Can Drinking Darker Coffee Improve Your Health?

dark coffee improve healthRecent research has shown that moderate coffee consumption may be associated with a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Since reactive oxygen species (ROS) are believed to be involved in both of these diseases, it was theorized that antioxidants in coffee might contribute to the risk reduction.

Scientists examined whether or not dark roast coffee has a stronger antioxidant effect than light roast.  They found that dark roast was the most effective.

According to the study, as reported by Green Med Info:

"Furthermore, administration of the [dark roast] led to a significant body weight reduction in pre-obese subjects."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The common wisdom with coffee is that it is better off avoided, but some new information has changed my position on this. Coffee, like many other natural plants and herbs, does appear to have some therapeutic benefits given the right circumstances. Most notably, if you are drinking the popular coffee beverages doused with creamer, milk, sugar and other sweeteners and flavorings, you are missing out on the therapeutic benefit and only causing potential harm to your health.

On the other hand, organic whole-bean black coffee, does appear to have some health benefits, and it seems the darker the roast, the more benefits it provides.

Dark Roast Coffee may be Superior to Light Roast

The "darkness" of your coffee refers to the ending coloration of a bean after it has been roasted for a certain length of time. Coffee roasting is actually a very complex art that requires the beans to be brought to high temperatures very quickly, and then cooled off just as fast when the desired roast is reached. Expert roasters may have years of training that allows them to "read" the coffee beans for signs of appropriate roasting. 

It's often the case that foods with the darkest pigments also offer the most robust benefits to health, and dark roast coffee, such as French Roast or that used to make espresso or Turkish coffee, may be no exception.

New research 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. The dark roast also led to a significant body weight reduction in pre-obese volunteers, whereas the light roast did not.

Separate research also showed that dark roast coffee produces more of a chemical called N-methylpyridinium. This chemical is produced during the roasting process, and the darker the roast, the more N-methylpyridinium it contains. Interestingly, this chemical also appears to prevent your stomach cells from producing excess acid, which means dark roast coffee may be easier on your stomach, whereas lighter roasts might give you the acid-like stomach irritation that coffee drinkers sometimes experience.

Caffeine levels also vary depending on roast, with darker roasts containing less caffeine than lighter roasts. Please realize that the warnings against the use of caffeine are well-warranted, because in and of itself it can be quite toxic. However, like so many other natural substances, when it comes to the whole food, in this case the coffee bean as opposed to the isolated caffeine, the converse is oftentimes true, and whole caffeinated foods, such as coffee, cocoa beans and tea, may actually be highly beneficial.

Please note that I still recommend women avoid caffeine during pregnancy, however.

Are There Other Health Benefits to Coffee?

In an interview I recently conducted with Ori Hofmekler, author and a self-proclaimed coffee enthusiast who has researched coffee extensively, you can hear the details of why coffee may have additional benefits.

For instance, recent research, which Ori has written about in his upcoming book, Unlocking the Muscle Gene, has shown that coffee, which can trigger glutamate reuptake inhibition, ALSO triggers a mechanism in your brain that releases a growth factor called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).

BDNF activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, and also expresses itself in your muscles. It does this by supporting the neuromotor, which is 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 natural, whole coffee may help keep your brain and muscle tissue young.

A large study of nearly 50,000 men also found that men who drank six cups of coffee a day had a 60 percent lower risk of lethal prostate cancer, while those who drank three cups a day had a 30 percent lower risk. The benefits were thought to come from the non-caffeine components of coffee, which include multiple nutrients and flavonoid antioxidants.

Other studies, too, have shown a lower cancer risk among coffee drinkers. For instance, a Japanese study found that 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. Other research has also linked coffee with lower rates of:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Dementia
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Stroke

There is also reason to believe that coffee could help curb your sugar cravings. One of the reasons why you get addicted to a food is because your brain has opioid receptors. They're part of a primordial reward system that helps you detect, select and enjoy eating fresh foods over rancid ones.

Today, however, we live in a world of plenty, surrounded by processed foods that are typically loaded with sugar, which has led our addictive opioid receptors to become addicted to the wrong foods. Well, coffee is an opioid receptor antagonist, meaning caffeine can bind to your opioid receptors, occupy them and essentially prohibit you from being addicted to something else. This may attenuate the addictive impact of another substance, such as sugar.

As Ori says:

"If you are addicted to sugar, for instance, and you really want to train your body gradually to get rid of this addiction, using coffee would be a viable way to help yourself achieve this. Train yourself to drink black coffee. Drink it sugarless on an empty stomach and you will see how, gradually, the cravings will dissipate."

Coffee Quality is Key: 4 Tips to Remember

When it comes to achieving any therapeutic benefits from coffee, only quality coffee will do.

This includes:

  • Organic: Most coffee produced today is heavily contaminated with pesticides. It's actually one of the most heavily sprayed crops grown. So, any coffee you consume should be organic, pesticide-free coffee.
  • Whole bean: You'll want to purchase coffee in whole bean form and then grind it yourself to prevent rancidity. Pre-ground coffee may be rancid by the time you drink it.
  • Properly dried and roasted: The coffee should smell and taste fresh, not stale. If your coffee does not have a pleasant aroma, it is likely rancid and poor quality.
  • Black: If you're interested in health benefits, drink your coffee black, without sugar or cream. Add sugar and you'll certainly ruin any of the benefits discussed above by spiking your insulin levels and causing insulin resistance.

Further, if you use a "drip" coffee maker, be sure to use non-bleached filters. The bright white ones, which most people use, are chlorine bleached and some of this chlorine will be extracted from the filter during the brewing process. They are also full of dangerous disinfection byproducts like dioxin. If you adhere to the tips above, I see no reason why coffee cannot be a sensible and even therapeutic part of your diet.