According to recent statistics, around 64% of U.S adults report drinking at least one cup of coffee daily. This fact motivated me to look into the health benefits and harm of drinking coffee.
Coffee is the major source of caffeine in our diets.
Coffee and caffeine
Caffeine is a psychoactive substance. Its effect on our behavior and body is very similar to the effects of other stimulants, such as amphetamine and cocaine.
Caffeine is absorbed in the stomach and small intestine. Its level peaks around 45 minutes after consumption and it slowly declines over the next 10 hours.
Smoking cigarettes or marijuana can shorten the time that caffeine circulates in the body, while birth control pills (estrogen) could prolong this time.
There are different methods of coffee preparations around the world. The amount of caffeine and other chemicals can vary depending the preparation and type of coffee.
Caffeine consumption has been increasing with the introduction of energy drinks. Some of the energy drinks widely available in the United States contain up to 160 mg of caffeine in one 8 oz. can.
Did you know that decaffeinated coffee contains some caffeine?
Harm of drinking coffee
Unfiltered coffee contains kahweol, diterpenes and cafestol that could raise the amount of total and bad (LDL) cholesterol. Elevated blood cholesterol level shown to increase heart disease and death. Commonly known forms of unfiltered coffees are Turkish coffee and coffee brewed in a French press. The paper filter in the filtered coffee is able to remove the kahweol, ditrpenes and cafestol from the coffee. Therefore, drinking filtered coffee appears to be less harmful.
Caffeinated coffee consumption may increase blood pressure, especially in patients who have borderline and unstable blood pressure levels.
Caffeine can increase the heart rate and worsen heart palpitations.
One study suggested that excessive unfiltered consumption of coffee could increase the chance of having coronary heart disease. However, this conclusion could not be verified in other studies. As I have mentioned previously, unfiltered coffee might increase the blood cholesterol level and because high blood cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, further evaluation of this finding is warranted.
Coffee can also increase the blood homocysteine level. And an elevated homocysteine level might increase the risk of coronary heart disease. This is especially true in individuals who consume more than 4 cups of coffee a day.
There are some conflicting data about the association between coffee and miscarriage. Several studies have suggested that consumption of more than 300 mg of caffeine per day could increase the chance of having miscarriage.
Insomnia: Caffeinated coffee consumption has been shown to be associated with poor sleep quality.
Urinary frequency: Coffee could irritate the urinary tract, causing burning with urination and increased urinary frequency. This is a common complaint that I hear in the office. You might have also experienced it.
Withdrawal symptoms: sudden discontinuation of drinking coffee could result in withdrawal symptoms such as headache, fatigue, depressed mood, irritability, insomnia and poor concentration.
Low potassium level: Drinking an excessive amount of coffee has been shown to lower blood potassium levels and result in many symptoms including, fatigue, constipation, muscle pain, low heart rate and numbness.
Benefits of drinking coffee
Alzheimer’s disease: Studies have shown a small benefit of drinking caffeinated coffee in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease by reducing the activity of beta amyloid plaques. These plaques may have a causative role in this condition.
Diabetes Mellitus: Several studies reported that individuals drinking a higher amount of coffee (between 4-6 cups) daily had a lower rate of type 2 diabetes mellitus. The mechanism of this process is unclear, but some experts suggest that it could be related to the increased production of adiponectin—a hormone that affects insulin and blood sugar levels.
Parkinson’s disease: Drinking coffee has been associated with a decreased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. A Finnish study suggested that drinking 1-2 cups of coffee daily could reduce the chance of developing Parkinson’s disease by 60%.
Colon cancer: Drinking coffee could reduce the chance of developing colon cancer. In one analysis, individuals drinking between 4-6 cups of coffee had an approximately 24% lower chance of developing colorectal cancer.
Liver cirrhosis: Several large studies reported that individuals diagnosed with liver cirrhosis had a better chance of survival, if they were avid coffee drinkers. A Norwegian study looking at patients diagnosed with liver cirrhosis over 17 years, found that individuals drinking at least two cups of coffee had a 40% lower chance of death compared to other individuals who didn’t drink coffee.
Stroke: Coffee consumption might reduce the chance of having a stroke, but drinking coffee increases the chance of having a stroke immediately after intake.
Coffee health benefits: My opinion
I like drinking coffee as do millions of people around the world. But how much coffee is too much?
As you noticed, like many other things, coffee may have some positive and other negative effects on our bodies and minds. We’ve to find a balance. Therefore, it’s difficult to say how much coffee each person should drink.
Two of the major questions that I always ask my patients is “what do you add to your coffee? And how do you feel when drinking coffee?”
It’s important that you know the benefits and harm of what you add to your daily coffee drink. If you add sugar and milk to your coffee and drink around 6 cups a day then you should be concerned. All the sugar and fat will harm your body.
I usually prefer not to add anything to the coffee, except for a little low fat milk. This is because, in my opinion, sugar regardless of being “natural” or “artificial”, will change the taste of the coffee.
The other question is whether you get symptoms such as trembling, irritation, lack of sleep and agitation after drinking coffee. If the answer is yes, then the amount is too high and you should cut back.
I’ve nothing against drinking coffee as long as it doesn’t cause any physical and mental burdens on the body and isn’t accompanied by other harmful habits like smoking.