In the previous article we covered what caffeine does to your brain (and to your meditation), and what does Yoga and Ayurveda say in respects to coffee.
But beyond caffeine, what does modern science have to say in respect to coffee in general?
As with many other aspects of nutrition, the science here is still far from settled, and there’s evidence supporting both the Good, the Bad and the… yummy.
Coffee is good.
Yep. Coffee is indeed good for your health.
Let’s start with the mind: on top of the mental clarity boost you might expect, coffee also helps you release dopamine, a feel-good hormone, which makes you happier. As a matter of fact, a longitudinal study found that women who drank up to 4 cups of coffee per day had a marked decrease in depression rates.
Then there are the physical benefits, and there are so many studies supporting the habit that I felt it appropriate to make a detailed list of some of them.
Please bear in mind, science is still trying to understand this, and there may be new developments that contradict this list. So far, studies include the following results:
- 18% reduction in prostate cancer risk and 40% reduction of aggressive lethal prostate cancer.
- Up to 67% reduction in the risk of diabetes. 13% for middle aged women who drank a cup of coffee per day. A second study for men and women aged 45-74, and who drank 12 cups a day… a whopping 67% reduction in diabetes risk. Yes, you read it right, 12 cups of coffee a day!
- 60% reduction in the risk of Parkinson’s with 5 cups per day, and 47% with 5 cups a day or under.
- Up to 65% reduction in the risk of liver cirrhosis. The study found a correlation where people who drank most coffee, up to 4 cups a day, got the biggest boost in protection.
- Up to 50% reduction in the risk of breast cancer recurrence. That is huge!
- Signs of Alzheimer’s reversal. Even though it was a study in mice, they drank the equivalent of five cups a day for five weeks and began to reverse Alzheimer’s damage. Promising!
- 24% reduction in risk of dying from cardiovascular disease for women who drink 1 to 3 cups a day.
Many of the studies I looked at noticed that the more coffee you drank (typically up to 4 to 5 cups a day), the more benefits you could expect. However, this flies in the face of what every health coach, and maybe doctor has been saying for the past few years.
Well, coffee has also some potential risk, and I urge you to stay with me until the end, because some of the scary things you’ve been hearing of may have been misguided.
Coffee is bad.
Ok, let’s face it: coffee is an addictive drug that creates dependency. After you are hooked, you can get headaches, nausea, depression or anxiety if you miss your morning cup.
Sounds aweful, I know.
Remember that dopamine I mentioned in the “you will feel good” part of this article? Well, like other drugs that increase dopamine production, your brain remembers where it came from, and wants more of it. Which perhaps explains why so many people drink it so often… and why they get so cranky when they can’t have it.
Time for the list of the rest of the bad stuff associated with coffee drinking. Please read all the way to the end, so you can understand why many of these findings might be wrong:
- Raises blood pressure, cholesterol and homocysteine levels, which explains why it has been historically linked to heart disease.
- If your stress hormones are increased beyond a healthy level, you get inflammation, decrease tissue and DNA repair, and a host of other issues.It is worth noting that some people have an inflammatory response to coffee, while others have the opposite effect.
- Might increases risk of kidney stones (very mildly, if in fact there is an effect)
- It’s acidity makes it bad for people with heart burn, GERD, and gout.
Has the bad been misunderstood?
I have to admit, I had a much longer list that I compiled from different sources. But I did take the time to read the abstracts of the studies that are behind many of the claims on why coffee is bad and… they are either poorly done, or flat out irrelevant.
First, because many of the studies were done with caffeine pills -and coffee is a much more complex substance, and its composition as a whole can create a very different effect when taken as mother nature provides it.
Second, because many of the bad outcomes have been studied in a lab where you give people (or animals) who never drink coffee, large amounts of it, then draw blood samples and try to figure out the effect. But this is not how most people consume coffee.
For example: the effects of caffeine in erectile dysfunction, kidney stones and osteoporosis are some of the reasons touted as to why you shouldn’t drink it.
But some studies suggest coffee helps erectile dysfunction (no real proof yet so don’t get excited). The effect on kidney stones was very mild and in an experiment of somewhat extreme conditions (tons of caffeine after a 14 hour fast), and the effect on calcium absorption that is so low it could be counteracted with 1 to 2 tablespoons of milk. The evidence is here and here.
Now on to a couple more serious charges: insulin resistance, elevated stress hormones and adrenal exhaustion.
Lets begin with insulin. You may have heard about it in regards to diabetes. Well, it seems like people who drink coffee every day have a reduced risk of diabetes, while people who drink “short term” have a higher risk.
The same pattern seems to occur with corticoids, or stress hormones. These hormones are important for your body -in the right doses. Too high, and you get many of the effects in the “coffee is bad” list.
But when your body gets used to coffee, these stress hormones do not spike anymore like they do if you are a sporadic drinker, which would explain why so many benefits would be hard to explain if coffee in fact stressed you out so much.
This is the key to understanding why coffee may not be as bad as we thought: if you drink a cup or two per day, and your body learns to “even things out”, then the risks of coffee might be considerably diminished, which is why many of the studies are plain wrong in the way they have been designed.
Most of the research showing bad outcomes are studying the effect of “acute” consumption (a lot of coffee on people who seldomly or never drink it).
On the other hand, research that studies the effect of long term consumption, will typically find the contrary results, showing protection where in acute consumption there was risk.
This is NOT to say that overdoing coffee can’t have poor outcomes, or that it works the same for everyone. You may have bad consequences due to acidity, too much cortisol, or the simple addictive factors that lead to withdrawal symptoms.That wouldn’t be balanced, or yogic.
Caffeine in moderation is likely not an issue for most people, particularly if you are not genetically hypersensitive to it, or have some health conditions such as gout or acid reflux. As a matter of fact, the list of benefits is rather impressive for consumption between 1 and 4 cups a day (at most, and for the right person).
Consider that tea is regarded as a healthy drink that no one would frown upon, and yet you might get as many benefits from your morning cup of coffee.
Problems occur when we drink coffee all day long while sitting still, eating crappy foods, and constantly stressed out of our wits.
If you are concerned with being addicted to a substance, then you might be better off drinking something else.
If you found these articles helpful, please share them with others.
As for me… it’s time for another cup.