestine, the caffeine it contains absorbs into your bloodstream. It then travels to your brain, where it stimulates your central nervous system. This is because caffeine is a neurotransmitter—a type of chemical that your brain uses to communicate functions throughout your body.
Caffeine’s chemical structure is similar to another neurotransmitter, adenosine, which is involved in the sleep cycle. Throughout the day, your body creates adenosine, which causes drowsiness and eventually signals your body when it is time to sleep.
Since caffeine and adenosine are both neurotransmitters, your brain accepts caffeine as a substitute. This action blocks the effects of adenosine and increases the activity of neurons in the brain. Your pituitary gland is stimulated and increases adrenaline production, generating the energy boost you feel.
Adrenaline also increases your body’s fight or flight mechanism. Thousands of years ago, this was intended to keep humans safe when confronted with danger. The kinds of threats they faced are much rarer in modern times, but the response remains, and it functions by decreasing reaction times and increasing heart rate to support your response to the threat or crisis.
But these are only some of the affects caffeine can have on your brain. It can also increase vigilance and improve focus and memory. These are the kind of benefits you feel when you have that first cup of coffee in the morning.
In summary, caffeine is a stimulant that energizes you, and improves brain functions like thinking, memory, and focus, while simultaneously stopping your body from becoming tired. It’s not the coffee you can feel running through you; it’s the chemical reactions the caffeine is creating.
Coffee Can Improve Physical Performance
Caffeine’s effects on the brain and body can go further than a simple boost of energy in the morning. Caffeine is well-known as a great ergogenic aid, a substance that helps your body produce and use energy. But unlike energy drinks infused with caffeine, caffeine is a natural part of coffee beans.
These results are not as beneficial for shorter exercises, so don’t expect your 100-meter time to shrink after a cup of coffee. But the decrease in reaction time might help you get off the mark quicker. However, for people who need longer endurance, it has shown to improve performance by up to 12%. An increase in adrenaline production is the cause, but the effects don’t stop there.
Caffeine can also help by refueling your muscles after exercising. It replenishes your body’s glycogen levels, which are your main source of fuel while exercising. A 2008 study found that when athletes drank caffeine post-exercise, their glycogen levels increased by up to 66%. Their performance improved the next time they exercised as they had fuel source reserves.
Metabolism is the process by which your body produces energy—mainly from sugars and fat. If you have a fast metabolism, then your body will be more efficient at turning fat into energy and vice versa. Caffeine helps you to burn fat more quickly, but the rate varies depending on your body type. If you have a lean body, it can increase by up to 29%, decreasing to 10% for obese people.
Heating your body burns calories through a process called thermogenesis. Your body heat increases when you drink caffeine, which in turn burns more calories. The effects may be minimal but add up when combined with the increased athletic performance.
You might have heard of antioxidants from advertisements for skincare products combating the “seven signs of aging.” But what you may not know is that coffee is one of the best and most easily available sources of this type of nutrient.
Before explaining how antioxidants work, you need to know about free radicals. These are unstable molecules with unpaired electrons. While your body produces them from normal metabolism, smoking, and exposure to UV light, air pollution, and radiation also produce free radicals. Too many can be damaging, causing DNA damage and diseases.
Free radicals multiply by taking electrons from other molecules, thereby creating more free radicals. This cycle continues to a point where they increase to dangerous levels. Antioxidants give free radicals the electrons they need, helping to control them and prevent oxidative damage before it can occur.
Many scientists believe that free radicals are the cause of irreparable damage to your body. So, increasing your body’s level of antioxidants helps to mitigate these effects and slow the aging process. Many of the benefits attributed to coffee in this article are due in some part to antioxidants.
Which Antioxidants Does Coffee Contain?
Caffeine itself is an antioxidant, but by no means, the only one contained in coffee. Other antioxidants in coffee include:
Vitamin B2– more commonly known as riboflavin. Vitamin B2 can increase energy production and helps keep hair, skin, and nails healthy.
Vitamin B3– also called magnesium and niacin. Vitamin B3 helps alleviate the symptoms of arthritis, increase energy production, and protect against sun damage to the skin.
Vitamin B5– also called pantothenic acid. It can be effective against dandruff, allergies, and asthma.
Manganese and potassium– can help increase bone health, relieve inflammation, and help prevent epileptic seizures.
Cafestol – can help modulate bile acid in the intestine, while also working as an anti-inflammatory agent in the brain. Cafestol occurs in both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.
Trigonelline– can help to prevent dental cavities, and its alkaloid composition adds to coffee’s bitter aroma.
Chlorogenic Acid– promotes anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory activity within the body. It can also help to reduce fat retention and increase insulin production.
Some other natural foods contain more antioxidants than coffee, but these are almost all rare berries. Since these can be hard to source, or are very expensive, drinking coffee is a great way to get the antioxidants your body needs.
Bear in mind that individual cups of coffee only contains small amounts of each nutrient, so you shouldn’t rely on coffee alone for your recommended daily intake. However, if you drink multiple cups of coffee a day, these will all add up.
In summary, the amounts of antioxidants in one cup of coffee are small, but the number of antioxidants and benefits are many.
Coffee Can Help with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
Coffee also has long term benefits for your brain beyond keeping you stimulated throughout the day.
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are the world’s two leading causes of dementia. Both affect older people and, so far, there are cures for neither. But there is evidence that coffee can reduce the risk of developing these diseases.
Despite extensive research, the exact causes of both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are not completely understood. One of the main findings is abnormal folding and deposits of two protein fragments, beta-amyloid and tau. How and why this happens is unknown, but compounds called phenylindanes found after coffee roasting can reduce these fragments.
Unlike coffee’s short-term effects on the brain, studies show that it isn’t caffeine that decreases the risk of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. The Krembil Brain Institute tested caffeinated and dark roasts and found they produced the same amounts of phenylindanes.
By no means is anyone saying that if you regularly drink coffee, you won’t get Parkinson’s or Alzheimers, but it has shown promising effects in reducing the occurrence of both diseases. Coupled with healthy eating and regular exercise, drinking coffee might help promote good mental health in later life.
In summary, promising research found that phenylindanes produced by the coffee bean roasting process helped prevent beta-amyloid and tau proteins found in Alzheimer’s from clumping. It’s too early to say if drinking coffee prevents Alzheimer’s, but research is on-going.
Coffee Can Help Fight Depression
Everyone has good days and bad days, but these swings can be worse for some than others. Depression is a serious mental illness that affects more than 16 million Americans each year. While there are many causes, including lifestyle and biology, diet may also be a factor.
Studies have shown that caffeine can help alleviate the effects of depression. Like caffeine’s effects on brain function, its effects on depression are linked to neurotransmitters. However, rather than adenosine, your mood is positively influenced by the chemicals serotonin and dopamine.
Studies have shown that caffeine can stop some people from developing depression. A 2011 study by Harvard University concluded that increased caffeine intake reduced depression in women. The study, conducted over ten years, found a reduced onset of depression by 15% in women who drank three cups of coffee a day. Women in the same study who drank four cups of coffee a day had a 20% lower risk of developing depression.
In summary, studies have shown that coffee drinking reduced the risk of developing depression in women.
Coffee Can Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the most common diseases affecting Americans today. A 2017 study by the CDC found that almost one in ten people had one of the two main types of diabetes. More worrisome is that a further 20% of the population had prediabetes, a disease that can develop into type 2 diabetes if left untreated.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when you become resistant to the effects of insulin, you are unable to metabolize sugar, and your blood sugar levels rise. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and regulates your blood sugar. When you develop insulin resistance, your pancreas produces even more insulin to compensate for its lack of effectiveness, leading to health complications.
Various studies have shown that coffee can help prevent diabetes in certain people. However, this is another positive effect of coffee that has nothing to do with caffeine. In fact, caffeine can increase insulin and blood sugar.
A four-year Harvard study researched the effects of both increased and decreased coffee consumption and found that those who upped their coffee intake had an 11% reduction in developing type 2 diabetes. The study also showed that those who decreased their coffee intake had a 17% higher chance of developing the condition.
In summary, another benefit of drinking coffee may be in reducing your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Coffee Can Strengthen DNA
Everyone’s heard of DNA, even if they don’t exactly know what it does. Essentially DNA is the genetic material in every cell. It contains all the information directing protein production, guiding the cell activities in every process of our body.
For example, your white blood cells known to fight off infections because your DNA codes for and directs proteins that perform these functions. Thus, it’s very important to keep your DNA strong and healthy. But under some circumstances, your DNA can start to break apart in a process called oxidative damage.
Oxidative damage occurs from an increased amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS), molecules containing oxygen that your body creates. Some of these ROS are the free radicals discussed earlier. Your body needs ROS to function, but too many can cause oxidative damage to your DNA, breaking it and impairing vital protein production.
A recent German study showed that coffee could help fight against oxidative damage. The study, conducted over four weeks, showed that there was a 27% difference in DNA breaks between the coffee-drinking coffee group and the non-coffee-drinking group.
In summary, coffee can have benefits right down to the genetic level and may help keep DNA healthy.
Coffee Can Help Prevent Strokes
Many misconceptions surround the health benefits of coffee. One of these is that it can increase the likelihood of having a stroke or even cause one. Fortunately for coffee lovers, after many scientific studies, there isn’t any evidence for this claim.
However, there is evidence that the opposite could be true. Strokes can be caused by plaques, fatty deposits in the arteries supplying blood to the brain. Your body does need cholesterol to function, but some habits like smoking, and health conditions like type 2 diabetes and inflammatory disease, can increase plaque development. These fatty deposits are also caused by high levels of cholesterol and fats in the blood. However, studies have shown that coffee decreases cholesterol in regular coffee drinkers.
Another factor that often leads to stroke is hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure. One of the effects coffee has on your body is that it alters both your blood vessel’s physiology and how blood travels around your body. These changes help to decrease high blood pressure.
Coffee can also have positive benefits for people who have already had a stroke. Many people who have had a stroke find that they have balance problems. It is unclear exactly why, but coffee can help to combat this problem. One main theory is that it helps to engage parts of the brain needed for balance.
In summary, coffee drinking can have positive benefits on stroke prevention and may help balance in patients recovering from strokes.
Coffee Can Help Fight Against Heart Disease
Another myth long surrounding coffee is an association with heart disease. This belief was linked to the reasons that people thought coffee would increase their chance of having a stroke—high blood pressure and increased cholesterol.
However, some previous research studies didn’t consider other factors, like smoking or a lack of exercise, in their studies on the effects of coffee on heart disease. Recent studies, conducted under more controlled circumstances showed that coffee might decrease the risk of heart disease in various ways.
Even medical professionals used to believe that coffee caused cardiac arrhythmias. Arrhythmias are when your heart beats too fast or too slowly. But while coffee may cause heart palpitations, which can be uncomfortable, there is no evidence that it will cause arrhythmias. One study even suggests that drinking four cups of coffee a day could decrease the chance of cardiac arrhythmias. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.
But it doesn’t stop there. Depending on how quickly your body can metabolize caffeine, it may also have the benefit of reducing your risk of coronary artery disease.
In summary, coffee can have positive effects on heart health.
Coffee Can Help Prevent Gallbladder Disease
Compared to organs like the heart or lungs, most people don’t know very much about the gallbladder. Maybe that’s because it’s one of the few organs that can be safely removed without critical effects on your health. Nevertheless, the gallbladder has a couple of very useful functions within the body.
First, bile produced by the liver travels through ducts to the gallbladder where it is stored for later use. The gallbladder concentrates bile to help break down fat, and this process increases your body’s efficiency of converting fat into energy.
One of the more common problems that affect the gallbladder is gallstones, small masses created by bile, cholesterol, and calcium salts. They can go unnoticed for a long time, but when they become symptomatic, gallstones can quickly become very painful. Fortunately, recent studies have shown that increased coffee consumption can help prevent gallstones.
This effect is, in part, related to coffee’s ability to reduce cholesterol levels. With just two to three cups of coffee a day, there was a 22% lower risk of symptomatic gallstones in women and 40% lower in men. These rose to 28% and 45%, respectively, for those who drank four or more cups of coffee a day.
In summary, coffee was shown to significantly lower the risk of developing gallstones.
Coffee Can Help Fight Prostate Cancer
A study by Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Research Center analyzed over 1,000 prostate cancer survivors. They were interviewed about various aspects of their lifestyle, including medication use, family history, and diet. A follow-up round of questions asked about their coffee consumption to study their cancer recurrence or progression.
The majority of those asked drank at least one cup of coffee a day, while 12% drank four or more. The results showed that those who drank at least four cups of coffee a day had an almost 60% lower chance of their cancer progressing or recurring, although the exact reason for this is not completely understood.
In summary, coffee consumption could lower the worsening and recurrence of prostate cancer, but the reason is unclear.
Coffee Can Help Against Liver Diseases
Multiple studies have shown that coffee has many benefits when it comes to preventing and treating different types of liver disease.
This finding was consistent with results from the US Multiethnic Cohort study. The incidence of liver cancer was reduced up to 38% in people who drank two to three cups a day, rising to 41% in people who drank over four cups a day.
Liver Fibrosis and Cirrhosis
Fibrosis is the first stage of liver scarring and is common among alcoholics. As it progresses and becomes worse, the scarring turns into cirrhosis, severely affecting the liver’s ability to function.
A Dutch study found that coffee reduced the levels of liver stiffness, which is a marker for liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. A separate study found that, when compared to people who drank no coffee, those who drank four or more cups a day had a 71% less chance of dying from liver disease.
Hepatitis C virus travels through the blood and other bodily fluids. While it can go unnoticed for a long time, persistent infection can cause jaundice and liver fibrosis. Studies have indicated that coffee may slow the progression of hepatitis C.
In summary, coffee drinkers may see beneficial liver health effects, including a lower risk of liver cancer and slower development of liver cirrhosis and hepatitis C.
Turning a Negative into a Positive
Anyone who has drunk too much coffee has felt the effect it can have on your gut. You get a sudden rumble and an uneasy feeling. But before too long, it passes.
According to a study by the University of Texas, coffee does this by helping your intestines to contract and by suppressing certain types of bacteria. While this isn’t ideal for day-to-day life, there are times when it would be useful. It may not be pleasant, but almost everyone will suffer from constipation at one time or another.
If it does happen, you might find drinking a couple of cups of coffee could help. This method could even help if it is stopping you from sleeping. The study found that both caffeinated and decaf coffee had the same effect.
Coffee Can Help You Live Longer
The elixir of life, the fountain of youth, the mystical city of Shangri-La—throughout time, people have searched for ways to unlock the secret of eternal life. But if any of these searches bore any fruit, society, in general, is none the wiser.
The good news is that, while coffee won’t help you live forever, some studies have shown that it can increase your lifespan. In a recent study, almost 500,000 British adult coffee drinkers had a 10 – 15% lower death rate than non-coffee drinkers over ten years.
As with many of its positives effects, the reasons behind the benefits of this almost magical brew aren’t fully understood. The prevailing theory is that a combination of all the different benefits discussed above work to promote the benefits of coffee on your health and nutrition. But since coffee contains over 1,000 different chemicals, it is impossible to say which ones might help people live longer.
America loves coffee. But over the last few decades, multiple theories have arisen that say that America’s favorite beverage is bad for you. However, science has shown otherwise.
Multiple studies have shown that a few cups of coffee have more positive effects on your body than simply getting you out of bed in the morning. Many research studies point to coffee’s effects to treat diseases or prevent them altogether.
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No one is suggesting that you should replace an otherwise healthy diet or regular exercise with twenty cups a day, but completely leaving coffee out of your diet could be detrimental. Check out new roasts or try a different blend; it could help save your life.
In summary, from improving cognitive health, combating depression to fighting cancer and oxidative damage, many health benefits can be realized by keeping coffee consumption part of your daily routine.