Nutrition

Is Coffee Bad for Your Health?

I went the first 30 years of my life without ever drinking coffee.

For a health writer, it’d be easy to assume that I thought coffee was bad for you, or that I was weary of the dangers of caffeine. While actions certainly do speak louder than words, sometimes behaviors are nonsensical and purely a coincidence. Take for example:

  • For the first 20 years of my life I never ate chicken. (I now eat A LOT of chicken. So much so that in grad school I once considered buying chickens. That was not a good idea.)
  • For the first 8 years of my life I wouldn’t eat hot dogs that had any type of grill mark on it. Yes, that means I had my mom boil my hot dogs. (Whether hot dogs were the best choice for an overweight kid is different story.)
  • And for the first 10 years of my life, I only wore sweat pants. Scientists have been unable to determine if that was the reason why I had so few friends.

Which is to say, the only reason I never drank coffee is because I thought I didn’t like it.

Being in the health profession can do funny things to your behaviors, so you have to be careful. If you change your opinion on foods and training techniques with every new study that is published, you’d be exhausted. And you’d never have any opinions because science can be a pain in the ass and apparently contradictory.

But research can also help point you in the right direction, provoke thought and discussion, or allow you to consider behaviors that might be helpful. So after reading enough research, I decided to add coffee to my life. Right now it’s nothing major, just one cup in the morning; I drink it black, and occasionally I’ll add a little cinnamon.

If you want to know why I made the shift, here are four reasons supported by science. I compiled this concept into an article for WestChester Magazine, but here they are in their glorious, raw form.

Let it be known that there are those in the health profession that hate coffee and find it dangerous. But until I see more compelling arguments, this research (and much more) has me believing that drinking coffee is, in fact, not bad and can even be considered healthy.

Prevents Diabetes

Let’s cut to the chase: People who drink four or more cups coffee per day are 50 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who pass on the beverage. While you might start shaking at the thought of four cups, the amount of caffeine is still less than one bottle of 5-Hour Energy.

But while most caffeinated drinks are just energy in a bottle or a cleverly hidden charge of sugar, coffee actually improves your sensitivity to insulin, which is a major factor in preventing diabetes and weight gain. In fact, Chinese researchers calculated that each cup of coffee decreases your risk of type 2 diabetes by 7 percent.

Fights Cancer

Coffee is filled with caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid, both of which are powerful antioxidants that that helps fight off stress to your body’s cells. But this isn’t just a little boost: Coffee beans contain more antioxidants than almost every fruit and vegetable.

The result: coffee drinkers are 9 percent less likely to suffer from basal cell carcinomona—the most common type of skin cancer—says Boston researchers. But don’t be shy about your coffee habits; the benefits were seen with people who consumed 3 or more cups of coffee per day.

What’s more, a study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention found that women who drank four or more cups of coffee per day had a 30 percent lower risk of cancer. Again, the antioxidant properties were to thank, but coffee also appears to improve enzymes in your liver that helps prevent cancer cells from growing and multiplying.

Improves Happiness

Next time you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, walk your way straight to the coffee machine. That’s because coffee triggers the release of dopamine—also known as the feel good neurotransmitter.

When you drank your first cup of French roast, it’s not just the smell that brings you to life. Dopamine provides the same type of euphoric and pleasurable feelings that are associated with amphetamines and ecstasy…but without any of the dangerous side effects. It also triggers the reward center in your brain and releases another chemical (serotonin) that helps fight depression and keeps you smiling.

Boosts Strength and Endurance 

Want to know the most popular (and legal) supplement used by Olympians? It’s caffeine. During a recent study of elite athletes, it was found that nearly 75 percent of them take caffeine prior to competition. And the boost clearly isn’t psychological.

Studies on runners and cyclists have repeatedly found that coffee before a training session improves endurance and fights of fatigue. But a recent study in England also determined that it pre-workout coffee cocktail can help just as much in the gym. When study participants had a caffeinated drink before a workout—compared to a sugar-filled beverage—they were able to perform more reps, experience less fatigue, and they felt ready to return to the gym sooner.

Could coffee really increase your desire to workout? Well, not really. But Australian researchers did discover that drinking coffee after your workout helps restore your glycogen, which is your primary source of fuel in your body. Meaning that a little bit of coffee perform can help you push harder, and a little after can allow you to recover quicker.

For the research lovers

I know that people love checking—and rechecking—research. So as much as possible, I’ll try to include study references. When it doesn’t happen, please don’t freak out. I usually provide enough information that you can reverse engineer the source. And if you disagree with my interpretation, find the study to be crap, or want to show me why I’m wrong—I welcome that type of communication. In fact, I enjoy it. Just keep it classy and professional. We’re here to learn and discuss, and I’m always open to that.

Liu, S., Chen, C., et al. Caffeine Enhances Osteoclast Differentiation from Bone Marrow Hematopoietic Cells and Reduces Bone Mineral Density in Growing Rats. Journal of Orthopedic Research. 2011. 29(6), 954-960.

Cheng, B., Liu, X., et al. Coffee Components Inhibit Amyloid Formation of Human Islet Amyloid Polypeptide in Vitro: Possible Link between Coffee Consumption and Diabetes Mellitus. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2011. 59, 13147-13155

Je, R., Hankinson, S., et al. A Prospective Cohort Study of Coffee Consumption and Risk of Endometrial Cancer over a 26-Year Follow-Up. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. 2011. 20, 2487-2495. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22019894

Caffine and elite athletes: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21854160

Coffee after exercise improves recovery http://www.scientistlive.com/European-Science-News/Medical/Caffeine_after_exercise_benefits/20683/

Coffee and endurance: http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2010/01000/Efficacy_of_Acute_Caffeine_Ingestion_for.38.aspx

Coffee and strength training http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22124354

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