Coffee Health: Benefits, Risks, Reactions

Coffee health is confusing because coffee is one of those things — you either love it or hate it.  You know if you like the taste or not (or if it’s just a reason to drink sugar and cream).  Your gut, your mind and so forth let you know how it makes you feel.

And then there are those crazy headlines that say coffee is great, and the next day you read that you should avoid it!

With coffee health, it turns out actual science is behind why not everyone reacts the same to drinking it.  It’s a matter of your genetics and how much coffee you’re used to drinking.

You see coffee does not equal caffeine.  Per cup there’s between 50 mg to 400 mg of caffeine, averaging around 100 mg per cup.  One of the most popular ways to consume this stimulant is by drinking coffee.

In fact, a cup of coffee contains a lot of things above and beyond the caffeine.  We’re not only talking about water but about antioxidants and hundreds of other compounds.  These are the reasons drinking a cup of coffee is not the same as taking a caffeine pill.  And decaffeinated coffee has a lot less caffeine; but, it still contains some.

Let’s look at caffeine metabolism, its effects on the mind and body and whether coffee drinkers have higher or lower risks of disease.  Then we’ll review some more things to consider about coffee health when deciding if coffee is for you or not.

Caffeine metabolism

Not all people metabolize caffeine at the same speed.  How fast you metabolize caffeine will impact how you’re affected by the caffeine.  Caffeine metabolism can be up to 40x faster in some people than others.

About half of us are “slow” metabolizers of caffeine.  We can get jitters, heart palpitations and feel “wired” for up to 9 hours after having a coffee.  And about half of us are “fast” metabolizers of caffeine.  We get energy and increased alertness and then are back to normal a few hours later.

This is part of the reason those headlines contradict each other so much.  It’s because we’re all different!

The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body

Most studies have looked at caffeinated coffee, not decaf.

The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body also differ between people; this is partly due to how one metabolizes coffee as we mentioned above.  In addition, it has to do with your body’s amazing ability to adapt (read:  become more tolerant) to long-term caffeine use.  Many people when they begin drinking coffee feel the effects a lot more than people who have been drinking coffee every day.

Here’s a list of these effects (that usually decrease with long-term use):

  • Stimulates the brain
  • Boosts metabolism
  • Boosts energy and exercise performance
  • Increases your stress hormone cortisol
  • Dehydrates

So, while some of these effects are good and some aren’t, you need to see how they affect you and decide if it’s worth it or not.

Coffee and health risks

There are a ton of studies on the health effects of coffee and whether coffee drinkers are more or less likely to develop certain conditions.

Here’s a quick summary of what coffee can lead to:

  • Caffeine addiction and withdrawal symptoms (such as a headache, fatigue or irritability)
  • Increased sleep disruption
  • Lower risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  • Less likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Reduced risk of certain liver diseases
  • Decreased risk of death (“all-cause mortality” – death by any cause)
  • Mixed reviews as to whether it lowers risks of cancer and heart disease

Many of the health benefits exist even for decaf coffee (except the caffeine addiction and sleep issues).

NOTE:  Coffee intake is only one of many, many factors that can affect your risks for the diseases listed above.  Please never think regular coffee intake is the one thing that can help you overcome these risks.  You are health-conscious and know that eating a nutrient-rich whole foods diet, reducing stress, getting enough sleep and exercise are all critical things to consider for your disease risk.  It’s not just about coffee health.

Should you drink coffee or not?

There are a few things to consider about coffee health when deciding whether you should drink coffee or not.  No one food or drink will make or break your long-term health.

Caffeinated coffee is not recommended for:

  • Individuals with arrhythmias (like irregular heartbeat)
  • Those who often feel anxious
  • People who have trouble sleeping
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Children and teens.

If none of these apply, then monitor how your body reacts when you have coffee.  Does it:

  • Give you the jitters?
  • Increase anxious feelings?
  • Affect your sleep?
  • Give you heart palpitations?
  • Affect your digestion (such as heartburn, for example)?
  • Give you a reason to drink a lot of sugar and cream?

Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether these reactions are worth it to you.  If you’re not sure, I recommend eliminating coffee for a while, and see if you detect a difference.

So, how many of you are coffee drinkers?  How many of you don’t drink it?  And what is your experience with this drink?  Do you hang out at Starbucks?  Is it for the coffee or the social interaction or both?  Please comment below and let us know how you feel about your coffee health.  And to find out more about the health properties of another popular drink, click here to read Red Wine: A Health-Optimizing Drink?  As always, we love to hear from you.

Categories: Blog and Effects of Coffee.

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