With the number of places to buy coffee in the UK doubling by more than half in the last ten years, find out if our addiction is killing us or extending our lives
Since the 1500s, headlines have debated the health benefits and concerns associated with consuming coffee. This iconic drink is well known for its caffeine content, but coffee itself consists of many other substances, and even the way that it’s brewed can have influences on our health. To be safe, it is recommended to exclude creams, milks, sugars and flavourings from your daily fix.
Research in this area is extensive and incomplete, but here are some facts on how coffee is good and bad, to digest alongside a cuppa.
Reasons that coffee is good for you
- Coffee increases alertness, energy levels and boosts physical and mental performance. Caffeine is a stimulant, blocking an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain so that norepinephrine and dopamine levels increase. It increases adrenaline levels in the blood, which helps you to prepare for physical exertion and can boost performance by 11-12 percent. Studies have also shown that coffee can improve memory, mood, vigilance, reaction time and general cognitive function.
- Coffee can burn fat and help you lose weight. Caffeine can boost the metabolic rate by three to 11 percent and also helps to break down fat cells to be useable as fuel.
- Coffee reduces risk of cancers. A study showed that daily coffee drinkers had a 40 percent lower risk of developing liver cancer and a 15 percent lower risk of getting colorectal cancer. Another found that drinking coffee could reduce chances of prostate cancer in men by 20 percent and endometrial cancer in women by 25 percent.
- Coffee lowers risk of Type 2 diabetes. Caffeine decreases insulin sensitivity, with studies indicating a 23-50 percent lower risk of coffee drinkers getting this disease.
- Coffee reduces risk of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia. Coffee drinkers seem to have more protection against Parkinson’s Alzheimer’s and dementia and there is evidence that coffee causes activity in these affected parts of the brain. People who drank decaf coffee did not have a lower risk, suggesting that it is the caffeine that plays a part here.
- Coffee reduces risk of strokes. Some studies show that coffee drinkers have a 20 percent lower risk of having a stroke and others debunk the myth that coffee raises the risk of heart disease, proving the opposite.
- Coffee elevates mood and fights depression. With increased production of dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin, coffee drinkers are 20 percent less likely to become depressed and 50 percent less likely to commit suicide.
- Coffee contains important nutrients. A single cup of coffee contains a range of B vitamins as well as potassium, magnesium and manganese. Drinking multiple cups daily will build up a plethora of nutrients. Indeed, coffee is one of the biggest sources of antioxidants in the western diet.
Reasons that coffee is bad for you
- Coffee is not for everyone. If you’re pregnant, don't drink more than one cup of coffee a day as high amounts of caffeine are linked to low birth weight, miscarriages and stillbirths. For people with pre-existing diabetes, coffee actually showed spikes of increased blood sugar and could be dangerous. Similarly, if you have high cholesterol, choose filtered coffee. Whilst the cafestol and kahweol in coffee beans raise safe and even beneficial amounts of cholesterol for people with normal levels, the LDL increase can impact people suffering from high cholesterol.
- Coffee can cause insomnia and anxiety. Everyone’s caffeine levels are different, but exceeding your recommended intake may increase stress hormones and cause restlessness.
- Coffee can imbalance your gut flora. Due to its acidity, coffee is linked with digestive discomfort, indigestion, heartburn, dysbacteriosis and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Addiction and withdrawal. Addiction to caffeine can make it hard to rely on the body’s natural sources of energy and can generate dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Similarly, the endorsement of sugary, cream-topped drinks from coffee shops are encouraging young people to be addicted to coffee and raising our expectations, so that our daily coffee includes unhealthy additives.
- Coffee may interfere with drug metabolism. Some studies suggest that coffee may interfere with the absorption of certain drugs, such as thyroid medicines and anti-depressants.
For some people, such as pregnant women or insomniacs, coffee may cause more harm than good and can be bad for your health and wellbeing. However, drinking three to four cups of black coffee a day has been shown to generate many health benefits. It can prevent disease, boost energy and cognitive functioning, and can even help you to lose weight.
Keep in mind that these ‘cups’ are small measures, at eight ounces. One cup of filter coffee contains around 140 milligrams of caffeine and one of instant coffee, 100 milligrams of caffeine. Investing in higher quality beans will also reduce negative effects caused by impurities.