Coffee: Is it Good for You or Bad for You?

cartoon: natalie dee

By Research Nancy

This post is by blog contributor "Research Nancy," with very minimal editorial interference from Crabby.

Research Nancy is too humble to say anything more about herself other than: "I love researching things. I am passionate about fitness and health and love learning about new ways to achieve both."

Since I (Crabby) am someone who downs quite a bit of coffee, I asked Research Nancy to round up some studies on whether this habit will kill me or make me superhuman. Not that I plan to do anything differently if it's the former. 

Anyway, here's her report. Welcome, Research Nancy!


Health Risks and Benefits of Coffee

What is there to know, you may ask, other than “I want it, I need it, it gets me going, causes peristalsis, and I like it!”

Well lots. The Oatmeal can tell you where it comes from and how it gets you going.  But is it good for you?

There have been many studies on coffee consumption. These studies have yielded mixed results from ‘you’re gonna’ die’ to it may prevent some diseases. And you might say, well I am going to die, but I don’t think coffee is going to do it. And you would likely be correct.

Does coffee have antioxidants? Can I avoid kale and brussel sprouts?

Coffee is a great source of antioxidants. In fact a study by the University of Scranton (PA), says Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Both caffeinated and decaf versions appear to provide similar antioxidant levels of antioxidants. I’m not sure that is the best source of antioxidant and not everyone seems to be eating their kale but coffee is the most consumed source of antioxidants. I wouldn’t give up on colorful vegetables just yet however!

Antioxidants in general have been linked to a number of potential health benefits, including protection against heart disease and cancer. This study analyzed the antioxidant content of more than 100 different food items. Coffee was the top source of based on the both antioxidants per serving size and frequency of consumption.

Can coffee prevent chronic disease? Or does it CAUSE chronic disease?

A research round-up of coffee risks and benefits over at The Linus Pauling Institute found “coffee consumption may help prevent several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, Parkinson's disease and liver disease (cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma).” They also noted there is no conclusive evidence of increased cardiovascular disease risk even though it is associated with increase in blood pressure and blood sugar.  But then other studies (below) point to cardiovascular risks in certain populations.

So then can coffee help me live longer?

In a study on coffee and longevity by the National Cancer Institute and AARP, researchers found that in coffee drinkers ages 50-71, the more coffee consumed, the more a person's death risk declined.

OK so more must be better?

...But then it starts to get confusing.

Does your age affect the risks from heavy coffee drinking?

A study on coffee and mortality in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that men younger than 55 who drank more than 28 cups of coffee a week (four cups a day) were 56% more likely to have died from any cause. Women in that age range had a twofold greater risk of dying than other women. The study looked at 43,727 men and women ages 20-87 from 1971 to 2002. The reasons for the higher death risk among younger adults are not clear. The study did not take into account other important factors such as diet, marital status and other socioeconomic factors.

But if you are older than 55? The study did not find a higher death risk for adults 55 and older. However the research may not include unhealthy older people because they might have already died.

On the other hand: another study from Harvard followed 130,000 men and women for 18-24 years. They are now in their 40s and 50s. The summary of the study was that drinking up to 6 cups of coffee was not associated with increased risk of death from any cause, or death from cancer or cardiovascular disease.

And yes, these studies do seem to totally contradict each other.

How about the Mayo Clinic? What do they advise?

Filter your coffee to keep from elevating your cholesterol. They also point out that 2 or more cups a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a fairly common genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body. This means that the speed at which you metabolize coffee may affect your health risk.

The Mayo clinic also warns that if you use cream and sugar, you add fat and calories. And heavy caffeine use (4-7 cups a day) may cause problems such as restlessness, anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness, particularly in susceptible individuals.

Ok, so what does this all mean?

Well, there are very mixed results from all these coffee studies and they don’t take into account the physical or mental health of those in the study, nor does it take into account if they are happily married, drive too fast …. Well you get the gist.

Here is the summary. My practical guide to coffee:

  • Coffee may have potential health benefits and may help prevent some chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, Parkinson's disease and liver disease but more research needs to be done.
  • Coffee is a major source of antioxidants for many Americans.
  • Caffeine is a stimulant with potential adverse effects. However it seems safe to drink up to 3 cups (6-8 ounces per cup) of coffee a day
  • Pregnant women and people that need to control their blood pressure or blood sugar  may still want to consider avoiding coffee or switching to decaf (the antioxidant benefit is the same)
  • Brew coffee with a paper filter, to remove a substance that causes increases in LDL cholesterol.
  •  So what is the conclusion? How about drink a cup or two a day. Try decaf and all things in moderation…

Do you drink coffee? What's your take on whether it's good or bad for you?

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