Research Points to the Health Benefits of Coffee
There’s nothing that says “American breakfast” more than the aroma of freshly brewed coffee in the morning. It smells wonderful, tastes great and gets you going on your busy day. With all of the conflicting information swirling around about whether or not your morning beverage has health benefits or harmful side effects, we will clear up a few facts about the health benefits of coffee and answer the question of java or no java.
From the old adage about it “stunting your growth” to newer theories that it causes hypertension, coffee has had a bad reputation. So, does it really hurt your health or can it possibly improve it?
The Perks of Drinking Coffee
“There is certainly much more good news than bad news, in terms of coffee and health,” says Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. The java benefits can be attained whether it’s caffeinated or decaf.
Dr. Hu tells WebMD that research shows some health benefits of coffee. Coffee drinkers, compared to nondrinkers, are less likely to have type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia, and have fewer cases of certain cancers, heart rhythm problems, and strokes.
Live a Longer, Better Life with Coffee
In the largest study to date, National Institutes of Health researchers gathered information from 229,119 men and 173,141 women who were part of the AARP Diet and Health Study on coffee side effects and/or benefits. The current study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that after 13 years, men who drank two to three cups a day had a 10 percent lower chance of dying earlier, compared to men who didn’t drink coffee. Women had a 13 percent decreased risk of early death. Coffee drinkers also had a lower risk of dying from specific diseases, such as respiratory disease, heart disease, diabetes, injuries and accidents.
The latest Harvard study seems to offer still better news. Even people who drank up to six 8 oz. cups of coffee (black or with a little sweetener and milk) per day were at no higher risk of death than non- drinkers.
Coffee Pros and Cons
There are several main health areas where coffee can have a positive (or no adverse) effect, says Dr. Hu:
• Type 2 Diabetes: Coffee contains magnesium and chromium, which help the body use the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar (glucose).
• Heart Disease and Stroke: Coffee has been linked to lower risks for heart rhythm disturbances (another heart attack and stroke risk factor) in men and women, and lower risk for strokes in women.
• Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases: “For Parkinson’s disease, the data have always been very consistent: higher consumption is associated with decreased risk of Parkinson’s,” says Hu. Coffee has also been linked to lower risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
• Cancer: “All of the studies have shown that high consumption is associated with decreased risk of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer,” Hu says.
Moderate Coffee Consumption Can Improve Health
So, just like most things, you can enjoy coffee in moderation and stop worrying about detrimental side effects. Research suggests that if you want to improve your health, it’s better to focus on other lifestyle factors, such as increasing your physical activity, quitting smoking, or eating more whole foods.
Where bad health is concerned, the usual culprit isn’t coffee, but more often the unhealthy behaviors that can accompany consumption. Also, watch your calorie intake if you’re getting your fix at a restaurant – a Grande Frappuccino from Starbucks can tip the scales at 500 calories, or 25% of the entire day’s calorie recommendation for a typical adult.