Sometimes, things that we are so sure about for so long end up being the opposite of what we think. You might remember when eating butter was a big no-no and we should go for the margarine instead. Of course, we now know that a little bit of butter isn’t so bad at all and margarine and its trans fats is one of the biggest creators of heart disease. And so it used to be with coffee.
I remember clearly when I was a little child, that coffee was only for adults and we even were told that children can’t have coffee because it stunts growth. And then for many years, we were all sure that over-consumption of coffee was bad for you heart and might even cause certain cancers. Well, guess what, not only do most of these myths have no basis in fact; coffee may actually have health benefits. Large-scale studies have shown that caffeine consumption does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and does not raise cholesterol levels or cause irregular heartbeat. A slight, temporary rise in heart rate and blood pressure is common in those who are sensitive to caffeine-but the rise is minimal and proportional to normal activity like walking up stairs. That said, if you have high blood pressure talk to your doctor about caffeine intake as some people may be more sensitive to its effects. Also, more research is needed to tell whether caffeine increases the risk for stroke in people with high blood pressure.
Reviews of 13 studies involving 20,000 people revealed no relationship between cancer and caffeine. In fact, caffeine may even have a protective effect against certain cancers.
Benefits of coffee
1. Coffee may help fight depression
A joint study from the National Institutes of Health and the AARP discovered that folks who drank four or more cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to be depressed than someone who didn’t drink coffee at all. Oddly, the same mental-health benefits didn’t extend to other caffeinated beverages — particularly cola, which was linked to a higher risk of depression (perhaps because of the high sugar content). Therefore, researchers suggest coffee’s “mood-lifting effect might be traced to its antioxidants,” reports Prevention.
2. It may be good for your liver
Numerous studies have suggested that caffeine helps the liver regulate itself. Research presented this month by the Mayo Clinic found that regular coffee consumption may reduce a person’s risk of PSC, a rare autoimmune disease that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, and even cancer. But that’s not all. A separate 22-year-study of 125,000 people found that heavy drinkers who consume one cup of coffee a day were 20 percent less likely to develop alcoholic cirrhosis. Once again, those health benefits did not extend to other caffeinated drinks, including tea.
It’s hardly a secret: Athletes and coaches have long used coffee to boost athletic performance before a competition. Caffeine, in particular, “has been proven to increase the number of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream,” reports The New York Times, “which enables people to run or pedal longer.” (One study suggests that as many as two-thirds of Olympic athletes were found with caffeine in their urine.)
How much should you drink prior to competing? Researchers at Coventry University in England discovered that the magic performance-enhancing ratio appears to be 6 milligrams of caffeine for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. For a 154-pound person, that’s about two cups.
4. It may lower your risk of type II diabetes
Consuming three to four cups of coffee a day was found to be associated with a 25 percent lower risk of developing type II diabetes, reports Science Daily. But researchers weren’t able to infer a causal effect between coffee and the disease explicitly. They think, though, that the decreased risk may have something to do with the ability of chlorogenic acid and the alkaloid trigonelline to reduce early glucose and insulin responses.
5. It may lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
Yes, coffee may help keep your mind sharp as you age by slowing the onset of neurodegenerative disease. Multiple studies have suggested that coffee drinkers have up to a 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and the beverage may help reduce a person’s risk of Parkinson’s by 32 to 60 percent, reports Lifehacker. Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist at the University of South Flordia, has a theory: Cao tells WebMD that caffeine “inhibits production of beta-amyloid,” a protein that has been shown to build up in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The older you get, the harder it is to metabolize — or use up — all that excess protein, which causes a log jam in your brain. The stimulant boost from coffee ensures “your system only metabolizes all of the available protein,” says Cao.
6. Coffee might even make you smarter
Time and time again, studies have shown that caffeine — which blocks the neurotransmitters in the brain associated with sleep — can temporarily boost cognition, especially when you’re not getting enough shut eye. “When you’re sleep-deprived and you take caffeine, pretty much anything you measure will improve” Harris Lieberman, a research psychologist for the military, told CNN in 2006. “Reaction time, vigilance, attention, logical reasoning — most of the complex functions you associate with intelligence. And most Americans are sleep-deprived most of the time.”
7. It lowers the risk of gout
A study in May of 2007 showed that the more coffee men drink, the lower their risk of gout. At least four cups a day lower gout risk by 40%, a Canada/U.S. study shows. Gout starts with a buildup of uric acid in the blood. This results in deposits of uric acid crystals in the joints and surrounding areas, causing swelling and intense pain. The new study is based on data from nearly 46,000 male medical professionals enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Over 12 years, 757 of these men developed gout, report Hyon K. Choi, MD, DrPH, of the University of Boston.
8. Prevention of Pancreatic Cancer
A 2011 Meta analysis of 14 studies showed that there is substantial evidence from both laboratory and animal studies on the favorable influence of coffee on the risk of pancreatic cancer.
By the way, for those of you who think that having a nice high dose of caffeine will undo the over-consumption of alcohol, there is no evidence that it helps. So, if you do have a little bit too much, let someone else do the driving. For people who have a natural sensitivity to coffee, yes, it can keep you from falling asleep at night so don’t have your coffee late in the day. Also, people with sensitive stomachs or who have ulcers or Irritable Bowel Syndrome may get gastric discomfort and stomach pain from too much coffee.
But for most people, a few cups of coffee a day, particularly earlier in the day, can have many positive effects. Adding a little Java to your diet will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”