It used to be that we would speak of coffee as an evil, unhealthy addiction. Caffeine, acids, and tar were all thought to take a toll on our health and vitality. Today, times are changing. Now, at least some of these coffee constituents (in particular its high antioxidant and caffeine contents) may be responsible for coffees touted health benefits. Half of the American population consumes coffee every day. Coffee is second only to oil in terms of its value in the world economy. And with weather issues causing crop shortages, Americans are feeling the effects not only on their wallets but possibly on their health.
In recent years a number of studies have suggested potential health benefits (as well as risks) associated with coffee consumption; the results are controversial in the sense that they are not totally conclusive one way or another. Whilst coffee has been reported to increase cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, some studies suggest a protective effect on the heart and decreased risk of stroke. Other studies have focused on coffees protective effects on health issues ranging from type 2 diabetes to Parkinson's disease, liver disease, and obesity.
The Nurses' Health Study is a group of just over 120,000 American female registered nurses aged 30 to 55 years at enrollment in 1976. Every 2 years, participants in the Study provide updated information via mailed questionnaires regarding lifestyle, medical history, and newly diagnosed medical illnesses. As part of the Nurse's Health Study (published in 2011), women who drank 4 or more cups of coffee per day decreased their risk for depression by a 20%.
Another study published in the journal, Cancer Research, showed that drinking 3 cups of coffee daily reduced the risk of developing basal cell skin cancer. Please keep in mind that drinking coffee is NOT an alternative to wearing sunscreen.
Other possible benefits of drinking coffee include improved metabolism (increased fat burning), decreased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death due to CVD, decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, improved physical performance, decrease the risk of liver disease, and liver cancer.
Some people react strongly to caffeine and cannot do coffee. It truly isn't for everybody. Some people may experience anxiety on coffee. Women trying to become pregnant or who are already pregnant are cautioned against consuming coffee. If you've already developed the habit, we're letting you know it looks like science supports your habit.
And as always, we recommend you talk to your primary health care provider before making any radical changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Lucas M, Mirzaei F, Pan A, et al. Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Depression Among Women. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(17):1571-1578.
Song F, Qureshi AA, & Han J: Cancer Res. 2012 Jul 1;72(13):3282-3289.