For me, as well as 83% of Americans, a steaming cup of coffee is an essential part of the morning. Coffee is the world’s most popular psychoactive drug, and its current American market value is estimated at about $30 billion a year. Given this widespread consumption, it's no surprise that people (including one of my patients recently), wonder if this habit's unhealthy. For my own benefit, as well as to address my patient's concerns, I decided to find some answers.
A search for “coffee” in the National Institutes of Health journal database shows the number of studies on the topic has almost tripled since the year 2000, and the new information is extraordinary.
Coffee helps fight cancer
Launching into the research, I found studies on a wide range of topics. Cancer research, for example, reveals that in multiple studies, coffee lowers your chance of developing lethal prostate cancer. Other data shows it may help prevent liver cancer, oral cancer, colon cancer and endometrial cancer, as well as total cancer incidence. More research shows coffee helps regulate blood sugar and insulin, and could actually lower your chances of getting diabetes.
Coffee is good for your heart
Considering that cardiovascular complications are the top cause of death in America, it’s fascinating to see research by The American Heart Association showing higher levels of coffee drinking actually lower your risk of stroke. Couple this with data from a recent study of 77,000 people showing a “reduced risk of mortality for cardiovascular disease” in people who consumed at least one cup of coffee a day, and that morning java is looking even better
The downsides of coffee
Of course, we all know that too much coffee can cause a racing heart, tremulousness, and insomnia. And while some data shows that more coffee may slightly increase blood pressure or lead to small decreases in bone strength without adequate calcium supplementation, the new information is rather profound. In fact, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine last year found that people who drank two to three cups of coffee a day lived longer than those who didn't.
With all this amazing science, it seems reasonable to ask how exactly these result are happening.
While the explanation is far from finalized, recent work on coffee shows us that the bean may actually activate beneficial pathways in our bodies at the level of DNA. Coffee, along with other foods like green tea and broccoli, activates a genetic switch that flips on an antioxidant pathway known as Nrf2.
When this gene is powered up, it triggers an antioxidant cascade leading to decreased inflammation, possibly contributing to all the wonderful effects of our favorite morning drink. For now, while researchers continue to discover exactly why it’s so great, this student is going to pour himself a second cup o’ Joe.
5 things to keep in mind the next time you say yes to coffee:
1. Avoid addition of excess sugar or sweeteners to your coffee. The coffee itself may be benefiting your health, but you’re undoing that if you add sweeteners
2. Drink organic coffee whenever possible. Non-organic coffee is grown with liberal pesticide use.
3. Avoid flavored and novelty coffees. These products contain a myriad of chemical additives.
4. If you want to add milk, go with whole instead of skim. Skim milk often sweetened, and may actually lead to worse cholesterol numbers than whole milk.
5. Listen to your body! You can get most of the great benefits from 1 to 2 cups of coffee a day. If you start to have trouble sleeping, for example, you might be overdoing it.