By Dr. Mercola
I personally don't drink coffee as I don't like the taste and have only used a few cups in my life to treat jet lag. However, there are ways to include coffee in a healthy lifestyle, provided you're not using it as a crutch to mask symptoms of a poor diet, like low energy levels—and provided you're not pregnant.
The coffee plant and its seeds (coffee beans) contain a natural blend of polyphenol antioxidants (including chlorogenic acids), bioflavonoids, vitamins, and minerals that all work together to offer some impressive health-promoting benefits, and even help neutralize the harsher effects of the caffeine that coffee naturally contains.1
There are literally thousands of different natural chemical compounds in your brew, and science now suggests the synergy between them can pack a nice nutritional punch.
Coffee May Help Ringing in Your Ears
Tinnitus, or ringing in your ears, affects about one in five people. While it's typically not serious, it can significantly impact your quality of life (and it may get worse with age, or be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury, or a circulatory system disorder).2
Interestingly, new research revealed that women who consumed higher amounts of caffeine (mostly in the form of coffee) were less likely to have tinnitus.3 Specifically, women who consumed less than 150 milligrams of caffeine a day (the amount in about 12 ounces of coffee) were 15 percent more likely to develop tinnitus than those who consumed 450 mg to 599 mg.4
Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world and can be helpful or harmful, depending on how it's used. Caffeine provides a "lift" by blocking the normal action of adenosine.
Adenosine normally slows down your brain's activity and induces sleepiness. Some people are caffeine sensitive and don't tolerate it well, or have problems sleeping if they have caffeine too late in the day.
The researchers weren't sure why caffeine may reduce tinnitus risk, although past research has shown it has a direct effect on the inner ear, or may be involved through its role in stimulating your central nervous system.
Is Coffee Good for You?
Coffee has a growing list of therapeutic benefits, which are so compelling I've changed my recommendations on coffee consumption to state that it's fine when consumed in moderation, placing the emphasis on making sure it's fresh, organic, and consumed black, should you decide to drink it.
If you're a coffee drinker, what type of benefits can you expect? One meta-analysis of more than 208,000 people found that drinking two to four cups of caffeinated coffee daily was associated with a 50 percent reduced suicide risk among adults.5
Caffeine also promotes production of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, and triggers the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, thereby improving your brain health. The following is a summary of some of the more recent research that supports coffee's health benefits.
|Type 2 Diabetes||A Japanese study in 2010 revealed that coffee consumption exerted a protective effect against type 2 diabetes;6 researchers have also found that coffee doubles glucose intake, which will greatly reduce blood glucose levels.|
|Parkinson's Disease||Coffee may significantly cut your risk of Parkinson's disease.7 In fact, coffee is so preventative against Parkinson's that drug companies are designing experimental drugs that mimic coffee's benefits to your brain.8|
|Alzheimer's Disease||A 2011 study revealed that a yet unidentified mystery ingredient in coffee interacts with the caffeine to help protect you from Alzheimer's disease.9|
|Prostate Cancer||A large 2011 study of nearly 50,000 men found men who drank six cups of coffee per day had 60 percent lower risk of lethal prostate cancer, and those who drank three cups per day had a 30 percent lower risk.10|
|Liver Cancer||A Japanese study found those who drank coffee daily, or close to it, had about half the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a type of liver cancer, than people who never drank coffee;11 coffee is also associated with less severe liver fibrosis, lower levels of fat in your liver, and lower rates of hepatitis C disease progression.12|
|Kidney Cancer||Coffee consumption may be associated with decreased risk of kidney cancer.13|
|Colorectal Cancer||A 2007 study suggested coffee consumption may lower colon cancer risk among women.14|
|Heart Rhythm Problems||A study showed moderate coffee drinking reduces your chances of being hospitalized for heart rhythm problems.15|
|Pulmonary Function||A 2010 study revealed a beneficial effect of coffee on the pulmonary function of nonsmokers.16|
|Stroke||A 2011 study found that women who drank more than one cup of coffee per day had about a 25 percent lower risk of stroke than women who drank less;17 a 2009 study found women who drank four or more cups of coffee per day reduced their stroke risk by 20 percent.18|
|Gastrointestinal Flora||A study in 2009 showed coffee produced an increase in the metabolic activity and/or numbers of Bifidobacterium, which are beneficial bacteria in your gut.19|
5 Reasons to Drink Coffee Before Your Workout
My understanding of coffee's virtues was greatly enhanced by my interview with Ori Hofmekler, author of The Warrior Diet and Unlocking the Muscle Gene, who has researched coffee extensively. Although I personally do not like the taste of coffee and have only consumed a few cups in my entire life, there seems to be a compelling case to justify the use of healthy coffee. Ori explained how coffee, when consumed in the right way, can be effectively used as part of your overall health and fitness plan.
For example, his research showed coffee increases your metabolism by up to 20 percent, and can be quite beneficial if consumed before exercise. Since many people drink coffee in the morning, which is also an ideal time to exercise, this is one lifestyle habit many will find easy to adapt to. Besides providing you with a temporary metabolic boost, other functional benefits of a pre-workout cup of coffee include:
- Improved micro-circulation. Japanese researchers discovered that people who were not regular coffee drinkers experienced a 30 percent boost in capillary blood flow after drinking five ounces of regular coffee, compared to those drinking decaf.20 Improved blood circulation typically equates to improved oxygenation of your tissues, which may boost your exercise performance.
- Pain reduction. Research from the University of Illinois found that a caffeine dose equivalent to two or three cups of coffee taken one hour prior to a half-hour-long workout reduced the participants' level of perceived muscle pain.21 This pain reduction could allow you to push yourself just a bit harder, which is important during high intensity exercises. Research from the University of Georgia reported very similar findings: consuming the equivalent of two cups of coffee an hour before training reduced post-workout muscle soreness by up to 48 percent.22 To put this into perspective, studies using naproxen (Aleve) only achieved a 30 percent decrease in post-workout muscle soreness, and aspirin produced a 25 percent decrease.
- Improved endurance. A 2005 meta-analysis concluded that caffeine can reduce your perceived level of exertion by more than 5 percent—effectively making your exercise feel "easier."23 Moreover, caffeine improved exercise performance by more than 11 percent, which appears to be related to the reduction in perceived level of exertion.
- Muscle preservation. According to Ori, coffee triggers a mechanism in your brain that releases the BDNF growth factor. Besides the brain, BDNF also expresses itself in your muscles, where it supports the neuromotor—the most critical element in your muscle. Without the neuromotor, your muscle is like an engine without ignition. Neuro-motor degradation is part of the process that explains age-related muscle atrophy. So in this respect coffee may help maintain more youthful muscle tissue. Research from Coventry University also found that caffeine helped offset age-related loss of muscle strength,24 again suggesting that caffeine may help preserve your muscles as you age, and reduce your risk of injuries.
- Improved memory. BDNF also activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons in your brain, which can have definitive benefits for your brain function. Indeed, research conducted at Johns Hopkins University found that 200 mg of caffeine enhanced participants' memory for up to 24 hours.25
Moderation and Quality are Keys to Healthy Coffee Consumption
My recommendation is to use coffee in moderation, limiting your consumption to a maximum of two or three cups per day, since most studies find no added health benefits (and potential harms) above this amount. When it comes to achieving therapeutic benefits from coffee, only quality coffee will do, however. Here are five primary considerations if you choose to drink coffee:
- Choose Organic: Coffee beans are one of the most heavily pesticides-sprayed crops. So, you should select only coffee beans that are certified organic. Remember, you will obliterate any positive effects if you consume coffee that's been doused in pesticides or other chemicals. Whenever possible, purchase sustainable "shade-grown" coffee to help prevent the continued destruction of our tropical rain forests and the birds that inhabit them. There are many who say shade-grown coffee tastes better as well.
- Whole Bean: You'll want to purchase whole bean coffee that smells and tastes fresh, not stale; if your coffee does not have a pleasant aroma, it is likely rancid. Grind it yourself to prevent rancidity as pre-ground coffee may be rancid by the time you get it home.
- Drink It Black: If you're interested in the health benefits, drink your coffee black, without sugar, cream, or flavorings. Add sugar and you'll certainly ruin any of the benefits discussed above by spiking your insulin levels, which contributes to insulin resistance. Make sure the water you're using is pure.
- Coffee Filters: If you use a "drip" coffee maker, be sure to use non-bleached filters. The bright white ones are chlorine-bleached, and some of this chlorine will leach from the filter during the brewing process. Bleached filters are also notoriously full of dangerous disinfection byproducts, such as dioxin.
- Coffee Mugs: Please be careful about the container you use. Avoid plastic cups as plastics chemicals may leach into your drink, and also avoid Styrofoam cups that can leach polystyrene molecules. Your best bets include glass and ceramic travel mugs. As an aside, many have now started using Keurig coffee makers, which brew a single cup at a time using small plastic coffee inserts. While the inserts claim to be BPA and phthalate-free, they may still contain other plastics chemicals, and will contribute to the ever-growing problem of non-biodegradable waste.
Dark Roast vs. Light Roast: Does It Matter?
As far as caffeine content goes, and contrary to popular belief, darker roasts typically contain less caffeine than lighter roasts due to the prolonged heat breaking down more of the caffeine molecules. Bean species also differ widely in their naturally occurring concentrations of caffeine. Additionally, drip coffee actually has more caffeine than espresso because the brew time is much longer. And in general, the finer the grind, the higher the caffeine in the coffee. So, you might want to vary some of these factors depending on how much caffeine you want to consume.
Dark roast coffee, such as French or Italian Roast, or roasts used to make espresso or Turkish coffee, are typically higher in neuroprotective agents than green (unroasted) coffees. One study in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that dark roast coffee restored blood levels of the antioxidants vitamin E and glutathione more effectively than light roast coffee.26 The dark roast also led to a significant body weight reduction in pre-obese volunteers, whereas the lighter roast did not. Other studies have shown that dark roast coffee produces more of a chemical called N-methylpyridinium, which helps prevent your stomach from producing excess acid, so darker roast coffee may be easier on your stomach than lighter roast coffee.27
That said, the process of roasting will also produce acrylamide—a toxic byproduct created when you expose a food to high heat. Acrylamide has been associated with an increased cancer risk. From the perspective of limiting your exposure to this toxin, a light roast might be preferable. I don't claim to have the answer here, but the evidence supporting dark roast for higher antioxidant content is quite compelling. It could be that the higher antioxidant content of a dark roasted organic coffee might outweigh the acrylamide formed during the roasting process... but, unfortunately, I have no evidence to either confirm or refute this notion at this time.