Coffee Caffeine And Your Health

Few foods have inspired such high levels of curiosity and inquiry as coffee, perhaps because coffee consumption leads to almost immediate physiological changes, including increased alertness. And coffee really does appear to make the world go around; removing the coffee machine from almost any office may reduce productivity at best, and at worst may lead to open rebellion. Can such an influential substance really be safe? Do studies actually show a conclusive link between coffee and health?

In short summary, the answer is yes. Generations ago, coffee was suspected of having various harmful effects, almost all of which have been disproven. Despite the myths, coffee does not stunt growth, nor does it bear any connection to an increased risk of cancer. In fact, coffee may provide some positive health effects that are unobserved in non-drinkers.

However, drinking excess amounts of coffee–particularly coffee with high caffeine levels–can be detrimental to your health. When it comes to coffee consumption, moderation is key.

The Health Benefits of Coffee

Coffee benefits may include the following:

  • Alertness: The caffeine in coffee increases alertness.
  • Cognitive function and memory: Coffee drinking can lead to increased performance on tests of memory and mental acuity.
  • Muscle endurance: Some studies have shown that coffee assists with muscle endurance during long periods of exertion.
  • Prevention of Type 2 diabetes: The caffeine in coffee may regulate blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity. Even decaffeinated coffee may be beneficial, since decaf still contains enough residual caffeine to suggest a link.
  • Protection from Parkinson’s disease: Moderate coffee drinking has been linked to a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease, but only for men. Studies on women have been inconclusive.
  • Reduced risk of liver cancer: Liver cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in America, after stomach and lung cancer. People who drink one or more cups of coffee a day appear less likely to develop liver cancer than those who don’t drink it at all.

Health Risks of Coffee Consumption

While coffee can be safely consumed in moderation, some health risks have been linked to regular coffee drinking, including:

  • Anemia and trouble absorbing iron
  • Anxiety, insomnia and sleep changes
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including ulcers
  • Possible elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

A Few Notes About Coffee Moderation

Bear in mind that these coffee benefits are linked to moderate consumption, defined as about three or fewer cups a day. Caffeine is an addictive substance, and a regular pattern of more than four cups per day can lead to irritability, sleeplessness and anxiety, as well as mild withdrawal symptoms like headaches when caffeine is not available.

Studies demonstrating the health benefits of coffee do not account for additions like cream and sugar. The cholesterol and fat content of cream and the caloric content, dental issues and diabetic risks connected to sugar are not reversed by their association with coffee.

Also, many of us carry a common genetic mutation that prevents our bodies from breaking down caffeine. Those of us with this mutation are subject to an increased risk of heart disease resulting from caffeine intake.

Resources

Harvard Health Publications. (2010). For the moderate drinker, coffee is safe says Harvard women’s health watch. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/coffee_health_risk

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). What does research say about coffee and health? Is coffee good or bad for me? Retrieved September 16, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coffee-and-health/AN01354

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