the deep dive

The Great Debate: Is Coffee Healthy Or Not?

Spoiler alert: Drinking one (even two!) cups of coffee a day is okay—healthy, even!—for most of us.

Coffee is a health food. Coffee causes stomach problems. Coffee boosts well-being. Coffee is a potent drug.

….Is anyone else confused? With contradiction claims like these bombarding us daily, it’s no wonder that we don’t know whether to feel great about our morning brew or a little sheepish as we grab that second latte.

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Coffee is a booming global industry that continues to rise. The estimated daily consumption of coffee worldwide has tripled in the last decade, thanks to the constant innovations in coffee culture. No longer are our coffee spot options limited to those simple corner cafes: There is a surge of boutique, high-end espresso bars boasting exclusive bean blends and specialty roasting and brewing techniques popping up all over the world.

Billions of us consume coffee on a regular basis. It’s a leisure, social and business activity. It is an energy and productivity booster. These reasons alone are enough to make coffee a vital part of people’s daily routines. In this fast-paced modern world, we are, of course, drawn to lifestyle habits that help us feel more awake, full of energy and able to conquer our busy lives. People drink it not just to improve mental performance, but also to feel more strong and energized for physical pursuits. (Who else likes coffee before a workout?) Indeed, the daily rituals we place around coffee often help us set our whole day in motion, and give us a sense of stability, and provide us with much needed leisure time.

This is all to say: We love coffee, but we’d really love to know if our enjoyment of the brew is a healthy ritual we can happily continue. So we looked at all the research we could find, with this one question in mind and the answer, in short order?

Coffee drinkers are healthy. And in some cases, more so than non-drinkers.

Yes, you read right. Not only were coffee drinkers found to have higher levels of health ratings than non-coffee drinkers, but coffee consumption was also linked to leadings to a longer life. The research found that people who drink coffee on a regular basis have a longer life span, no matter the culture they are from. And we’re not just basing this idea on the word of that friend of a friend who’s a ripe old age and has been drinking his daily brew for decades. This is based on factual results from large scale, long-term studies. Here’s what we found.

1. Those who drink coffee tend to live longer than those who do not. 

The association of coffee consumption with a lower risk of mortality was found in a European survey that gathered data from over 520,000 participants in ten different countries. The study took account of biomarkers of human health, comparing the initial samples with a follow-up surgery sixteen years later. The most interesting piece of information here was that the participants surveyed were from a range of different cultures (which means lifestyles) across Europe, revealing that it is not just cultural lifestyle habits that created the higher health results.

It was found that people who consumed more than one coffee a day had a lower mortality risk from cancer, as well as liver, circulatory, and digestive diseases, than those who consumed no coffee at all. Coffee drinkers were also found to have lower levels of inflammation in the body, one of the markers for ill-health.

Furthermore, a similar study confirms these results. Researchers examined the longevity of 200,000 people from all different areas of the world, in order to continue this trend of cross-cultural research. Again, the timespan of a sixteen-year follow-up was used, with findings demonstrating that people who drank just one cup of coffee a day had a 12% lower risk of death than people who consumed no coffee at all. Additionally, people who drank more than one coffee a day had an 18% lower risk of death. You know what that means, don’t you? You can feel totally ok about your second latte.

2. Consuming coffee may decrease the risk of some pretty serious health issues. 

Well, the compounds in coffee have been found to directly impact the biological state of the body, causing a neuroprotective, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effect, which aids to reduce the risk of cardiovascular illnesses and other diseases. One of the researchers even stated that the risk of developing Parkinson’s could be reduced by these effects that coffee has on the body. This effect is the mechanism behind the longevity to which coffee has been linked.

Reviewing the current research, there has been actually no evidence to support the claim that coffee can cause cardiovascular problems and cancer. On the topic of cancer, there have actually been positive conclusions made. In an analysis of 26 studies, this holistic review focused on the affect of coffee on health found that even decaffeinated coffee drinkers were less likely to develop liver cancer. The analysis examined research gathered from over 2.25 million people, and found that liver cancer was an intriguing area, with findings stating that people who drank coffee once a day had a 20% lower risk of developing liver cancer than non-coffee consumers.

3. For most people, the oft-questioned energy that comes with a cup of coffee is temporary—and harmless. 

People do experience very real caffeine-related symptoms, such as nerves, anxiety and jitters, and those who have anxiety may find the effects of coffee to heighten said anxiety. (More often than not, however, the more extreme physical effects are due to excessive consumption of coffee.) Caffeine works much in the same way as adrenaline does: Our heart rate and blood pressure rises as soon as we drink a sip, giving way to the feel people describe as energized (or jittery, depending on how you look at it). These effects are temporary, however, while the neuroprotective, immune-boosting benefits are more lasting.

Now, for the exceptions. Those who have heart disease may also find that caffeine heightens symptoms, increasing heart rate and blood pressure in an uncomfortable way. Same goes for people who have irregular heartbeats. If you have a sensitive stomach, you may find that coffee, which can perpetuate an acidic environment in the body, can cause reflux. People who possess a specific genetic mutation in their metabolism experience those anxious and jittery feelings on a more potent scale after just a small amount of caffeine. (Most of us need quite a few cups to get us there).

Worth noting: Elderly people without a pre-existing of heart rhythm are able to safely drink coffee, despite widespread concerns about whether it is best avoided for heart issues. (A 2016 study of caffeine consumption in elderly people found that there was no effect of creating an irregular heartbeat.) And those people experiencing depression (rather than anxiety) can have very positive outcomes in their mental state with regular coffee consumption.

Our point? The effects of coffee that often lead people to question whether coffee is beneficial are usually temporary, adrenaline-like symptoms that (for most people) quickly subside.

4. A little (pH) balance goes a long way. 

Coffee is acidic. Too much of any acid-causing food will create an immune system depletion, making the body more susceptible to getting sick. So, if you are having coffee regularly, be sure to balance out your pH level with alkaline foods. (Think plenty of water and fresh greens. …I personally have a short of wheatgrass after my coffee! Balances my pH, and I get the health kick from both!)

5. Yes, most of you can have that second cup of coffee.

Overall, experts recommend 400 milligrams per day of caffeine as being the most beneficial for health. Depending on the type/strength of coffee you drink, this may mean anywhere from 2-4 cups a day. As you may have gathered, however: This is not a one-size-fits-all rule. If you are someone who feels a fairly strong jolt from the first sip, only consume small amounts of caffeine. (Remember that decaf still has those health benefits!) Pregnant women are advised to have extremely low to no caffeine intake at all. Those and there factors (like whether you have a pre-existing heart condition or regularly experience anxiety) will affect the advisable amount of caffeine intake. How to proceed if you are unsure? It is simple: Feel into your body. Start with one cup, and notice how it affects your system. Notice your mind and body not just after ten minutes, but also after thirty minutes to one hour after consuming. From there, determine whether the effect is something you’d like to experience, or whether it is a little too much on your system.

 

Listen to your own body. This research reveals some interesting results that can assist in you decision of whether coffee is part of your regular consumption. What will be the deciding factor in your own health, however, is tuning into your own body. If you feel anxious, rather than energized, taper down. If you are experiencing irregular heart rhythms, get your heart checked and stick to a lower-caffeine beverage. If you feel lethargic, then check your pH level and be sure to drink plenty of water and consume a variety of fresh, green foods in order to keep your immune system functioning, whilst indulging in your love for coffee in a healthy way.

REFERENCES
Association, Press. “Drinking Coffee May Help Prevent Liver Cancer, Study Suggests.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 25 May 2017, www.theguardian.com/science/2017/may/25/drinking-coffee-may-help-prevent-liver-cancer-study-suggests
Alicandro, Gianfranco, Alessandra Tavani, and Carlo La Vecchia. “Coffee and cancer risk: a summary overview.” European Journal of Cancer Prevention26.5 (2017): 424-432.
Ansel , Karen. “6 Health Myths About Coffee Busted.” EatingWell, Eating Well Inc., 20 Sept. 2016, www.eatingwell.com/article/289246/6-health-myths-about-coffee-busted/.
Bae, Jae-Hoon, et al. “Coffee and health.” Integrative Medicine Research 3.4 (2014): 189-191.
Davis, Nicola. “Coffee Cuts Risk of Dying from Stroke and Heart Disease, Study Suggests.”The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 July 2017, www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/10/coffee-cuts-risk-of-dying-from-stroke-and-heart-disease-study-suggests.
Ding, Ming, et al. “Association of coffee consumption with total and cause-specific mortality in three large prospective cohorts.” Circulation (2015): CIRCULATIONAHA-115.
Gunter, Marc J., et al. “Coffee Drinking and Mortality in 10 European CountriesA Multinational Cohort StudyCoffee Drinking and Mortality in 10 European Countries.” Annals of Internal Medicine.
Hensrud, Donald. “Does Coffee Offer Health Benefits?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 4 Mar. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/coffee-and-health/faq-20058339.
Padilla, Andrés. “US Coffee Market Outlook for 2017: Retail Slows as Foodservice Remains Hot.” RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness, Rabobank, Dec. 2016, research.rabobank.com/far/en/sectors/beverages/US-Coffee-Market-Outlook-for-2017.html.
Sagon, Candy. “Coffee for Health – Positive and Negative Effects of Caffeine.” AARP, AARP Services Inc, 2017, www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-10-2013/coffee-for-health.html.

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