Caffeine and Coffee - A Natural Energy Enhancer or Disaster?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

At some point researchers find the time to evaluate every substance on earth to find out whether it is good or bad for you. Coffee is no different. It’s difficult to sort out fact from fiction when it comes to coffee and other caffeine related products. Fortunately we’ve done the work for you.

Coffee – Health Benefits
Coffee has many reported health benefits. Some studies suggest that coffee may help relieve Parkinson’s symptoms, diabetes and help with colon cancer. Many coffee drinkers report a lifted mood and fewer headaches, which they credit to their daily cup of Jo. A study of 120,000 people over 18 months by Harvard researchers suggests that coffee reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes. The study surveyed participants who drank one to three cups of coffee every day.

The same study suggested that drinking 6 cups of coffee every day reduced men’s risk of developing diabetes by as much as 54%, and women’s by 30%. All in all, researchers have conducted almost 20,000 studies evaluating the health benefits and effects of coffee on consumer’s health and well-being. Most studies confirm that in general coffee is beneficial, not harmful to ones health. Six studies for example, confirm that drinking coffee regularly may reduce your risk of Parkinson’s by as much as 80%! Still others suggest an 80% reduction in risk for developing cirrhosis of the liver, 50% reduction in gallstone disease risk and 25% risk reduction for developing colon cancer.

How can caffeine do all this? It’s not just the caffeine. Coffee contains antioxidants, which are microscopic disease fighters all on their own. Tocopherols and chlorogenic acids are among the antioxidants supplied to the body through coffee. Many believe its this potent combination of antioxidants and caffeine that produce such health benefits. Parkinson’s risk reduction however, is one of few diseases directly linked with the caffeine in coffee, thus one may reason that other caffeinated drinks may provide similar benefits. Coffee also contains quinines, which are a group of substances reported to increase the body’s sensitivity and response to insulin. This may be the reason coffee is helpful for diabetes prevention.

Coffee Contraindications
Of course, despite the reported benefits coffee isn’t necessarily good for everyone. Most researchers recommend moderate consumption of coffee to enjoy the health benefits associated with the drink. This usually translates into 1-3 cups per day. Drinking too much coffee can result in a rapid heartbeat, jitters, insomnia and agitation. Some studies also suggest that in certain individuals, frequent coffee consumption may contribute to increased cholesterol levels. However, this risk is typically associated with unfiltered coffee. It seems you can filter out the oil in coffee responsible for cholesterol problems. Thus, if you have high cholesterol, you probably are better off staying away from the boiled or unfiltered java if you have the chance.

Other people at risk for side effects from coffee include:
  • Pregnant women

  • Patients with heart troubles or tachychardia

  • Women at risk for osteoporosis

  • Nursing or breastfeeding mothers
There are some studies suggesting that young infants livers are too immature to break down the caffeine in coffee. Thus rather than pass caffeine out, newborn babies are more likely to store caffeine in their liver and bodies for longer periods of time. This can cause your baby to become fussy and uncomfortable. Because caffeine passes through your breast milk, you are better-off abstaining or enjoying a small cup of coffee after your baby nurses, so your body has time to break down the caffeine.

Caffeine In Other Drinks
Of course, many of the health benefits associated with the caffeine in coffee are related to other compounds as well including minerals and antioxidants. Other drinks with caffeine do not necessarily offer the same health advantages as coffee does. Soda for example, provides caffeine that is not good for the body. Soda contains zero antioxidants.

Tea contains less caffeine that coffee and is also jam-packed with nutrients. It is a good alternative to coffee for those that may be sensitive to coffee. Tea like coffee contains many antioxidants that help fight off cancer and other diseases. Certain blends, like yerba mate, are quite strong. You can even brew them in a coffeepot and use them as a coffee replacement.

Tips For Making Coffee Safe
If you do decide that coffee drinking is for you, there are some steps you can take to ensure you enjoy the maximum health benefits from drinking coffee. Here are some suggestions for improving your coffee drinking experience:
  • Drink organic coffee if given the choice. It is free from pesticides and herbicides traditionally sprayed on coffee bean crops.

  • Try your java black if you can. Sugar provides few health benefits and may pack on pounds.

  • Use non-bleached coffee filters if you can. The chlorine used to bleach white filters may seep into your coffee in small amounts during brewing.
Remember as with anything, coffee will likely remain a controversial subject. Chances are however you can have your cup of Jo without to much concern as long as your remember to drink in moderation.