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Coffee: What's the Verdict?

Coffee is the most popular drink in the world, after water, with the U.K. alone consuming over 55 million cups per day.1 That equates to more than one cup for every single adult. A few years ago, the more health conscious of us would have avoided (or tried to avoid) coffee, citing toxins, heart attacks, stress and cancer. Today, there is a lot of research finding its way into the media that seems to give the green light to coffee and praises its miraculous health-giving properties.

So was all the bad press about coffee wrong? Well, essentially yes. However, as is often the case, the picture is a little less black and white than headlines like to suggest.

Nevertheless, the balance of current studies suggests that drinking 2-5 cups of coffee will carry more benefits than risks, for the majority of people. So here I am going to try and sum up the benefits and risks of coffee drinking to allow you to make an educated decision about your own consumption. As always, the purpose of my articles is to empower you to assume control of your own health.

Just to clarify, when I talk about coffee here, I'm referring to espresso, or black Americano (espresso with hot water). Milk, cream, sugar, syrup etc. are all supplements that you should really avoid if possible and which don't play a part in any analysis of potential health benefits or risks. Additionally, in line with the 'everything in moderation' approach that I advise, I assume an intake of 2-5 cups a day. Once you go beyond this, any health benefits may stop or even be reversed, while negative effects may increase substantially.

Benefits of Coffee

  • Alzheimer's Disease - A potential benefit that has emerged from recent studies is that coffee can delay the onset of Alzheimer's. As with so many chronic conditions, Alzheimer's involves inflammation, specifically in the brain. One effect of caffeine consumption is that it blocks the inflammation of adenosine receptors in the brain, which is associated with cognitive decline in Alzheimer's. [2]

  • Type-2 Diabetes - Studies have shown that coffee consumption lowers the risk of developing type-2 diabetes. One cup a day can reduce the risk by 9%. The studies also show that 6 cups may reduce the risk by 33%, although this much consumption would be accompanied by increased health risks in other areas. The studies also found that even drinking decaffeinated coffee was helpful in protecting against diabetes, although to a lesser extent. [3]

  • Cardiovascular Disease - Coffee consumption has long been associated with cardiovascular problems. However, this has been one of the most researched areas and study after study has shown either no correlation, or inverse correlation: i.e. coffee can actually promote heart-health. [4]

  • Cancer - Studies have not found a correlation between any type of cancer and coffee consumption, except in the case of liver cancer, where an inverse correlation has been noted, to the extent of a 40% decreased risk for moderate drinkers. [5]

  • Liver Disease - Coffee has now been shown to help both those at risk of developing liver disease and those who already suffer from the condition. It is one of the few areas where researchers are actually calling for patients with chronic liver disease to drink coffee as an aid to combating the disease. [6]

  • Nutritional Benefits - Coffee carries several important nutritional benefits, including: vitamins B2, B3 and B5; manganese; potassium and antioxidants. In fact, coffee contains more antioxidants than green tea.

Risks associated with coffee

Most of the risks associated with coffee consumption relate to 'excessive' consumption i.e. 6 cups a day, or more. As we are only concerned with 'moderate' consumption here, I will not go into these risks. There are, however, some instances when coffee should be reduced or avoided.

  • Pregnancy - The information is still a little sketchy regarding drinking coffee during pregnancy, with the NHS recommending that pregnant women limit their intake to 2 cups a day. However, many other sources advise avoiding altogether. Would you give caffeine to your newborn child? If not, then probably apply the same principle to your unborn child.

  • Pre-pregnancy - There is a good chance that caffeine can decrease your fertility. One study has found that drinking a cup a day might affect a woman's chances of becoming pregnant by as much as 50%. [7] So, if you are finding it difficult to get pregnant, definitely think about ditching the caffeine. There is also some evidence that coffee can reduce a man's fertility, when drinking more than one cup a day, although there are conflicting studies regarding this information.

  • Smokers - People who smoke and drink coffee have been found to carry an increased risk of liver disease, when compared to smokers who do not.

  • Insomniacs - Caffeine is a stimulant and so makes it more difficult to get to sleep. If you suffer from insomnia, you should definitely consider cutting coffee out of your diet.

  • On an empty stomach - Do you often skip breakfast and merely grab a coffee on your way into work? When you drink coffee on an empty stomach, you are stimulating the production of hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid is important in aiding the digestive process. Over-production at the wrong times can leave us with a deficit when we come to actually eating, which is associated with various health problems.

Finally, if you are a Starbucks, Costa Coffee or other habitual takeaway coffee drinker, think about taking off the plastic lids. We are becoming more and more aware of the dangers of plastic and possibly the worst exposure you could be giving yourself is with your morning takeaway coffee. To protect yourself it's as simple as lifting the lid. One of my favourite new finds is the cold-drip organic coffee from Rawligion. So there you have it. For most of us, drinking coffee in moderation can actually be beneficial to our health. I should stress that, with the exception of liver cancer, none of these studies suggest that you should actively start consuming more coffee as a way of battling illness. But if you are already a coffee convert, you can keep up your 2 or 3 cups a day without fretting about the consequences.

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