Coffee is an immensely popular beverage. According to some studies, over 2.25 billion people drink coffee regularly, putting it right up there with alcohol as one of the most popular psychoactive substances in the world.
Of course, there’s nothing like the flavor of a well-prepared cup of coffee, whether it be drip, cold-brew, espresso, or even just the barely noticeable heart of some coffee newbie’s caramel/vanilla/whipped cream monstrosity.
And with so many people who like coffee, there will always be those busybody types who can’t stand to see someone else enjoying themselves, people who believe coffee just HAS to be detrimental to your health.
So what’s the deal, is coffee bad for you, or not?
The coffee controversy goes way back
We’ve had a love/hate relationship with coffee since at least the 15th century, and possibly long before.
But Yemen in the 15th century is the first time and place where people have been documented using the beans from the coffee tree to make something akin to the drink billions of people enjoy today.
And it probably comes as no surprise that the busybodies have been tut-tutting about coffee almost since day one. Religious leaders have banned coffee in places as far-flung as Mecca, Cairo and Rome.
Coffee has been cursed as the devil’s drink about as often as it’s been praised as a cure for headaches, liver dysfunction, cancer, laziness and more.
So with coffee being such a controversial beverage, it’s no wonder there’s an endless stream of studies claiming to show that it poses certain health risks – or conversely, that coffee is highly beneficial to your health.
To truly answer the question of is coffee good or bad for you, we need to take a step back and look at what coffee actually contains.
Effects of coffee: It’s more than just caffeine
Coffee’s big selling point is of course that happy boost of caffeine that millions of us enjoy to get started in the morning, or to try to stay awake during those interminable afternoon meetings. (Damn it Ted, will you just SHUT UP already?)
However there’s a lot more going on in your simple cuppa joe than being just a delightful black fountain of energy. Studies show that you get many of the same benefits of coffee whether you drink caffeinated or decaf.
Some of this might explain why:
Here’s what’s in a standard 8-ounce (240-ml) cup of coffee :
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 11% of the recommended daily value (DV)
What’s more, coffee is an under-appreciated source of antioxidants.
Coffee contains significant amounts of hydrocinnamic acids, an antioxidant that is believed to help neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidative stress.
It also packs a punch with polyphenols, another antioxidant that may play a role in preventing heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
When you consider that in a typical western diet, a whopping 80% of people get their antioxidants from beverages like coffee and tea versus food, coffee suddenly becomes a vital part of your diet.
Let’s talk caffeine
Of course, you can’t really talk about the effects of coffee or address whether coffee is good or bad for you without talking about the wide-awake elephant in the room: caffeine.
Coffee on average contains about 90-100 mg of caffeine per cup, although that number can range up to 300 mg per cup (if you’re doing it right…) and like most drugs, it offers both pros and cons.
For starters, caffeine is of course a stimulant. It works in your brain by blocking the hormone adenosine, increasing brain activity and releasing the hormones norepinephrine and dopamine. This in turn makes you more alert and less tired.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the positive effects of coffee and caffeine:
1. Boosts physical performance
Coffee and its main psychoactive constituent not only helps you to be more mentally alert, it can elevate your workout performance by 11-12 percent, according to one study. Caffeine is also known to increase adrenaline levels in your body, activating the hormone cortisol, known as your “fight or flight” hormone.
2. Helps with weight loss
Two of coffee’s lesser known ingredients, magnesium and potassium are known to help the body use insulin more efficiently, which in turn helps to regulate blood sugar and reduce your craving for sugar.
3. Helps burn fat
Studies have shown that caffeine helps the body to burn fat during workouts.
4. Reduces risk of cancer
Multiple studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of cancer, including prostate cancer in men, endometrial cancer in women, and the most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma.
5. Helps fight Type 2 diabetes
Studies show that by lowering insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, caffeine reduces your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes.
6. Reduces risk of stroke
Multiple studies have shown that 2 to 4 cups pf coffee a day reduces risk of stroke significantly.
7. It’s good for your brain
There are studies showing that coffee drinkers have a 25 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, and that it activates the area of the brain that’s susceptible to the condition. Also, regular coffee drinking is associated with a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s as well as other forms of dementia.
8. It makes you happy
Caffeine is a well-known stimulant, but it also stimulates the production of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, neurotransmitters that are associated with mood. One study showed that just two cups of coffee per day was associated with a 50 percent lower risk of suicide.
9. Coffee prevents death
Well, that may be overstating it a little bit. But the truth is coffee drinkers have been shown to have a 25 percent lower risk of premature death than people who abstain from the beverage.
Okay that’s the good, now let’s look at the ugly, regarding the question of is coffee bad for you.
Coffee health risks
1. Insomnia and nervousness
As even coffee aficionados can tell you, too much coffee too late in the day can keep you awake at night. And overdoing it even in the middle of the day can cause you to be jittery, tense, and nervous. The recommended maximum for caffeine consumption for an adult in a day is 400 milligrams, about what you’d get from four cups of coffee. And even some coffee lovers say that switching from their customary type of coffee beverage to another can cause them to get too amped up. The main takeaway here is to learn how your body works, and be sensible about the amount and time of day when you drink coffee, and you can avoid these problems.
2. Reduce caffeine intake if you’re pregnant
Controversy surrounds studies of caffeine’s impact on developing fetuses, but it is certain that caffeine reaches the baby if a pregnant woman drinks coffee. Most doctors will recommend that pregnant women stick to no more than one cup of coffee per day.
3. Cholesterol issues
Studies show that for people with high cholesterol, drinking unfiltered coffee – ie espresso, turkish coffee, or French press-made coffee – can raise LDL cholesterol levels due to coffee beans containing substances called cafestol and kahweol. If you have high cholesterol, best to stick with filtered coffee.
4. Coffee can kill you
Just the kind of dramatic take those busybodies love to tout. And it’s true: drinking coffee can kill you. However, it would take 80 to 100 cups to do the job of raising your caffeine levels to a lethal level of 10 to 13 grams. Best of luck if that’s the way you want to go, but be advised you’d probably puke most of it up before it killed you – that’s around 23 liters of coffee.
5. Coffee causes bedwetting in kids
Um, for some reason someone studied the effects of caffeine on 5 to 7-year-olds, and found – surprise surprise – that it may cause bedwetting. So maybe don’t give kids coffee…?
So, at the end of the day, if you’re looking at the effects of coffee and asking is coffee bad for your health, we have to say that, as long as you’re sensible about it and don’t have any other outstanding health issues, it would seem that the benefits outweigh coffee health risks.
Enjoy! (In moderation, and not if you’re a 5-year-old.)
Blitz yourself better!
This article contains general nutritional tips and advice. However, no diet or exercise program should be started without consulting your physician or other industry professional first. For more information read our full disclaimer here.