We’ve all heard so much conflicting information about coffee consumption. It’s addictive but it’s also rejuvenating; it’s toxic for the liver, yet it improves fatty liver disease; it raises blood pressure and at the same time it’s protective against cardio-vascular disease; it’s acidic and therefore harsh on the digestive system but it improves IBS…
All of this information naturally begs the number 1 coffee question: To drink or not to drink? Luckily (for all coffee lovers out there) consuming up to 5 cups of coffee a day turns out to lower all-cause mortality as well as many other diseases such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc. Want to know more? Keep reading!
Are you avoiding coffee unnecessarily?
Coffee studies are abundant and coffee consumers have been extensively researched. So let’s look at what happens to those who consume coffee regularly.
Firstly, one observational study of about half a million of individuals looked at a 12,5 year follow up and tracked death, cardio-vascular disease and all-cause mortality. The study concluded that the consumption of 2-3 cups of coffee a day (regardless of whether it was decaf or caffeinated) correlated with a reduced risk of cardio-vascular disease, all-cause mortality and death.
Similarly, a smaller study shows that up to 4-5 cups of coffee a day (regardless of whether it’s decaf, caffeinated, instant or ground) reduces significantly all-cause mortality and cardio-vascular disease. The same study, however, showed that if you go over 5 cups a day, you start to lose some of the protective effect of coffee. So everything in moderation, right?
But wait! There is more! Observational data that looked at half a million of individuals found that more than 4 cups of coffee a day reduced IBS by 19%, and 1-3 cups of coffee a day reduced IBS by 8%. So if you have IBS, you may be avoiding coffee unnecessarily.
Staying on the subject of gut health, another observation study looked at stool samples of 150 healthy subjects – some of them didn’t consume any coffee at all, others consumed it in moderation, and there were also those whose coffee consumption was extremely high. Surprisingly, there was absolutely no difference in the microbiome of those three groups of otherwise healthy individuals. So while coffee may not help microbiome diversity, it appears to do no harm there either.
Lastly, an umbrella review of 218 meta-analyses (so that’s a summary of 218 examinations of coffee studies) concludes that coffee consumption reduces the risk for cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, fatty liver, metabolic disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, cancer, stroke and all-cause mortality.
So what’s in coffee and why is coffee so good for you? A number of substances found in coffee could be contributing to its benefits: polyphenols are anti-oxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties, chlorogenic acid has a motility effect, triptophan increases serotonin and caffeine increases dopamine and alertness.
Now, what if you have insomnia? Should you drink coffee then? Of course, that’s been studied, too! One randomized control trial of 100 healthy subjects divided into two groups (one consumed coffee while the other didn’t) found that coffee consumers slept about 36min less a day but took 1,000 more steps a day compared to those who didn’t consume coffee. So yes, if you drink coffee you will likely sleep less but you will also likely move more. Importantly, if you are smart enough you can have the best of both worlds – you can sleep more and move more! All you need to do it drink your coffee (in extreme moderation) in the morning and certainly be done with it by noon (caffeine has a half-life of about 6-8 hours, so it does take a while for it to leave your system). Alternatively, you can drink decaf, though in this case you may have to look for motivation and inspiration to move elsewhere (caffeine does improve physical performance).
Next, what about anxiety? Some people are under the assumption that coffee increases anxiety. However, anxiety goes hand in hand with depression (both are linked to an amygdala problem, at least in part), and coffee has been shown to reduce both anxiety and depression (remember – it increases serotonin and dopamine levels, i.e. two of the ‘feel good’ hormones). Still, some people do get jittery from the caffeine and interpret that as anxiety. If you are one of those, you don’t have to give up on coffee entirely (unless of course you want to). Simply minimize caffeine consumption or go decaf.
So is coffee for everyone? Obviously, caffeine should not be consumed during pregnancy for various reasons. Caffeine should also be avoided by those who have caffeine sensitivity. For instance, it causes breast tenderness in some women (they can still consume decaf though). Excessive caffeine consumption can also cause bone loss in people who have the tt VDR gene (again, decaf is presumably a safe option here, though research data are somewhat conflicting on that topic). Importantly, there are some who should probably stay away even from decaf. These would be people suffering from heart burn since coffee (decaffeinated or not) can worsen it due to its acidity. Other than that, most people can enjoy coffee and reap its benefits too. The key here is to enjoy it though, not to use it to survive on it!