The scientific verdict is virtually unanimous — your morning coffee is not a “guilty pleasure” that you should feel bad about, but rather a very healthy way to start the day.
The latest confirmation comes in the form of a meta-analysis published in The BMJ, which examined dozens of observational studies looking at coffee consumption and health outcomes. The findings (despite the opaque scientific lingo) are worth quoting. The authors write that:
“Coffee consumption seems generally safe within usual levels of intake, with summary estimates indicating largest risk reduction for various health outcomes at three to four cups a day, and more likely to benefit health than harm.”
If you’ll allow a little translation — Drinking three of four cups of coffee a day is safe, and can also help reduce your risk for many medical conditions. The benefits of moderate coffee consumption clearly outweigh the risks (for most people).
The Rich Health Benefits of Coffee
I’ll discuss some scientific specifics below, which will help explain why coffee is such a versatile and effective plant-based medicine, but first a brief overview of diseases that coffee can help prevent:
- Data from a Framingham Heart Study, which has been following subjects for decades, found that coffee consumption is strongly correlated with heart health.
- A Harvard study concluded that drinking coffee cut a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- There is an extensive body of evidence that compounds in coffee have a protective effect on the liver and can help reduce the risk of cirrhosis, viral hepatitis, and liver cancer.
- Caffeine and other antioxidants in coffee are neuroprotective. According to a study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 3 to 5 cups of coffee can cut your risk of Alzheimer’s or and dementia by 65 percent..
All told, regular coffee consumption (about 3 cups a day of decaf or regular) is associated with a 17 percent lower risk for overall mortality (according to the BMJ study cited earlier). Now, that’s the kind of stat that should prompt just about anyone to wake up and smell the evidence.
Coffee is a Convenient Source of Antioxidants
How can coffee be so beneficial for such a wide range of health-related conditions? The reason is that it is one of the single richest sources of antioxidants that you can add to your daily diet. Antioxidants, as I’m sure you are well aware, are compounds that help the body clear out toxins that accumulate in the organs, which can damage cellular DNA. Also known as free radical scavengers, these biochemical mops protect against processes that can age cells prematurely.
Let’s look at a few of the antioxidants in coffee and what studies say they can do:
- Cafestol can cross the blood-brain barrier, where it has anti-inflammatory properties. According to some studies, it can help improve memory.
- Chlorogenic acid may help decrease fat accumulation by boosting the metabolism. Research suggests that it may improve insulin function, as well.
- Melanoidins are responsible for coffee’s enticing aroma. Studies suggest that it has powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, too.
- Quinine helps give coffee its bitter taste. It is present only in trace amounts, but it is a powerful antioxidant.
- Caffeine is not only a natural stimulant but also an antioxidant. Studies show that caffeine appears to cut the risk of throat and mouth cancers by 50 percent. There’s also a lot of emerging evidence that the caffeine in coffee is linked to longevity, too, because it interferes with both genetic and cellular processes related to aging.
People are often surprised when I tell them that coffee rivals blueberries as one of the best sources of antioxidants. That’s right, your morning brew typically contains more free radical scavenging benefits than other excellent sources including some berries, green & black teas, dark chocolate, and organic red wine.
Despite impressive benefits, coffee is not without some risks. Excessive consumption (8 or more cups a day) has been linked to heart disease. Also, women who are pregnant should limit their intake, since too much caffeine may raise their chances of a miscarriage (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists insists that one cup of coffee daily is generally safe during pregnancy).
It also matters a great deal what type of coffee you drink. Processing and roasting methods will affect the level and types of antioxidants you get. I’d highly recommend organic coffee and staying away from unnatural additives (particularly non-dairy creamers), which will only undermine the health benefits of your morning brew. But besides those minor caveats, enjoying coffee in moderation is a pleasure that comes with a lot of health benefits.
Enjoy in good health,