By Dr. Mercola
For years, physicians have been warning about the negative health effects of drinking coffee. You may have been told that coffee will raise your blood pressure, lead to heart disease, give you an ulcer or make you diabetic. But studies continue to roll in that caste doubt on this "common wisdom."
Certainly, like anything, coffee should not be used in excess. However, study after study has failed to prove that moderate coffee consumption increases your risk for cardiovascular disease or any other serious illness.
In fact, it's beginning to look like coffee—at least in moderation—may have a number of unrecognized health-promoting properties. As a result of the rather impressive list of therapeutic benefits, I've changed my recommendations about coffee.
One of the latest studies, published in April 2012 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition1, confirms earlier studies that coffee may actually reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Regardless of traditionally ominous warnings that coffee should be avoided, it's being consumed in massive quantities worldwide. Although it's inarguable now that coffee does have therapeutic benefits, if you are dousing your cup of Joe in creamer, sugar, and other sweeteners and flavorings, you are missing out on the therapeutic benefits and potentially harming your health.
Please understand that I am not changing my position to justify a "bad" habit. I personally have never enjoyed the taste of coffee and have had less than five cups my entire life and those were used therapeutically to compensate for jet lag.
Could Coffee Really be GOOD for You?
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. Ori explained how coffee, when consumed in the right way, can be used effectively as part of your overall health and fitness plan.
Although organic coffee as a whole food may be therapeutic, caffeine in isolation can be quite toxic. The natural blend of polyphenol antioxidants (including chlorogenic acids), bioflavonoids, vitamins and minerals in coffee beans all work together to help neutralize the harsher effects of the caffeine2. 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.
With all of these compounds, you might wonder if there are any that have undesirable health effects. Yes, there are. But as I mentioned earlier, these are more concerning if ingested in isolation, as opposed to being consumed as part of the whole food.
What about the Caffeine?
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.
Caffeine levels vary depending on type of bean, roast, grind, and brewing method. 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 if you experience a reaction, like switching from drip coffee to espresso, or changing brands.
If you have an issue with decreased adrenal function, use coffee with care, as it can be hard on your adrenal glands. Coffee also has a diuretic effect, so if you have problems with electrolyte imbalance, you might want to avoid it.
If you have any negative reactions to coffee, caffeine isn't always the culprit. You could be sensitive to some of the burnt sugars or oils produced during the roasting of the beans, rather than the caffeine. People experience symptoms such as stomach cramping, heart palpitations and other autonomic symptoms, and these symptoms are usually interpreted as caffeine sensitivity when they are actually more of a food intolerance. There is also the possibility of mold or other contaminants triggering an allergy (as coffee is a dried food), so you want to make sure your coffee is of the highest quality and meticulously produced.
But as a whole, if you're healthy, coffee is pretty well tolerated and the positive effects seem to outweigh the negative ones for most people. Please note that I still recommend women completely avoid using caffeine while pregnant.
The List is Growing of Health Benefits from Coffee
The following is a summary of some of the more recent research that supports coffee's health benefits.
A Japanese study in 20103 revealed that coffee consumption exerted a protective effect against type 2 diabetes; further confirmed by 2012 German study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers have also found that coffee doubles glucose intake, which will greatly reduce blood glucose levels.
Coffee may significantly cut your risk of Parkinson's disease4. In fact, coffee is so preventative against Parkinson's that drug companies are designing experimental drugs that mimic coffee's benefits to your brain5
A 2011 study6 revealed that a yet unidentified mystery ingredient in coffee interacts with the caffeine to help protect you from Alzheimer's disease
A large 2011 study7 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
A Japanese study8 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; coffee is also associated with less severe liver fibrosis, lower levels of fat in your liver, and lower rates of hepatitis-C disease progression9
Coffee consumption may be associated with decreased risk of kidney cancer10
A 2007 study11 suggested coffee consumption may lower colon cancer risk among women
Heart Rhythm Problems
A study showed moderate coffee drinking reduces your chances of being hospitalized for heart rhythm problems12
A 2010 study13 revealed a beneficial effect of coffee on the pulmonary function of nonsmokers
A 2011 study14 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; a 2009 study15 found women who drank four or more cups of coffee per day reduced their stroke risk by 20 percent
A study16 in 2009 showed coffee produced an increase in the metabolic activity and/or numbers of Bifidobacterium, which are beneficial bacteria in your gut
There are many more studies with positive findings—in fact, too many to list. Not every single study shows coffee to be beneficial, but the majority are quite positive, suggesting that coffee has been unfairly maligned. There is strong evidence coffee can help stabilize your blood glucose level and may even help curb sugar cravings. Caffeine binds to your opioid receptors, which essentially prohibits you from craving something else, such as sugar.
Research also shows that coffee 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 the ignition. Neuromotor degradation is part of the process underlying age-related muscle atrophy. Essentially, caffeine from natural whole coffee may help keep your brain and muscle tissue young.
When to Drink Coffee for Maximum Benefit
According to Ori Hofmekler's extensive research, coffee increases your metabolism by up to 20 percent. I've previously discussed the benefits of exercising on an empty stomach. But coffee can actually be quite beneficial if consumed before exercise. Ori states:
"Coffee before training allows you fast energy to initiate your workout. For people who train in the morning, having coffee before training is a great advantage."
However, coffee is a potent substance and should be used only in moderation—without sugar. Ori recommends having just one cup of organic coffee or one shot of espresso in the morning or before training, and that's it for the day. If you exercise in the morning, have your coffee prior to your workout, NOT after. Consuming coffee after your workout interferes with your body's muscle-building mechanism. Again, your body can handle whole, fresh organic coffee because it doesn't hit your system the way synthetic caffeine does. But you don't want to go overboard.
Dark Roast Coffee may be Superior to Light Roast
When it comes to the health benefits of organic whole-bean black coffee, the darker the roast, the better.17 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 or Italian Roast, or roasts used to make espresso or Turkish coffee, are no exception.
Roasted coffees are higher in neuroprotective agents than green (unroasted) coffees. A new study in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research18 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 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.19
Coffee Quality is Key: Five Tips to Remember
When it comes to achieving any therapeutic benefits from coffee, only quality coffee will do. You can find a great deal of information at Coffee & Conservation20. Here are five primary considerations:
- Choose Organic: Coffee beans are one of the most heavily sprayed crops with pesticides. 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 or 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 the BPA will leach into your drink, and also avoid Styrofoam cups that can leach polystyrene molecules. Your best bets include glass and ceramic travel mugs.
Take a Crack at Roasting Your Own
If you want ultimate control over the quality of your coffee, as well as great cost savings, you may want to check into roasting your own beans. Many places are now offering dried organic green coffee beans for sale at less than half the cost of roasted. This can amount to a huge savings over grocery store prices—and is certainly more cost effective than daily visits to your local coffee house, even after the cost of a small home roasting machine is factored in. Your coffee will be fresher and the nutritional benefits more dependable. And it's fun!
Roastmasters21 is a popular online resource for information about home coffee roasting and supplies. If you follow the guidelines above, I see no reason why coffee cannot be a sensible and even therapeutic part of your diet.