Is Coffee Good or Bad For You?
Do you walk into a coffee shop today and ask the barista for a “regular”? More than likely you are now accustomed to asking for something like an iced light mocha macchiato – hold the whip cream. There seems to be as many different coffee concoctions as there are individual’s differences of opinion and taste. 2014 was said to be the year of coffee and it seems to do more lately than arouse your senses; it has brewed up controversy.
Coffee is the second most popular beverage and accounts for 80% of stimulants used worldwide making it the most widely used psychoactive drug (9). Research over the past decade has highlighted many health benefits to consuming coffee and has put this addictive beverage back in favor with the medical world.
Unfortunately, the teeter tottering medical opinions have left most of us confused about what is actually good or bad for us anymore. Today, you have to be an educated consumer in all areas of spending and ask yourself the question: Is coffee good or bad for me or should I change the way I have been drinking coffee?
Coffee Contains Antioxidants
Coffee has an abundance of cancer killing, anti-inflammatory, and vitality boosting compounds known as antioxidants. Antioxidants fight the damaging effects of reactive oxygen in the body which promote free radicals.
The predominant antioxidants contained in coffee are polyphenols. Polyphenols are plant derived molecules that give food their color and have anti-inflammatory properties. Major polyphenols contained in coffee are (6, 8, 14):
Chlorogenic Acid (CGA): The most abundant polyphenol found in coffee which scavenges free radicals. CGA concentration in a single coffee serving ranges from 20-675 mg depending on the type of bean, roasting temperature, and brewing method. Some CGA is lost during the roasting process.
Melanoidins: Brown colored substances which are formed during the roasting process and give coffee its aroma, flavor and color. This antioxidant appears to increase in abundance during the roasting process and not only serves to remove damaging free radicals, but also helps to detoxify the body of metals.
Caffeine: Not only a central nervous system stimulant, caffeine has been shown to reduce the activity of free radicals and therefore acts as an antioxidant. The caffeine content in beans range from 0 mg/serving in decaffeinated coffee (decaffeinated beans do typically contain a minor concentration of caffeine) to 322 mg/serving in espresso coffee.
A few other compounds have recently been identified as powerful antioxidants contained in coffee. Research on the antioxidant activity of trigonelline, cafestol and kahweol has been less extensively investigated in humans. Still, studies suggest that these compounds offer promising health benefits. (14)
Trigonelline: Antioxidant activity has been observed in diabetic rats. Trigonelline seems to aid in gene transcription, a required step for gene expression, and reduces DNA damage at the cellular level.
Cafestol and Kahweol: The activity of both of these antioxidants appears to trigger other antioxidant enzymes. Enzymes assist cells in accomplishing a goal just like an elevator helps you reach the 70th floor without arriving exhausted and hungry. Without the help of cafestol and kahweol, other antioxidants may not be able to do their jobs efficiently.
The Benefits of Coffee
Coffee can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle and may even be considered a superfood. Understanding how coffee affects the body is key to optimizing health benefits that coffee can provide.
Coffee Stimulates Brain Activity
Two neurotransmitters in the brain are largely influenced from coffee consumption and play a vital role in vitality and health.
Dopamine: Dopamine neurotransmitters are involved in regulating pleasure and movement. Cells release dopamine stimulating a pleasure response in the brain as a reward for something as simple as the fresh baked smell of homemade brownies. Coffee prevents the reabsorption of dopamine back into cells and is responsible for the “high” pleasure perceived in individuals, especially those with an addiction. (3)
Adenosine: Adenosine acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain in which it functions to suppress the nervous system and causes you to feel tired over time. Caffeine in coffee competes with adenosine, similar to a game of musical chairs, and allows you to feel more awake. (4)
Coffee Promotes Thermogenesis
Thermogenesis is the total energy expended by the body to maintain daily life processes such as eating and breathing. Following caffeine consumption, thermogenesis is notable because your body temperature may slightly increase as well as heart rate.
Caffeine stimulates the production of the hormone called adrenaline. Adrenaline signals your body to be on alert and ready for action. As a result, the increase in thermogenesis awakens your overall senses so that you feel more awake and alert to your surroundings. (15)
Coffee Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
A 13 year study amongst men and women revealed that health benefits are possible with a single cup of coffee daily. In the study, consuming at least one cup of coffee a day reduced problems associated with cardiovascular disease.
Researchers support that this health benefit is likely a consequence of the concentration of the antioxidant chlorogenic acid. This anti-oxidant helps stabilize blood sugar and reduce oxidative stress and inflammation along the endothelial wall of the blood vessels.
Coffee Decreases Cancer Risks
The availability of antioxidants in the body remains a topic for further research in how they protect the body from damage resulting from stress. Scientists have examined the effects of coffee on several types of cancer but the following are most significantly supported.
Liver Cancer: Over 80,000 individuals in one study exhibited decreased liver cancer risks with long term coffee consumption (5). After noting that the same health benefits were not observed in individuals who consumed green tea, researchers attribute the results to chlorogenic acid available in coffee as opposed to caffeine.
Although more research is required to definitely address this correlation, chlorogenic acid likely inhibits the buildup of chemicals in the liver and thus reduces the risk of liver cancer.
Colon and Rectal Cancer: Consuming 4-5 cups of coffee daily has been significantly shown to decrease the risk of both colon and rectal cancer in individuals compared to those who do not drink coffee (6, 8).
Lower Risk of Depression
When energy is increased in the body as a result of thermogenesis, the brain is better able to utilize this excess energy resulting from increased blood flow. Essentially, increased energy available to the brain allows more brain activity which combats depression.
Findings from research analyzing over 50,000 women detail a significant relationship between depression and coffee consumption (9). Decrease in depression correlated to an increase in coffee consumption. This health benefit may be linked to the activity of the pleasure reward neurotransmitter, dopamine, as well as the suppressive effect of adenosine resulting from caffeine winning the game of musical chairs.
Coffee Decreases Parkinson Disease Risk
Parkinson’s is a progressive disease that affects both motor skills (balance, movement, swallowing, speech) and nonmotor functions (anxiety, sense of smell, vision and memory, cognitive mood swings) in individuals.
Coffee has been shown to limit risks associated with Parkinson Disease symptoms including movement, depression, anxiety, and even sleep disturbances. This decrease in risk is believed to be a direct result of dopamine activity in the brain. Researchers believe that the death of dopamine neurons may be a culprit and prevented by stimulation from coffee. (11)
Several studies have examined the inverse relationship between coffee consumption and Parkinson Disease risk. One study ran over a course of 30 years which supports that noncoffee drinkers are 5 times more likely to develop Parkinson Disease than coffee drinkers (10).
The Caffeinated Difference:
Part of the coffee controversy is whether or not decaffeinated coffee has the same health benefits as caffeinated. The general consensus seems to be an overwhelming no. After excluding all other nutritional components in coffee, researchers conclude that caffeinated coffee is most significantly associated with health benefits (10).
Long term exposure to caffeine may counteract the aging processes and degeneration of brain function. Just like a fighter doesn’t go into the ring without training and expects to win the fight, the brain requires frequent stimulation or training so that it can flex its muscles, hypothetically speaking of course. Caffeine does exactly this by competing with adenosine for recognition.
Although caffeinated coffee drinkers exhibited the greatest benefit in reducing colon and rectal cancer, there was a slight benefit observed in those who drank decaffeinated coffee (6).
Coffee is not a suitable beverage of choice for all individuals. Although some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine, many people are simply drinking coffee the wrong way. Do you know anyone who wakes up in the morning and the first thing that she does is turn on the coffee pot? Maybe you work with someone who has told you that he is unapproachable in the morning until he has finished his second cup of coffee?
Anxiety: An individual can experience an adrenaline response that awakens the body’s alertness and responsiveness known as the fright, flight or fight response. With this response comes increased heart rate and blood flow. Increased blood flow provides more energy to the brain and prevents the neurotransmitter, dopamine, from being reabsorbed (4).
Fatigue & Irritability: For each hour you are awake, the adenosine levels rise in the brain resulting in you feeling tired by the end of the day. Your body is intrinsically smart and over time, more receptors are created for adenosine to bind. For this reason, you are susceptible to feeling fatigued for every one less cup of coffee you consume than normal.
Addiction: For the same reasons that cause anxiety, fatigue and irritability, coffee is addictive. Caffeine changes brain chemistry by activating the same pleasure center that other narcotic drugs stimulate such as cocaine (3).
Hypertension: The underlying mechanisms that regulate the absorption and break down of components in coffee remain unclear. Although limited in studies, one agreement amongst scientific opinion indicates that individuals with hypertension or prone to hypertension may be better suited to opt for decaf. Caffeinated coffee significantly raised blood pressure and measured a high adrenaline response up to two hours following consumption whereas very little affect was detected with those consuming decaf with no visible adrenaline effect. (7)
Are You Drinking Coffee Right?
When drinking coffee, there are several ways to limit or avoid the adrenaline response that gives coffee a bad reputation. The following are tips to determine if you have been drinking coffee wrong all this time and how to make it right.
- Never consume coffee on an empty stomach. Especially in individuals whom have problems regulating blood sugar, coffee may cause a glycemic response and unhealthy adrenal response.
- Avoid added sugars and chemicals found in coffee flavors from syrups and creamers. Sugars and chemicals are a source of inflammation in the body.
- Do eat the proper nutrients throughout the day and most importantly with your coffee. This could be accomplished by mixing a teaspoon of coconut oil into your coffee, eating a piece of fruit or turning your coffee beverage into a coffee smoothie with added protein powder and banana. Providing your body macromolecules such as carbs or proteins help to protect the available antioxidants in the coffee. The body will respond by stimulating metabolism without the consequences of an adrenaline surge.
- Do sip your coffee over a period of 15 minutes to receive the added alkaline promoting benefits. Coffee increases in acidity every minute following and is more likely to cause stomach upset and acid reflux.
- Avoid drinking coffee following 2pm to limit sleep disturbances and insomnia. Those adenosine receptors need time to open up as caffeine stops being supplied to your brain in order to make you sleepy.
- Never combine energy drinks and coffee. The combination of added sugars will not only leave your body in fright, flight or fight mode but it will create so much inflammation your body will only want to run from itself.
- Do reduce your daily intake of coffee if you cannot live without it. Heavy caffeine use may lead to irritability and anxiety. How often has addiction proven to be a good thing?
Are you confused what health claims are fact or fiction and don’t know what advice to trust anymore? Before you jump on the latest bandwagon, here are two of the latest coffee fads and information for you to decide for yourself.
Green Coffee Aids Weight Loss
Are you a member of Dr. Oz’s home viewing audience? If yes, perhaps you were part of the reason why green coffee bean extract sales spiked so suddenly in September of 2012. Speaking in regards to green coffee extract, Dr. Oz told his listening audience that “this miracle pill can burn fat fast, for anyone who wants to lost weight” (1). Be careful not to fall such easy prey for new health gimmicks.
Supplement companies alike market green coffee bean extract based off of one single study suggesting that green coffee bean extract reduces and inhibits overall body fat and increases weigh loss (2). Unfortunately, the parameters of the study were so small that findings were insignificant and if anything, only show potential for weight loss.
Green coffee does contain antioxidants and the caffeine will stimulate metabolic rate which could lead to leaner body mass, but studies continue to prove that antioxidant value is added when beans are roasted (8, 13). Save yourself the anticipation for easy weight loss and invest your consumer dollars into fair trade coffee to provide growers a fair living wage.
Bulletproof Coffee: The Invincible Breakfast
Bulletproof coffee is a beverage combination of coffee, butter and oil. Unless your body is sensitive to the jolt of caffeine or you are otherwise recommended to avoid coffee, bulletproof coffee is an effective way to boost metabolism if you follow the recommended tips for consumption:
Buy Grass-Fed: Only use organic grass-fed cream or butter. Saturated fats and cholesterol are vital to the human diet required for cell support and brain function. Organic dairy provides an excellent source of nutrients and buffers the body from the negative adrenaline side effects coffee can trigger.
Helpful Tips for Buying Coffee:
- Always buy organic! Conventional beans are loaded with pesticide and herbicides. Decaffeinated coffee beans are especially high in chemicals. Caffeine is extracted by in conventional practices by soaking the beans in the same chemicals used at your local dry cleaners. (13)
- Try medium roasted coffee beans for the greatest health benefits. Medium roasted beans contain the highest concentration of compounds that prevent toxicity in the nervous system (8, 13).
- Give shade grown coffee a try. Especially if you are prone to stomach disturbances, shade grown coffee is less acidic than conventional and the taste is generally more appealing in flavor- Not to mention that shade grown coffee is environmental and bird friendly.
- A step up from organic is Arabica organic coffee. Most coffee beans are robusta beans. Arabica beans provide the best of the best beans lower in acidity and higher in total antioxidant concentration.
- Support the farmers who grow your coffee bean. Look for the Fair Trade Certified seal to ensure a living wage is provided to those giving you your morning cup of Joe.
- The Jo Espresso brand here follows the above recommendations as well as any form of coffee I have found.
- The Four Sigma Foods Mushroom Coffee combines organic coffee bean with medicinal mushrooms in chaga and cordyceps, which have adaptogenic effects and help to reduce stress hormones and help the body to adapt to stress more effectively.
- My personal favorite way to consume coffee is through Bone Broth Coffee Protein. From the first sip to the last drop, Bone Broth Protein Coffee is more than just a beverage – it’s a rejuvenating and energizing experience (fans of Bone Broth Protein Coffee compare it with the flavor of French Press-made coffee). With Bone Broth Protein Coffee, you can have a delicious, creamy and slightly sweet coffee beverage — with all the nourishing benefits you love about bone broth — in less than 60 seconds.
Now you are able to form your own opinion about whether coffee should be a daily regimen in your diet. If your choice is to avoid coffee but you seek some of the health benefits and enjoy the taste and aroma of a morning cup of Joe, there is an alternative for you.
Dandy Blend is an herbal beverage made primarily with dandelion and chicory root. Dandy Blend is comparable in flavor to coffee without the negative effects associated with the adrenaline response, caffeine and acidity. The drink is marketed as health promoting because of the ingredients contained which are linked to healthy digestion, immune support, heart health, and overall vitality.
Caffeine and GMO free, Dandy Blend makes an excellent coffee substitution for someone recovering from adrenaline fatigue, those who cannot tolerate caffeine, or anyone seeking to supplement their diet with health promoting antioxidants. (12)
Make Coffee A Healthy Choice in Your Life
There are many health benefits to drinking coffee, specifically caffeinated coffee. Although health benefits have been noticeable with one serving of coffee daily, research does suggest that consuming up to five servings daily correlates to increased health advantages.
It is up to you to make coffee a superfood and avoid the sugar loaded, chemical soaked, pro-inflammatory coffee beverages that will lead to health problems. Will you change the way you drink coffee?