9 Health Truths About Coffee
100 million Americans will enjoy a cup of coffee today. Coffee naturally contains caffeine, a stimulant that affects the central nervous system. The alertness and stimulating effect of caffeine is what drives most people to drink coffee every day, but others may drink coffee just for the flavor or the ritual.
But is drinking coffee bad for you, as so many of us have been told? Or can it actually be a positive health addition?
Research is revealing that coffee may have some health benefits, although it isn’t suitable for absolutely everyone. Scientists and leading health experts have plenty to say about the world’s most popular beverage.
The World’s Favorite Beverage
After water, coffee is the most consumed beverage worldwide, and its trade value exceeds $10 billion. How are Americans drinking their coffee, and at what time of day?
- 54% of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every day.1
- Americans drink an average of 3.1 cups of coffee per day.
- 35% of Americans drink coffee black, while 65% drink it with cream and sugar.
- 65% of Americans drink coffee with breakfast.
- 30% of Americans drink coffee between meals, and 5% of Americans drink coffee with meals other than breakfast.
- Coffee is the #1 source of antioxidants for most Americans.23
How Coffee is Made
What you think of as a coffee bean is actually the fruit of the coffee tree. This bright red fruit is often harvested by hand once a year in coffee-growing countries (these include Brazil, the world’s largest coffee-producing nation, as well as Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and India). After harvest, the beans are dried, milled, graded, and sorted by size and weight. These beans, now referred to as “green coffee,” are then exported around the world.
Here are nine evidence-based health truths about coffee to help you decide if coffee is a good or bad idea for you.
Truth #1: Coffee Has Proven Health Benefits
Truth #2: Coffee May Protect the Brain
David Perlmutter, neurologist and author of Brain Maker, says that coffee is one of his recommendations for preventing Alzheimer’s and brain disease.11 “I’m a big fan of coffee, and super thankful that it’s not only savory, but brain-healthy as well. Not only does coffee activate our Nrf2 pathways, helping to fight off oxidative stress and protect against neurodegenerative diseases, but recent studies have found that high levels of coffee consumption can be associated with up to a 65% reduction in risk for dementia.”
Truth #3: Avoid Coffee Late in the Day
Caffeinated coffee may make it hard for you to sleep. Caffeine produces stimulating effects in the areas of the brain that control your sleep-wake cycle. Some people may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine on sleep, and others may be more affected depending on when they consume the caffeine.
According to Dr. Alan Christianson, middle-aged adults may be more negatively affected by caffeine because “specifically what happens is that it takes longer to move caffeine through our liver and out of our body as we age.” He notes that in your 40s, you’re only able to process about 100mg of caffeine per day. Any more than that creates a backlog that you then add to the next day, and so on.
One eight-ounce cup of coffee typically has 100mg of caffeine, so any more than that can lead to sleeplessness for middle-aged adults.
Truth #4: Coffee May Reduce Depression
Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system, increasing the production of certain “feel-good” neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline (a mild antidepressant). Theobromine is another compound in coffee that increases serotonin production, accounting for additional positive mood effects.
Truth #5: Coffee May Protect Your Liver
Liver disease can lead to cirrhosis, a scarring and loss of cells in the liver. Hepatitis B and C, as well as alcohol, are some of the biggest causes of liver cirrhosis, which can often lead to liver cancer.
Caffeinated tea doesn’t have the same liver-protecting effects, suggesting that a compound in coffee is responsible for reducing the risk of liver cirrhosis and cancer.
Experimental studies have also shown that coffee consumption reduces the accumulation and deposit of fat and collagen in the liver. These studies also show that coffee promotes an increase of glutathione production, a critical part of your body’s detoxification process for both Phase I and Phase II detoxification.31 Without adequate levels of glutathione, your body can’t properly detoxify the liver, and toxins can accumulate.
Truth #6: Coffee Can Impact Blood Sugar
Coffee can help reduce the risk of diabetes, as well as decrease blood sugar in diabetics by lowering carbohydrate storage. On the flipside, the caffeine in coffee may reduce insulin sensitivity in some individuals.
Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint, recommends that you moderate your carb intake when drinking coffee, and then get up and move around a bit to counter any potential effects of caffeine on insulin.39 He doesn’t necessarily believe that caffeine’s response on insulin sensitivity is a bad thing, though. “Caffeine increases adrenaline, which increases lipolysis—the liberation of fatty acids from body fat. The increased sense of energy you get from coffee is partly caused by the increased availability of energy in the form of free fatty acids,” says Sisson. The subsequent insulin sensitivity allows you to actually burn fat.
Truth #7: Coffee Can Burn Fat
Coffee is considered a thermogenic food—one that increases metabolism after it’s consumed. Coffee’s fat-burning properties are one of the reasons Dave Asprey recommends it. “Coffee is a potent thermogenic.
Truth #8: Coffee Can Protect the Heart
The number of deaths from heart disease each year is even higher; heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women.
That being said, people with existing heart conditions, including but not limited to arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation (A Fib), or ventricular hypertrophy should be careful when consuming caffeinated beverages. Caffeine is a stimulant, and recommendations for safe levels of caffeine consumption can vary for those with heart conditions. Consuming caffeinated coffee should be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional if you have a history of any of these (or other) heart conditions.
Truth #9: Coffee Isn’t for Everyone
While the positive effects of coffee on your health and lifespan are clear, not everyone should be drinking coffee. Here are some reasons you may want to avoid coffee:
Adrenal Fatigue: Intense, prolonged stress or illness can lead to a condition known as adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are located above your kidneys, and they produce the stress hormone cortisol. Millions of people are affected by adrenal fatigue, so they feel constantly tired and run down. Dr. Sara Gottfried warns that one of the three mistakes women make when it comes to their adrenal function is to reach for fake energy in the form of caffeine, sugar, or alcohol.30 Caffeinated beverages like coffee can push the adrenals further into fatigue, so using coffee to perk up and increase immediate alertness can have a long-term effect of causing further damage and exhaustion.
If you have a tendency toward any of the following side effects of coffee, or if you have existing health conditions, you may want to limit, avoid, or rethink coffee:
- Adrenal fatigue
- Chronic headaches
- Difficulty sleeping
- Digestive issues
- Gluten sensitivities
- Heart conditions or increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
Don’t forget that the stimulating caffeine in coffee can lead to withdrawals and addiction-like behaviors in some people. While there’s no conclusive evidence that coffee is addicting, if you feel that it’s interfering with your life in some way, or if you feel that you can’t function without your daily coffee, it may be time to switch to tea or water instead. Coffee may have health benefits for some people, but those benefits may not outweigh the risks for others.