Mounting Evidence Suggests Coffee May Actually Have Therapeutic Health Benefits

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Story at-a-glance

  • Many studies have recently been published suggesting coffee is not the health-damaging beverage it's been portrayed to be; research now suggests coffee can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, dementia, stroke, and cancers of the liver, kidney and prostate
  • Coffee lowers your blood glucose level and may even increase the metabolic activity and/or numbers of Bifidobacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, which are beneficial
  • Fresh coffee from organic, whole beans that are pesticide-free can help keep your brain and muscle tissue young. Adding commercial milk or creamer, and worse yet sugar, will tend to diminish the value you receive from coffee
  • You should consume coffee in moderation prior to exercising, without sugar, cream or flavorings in order to maximize health benefits; dark roast coffee beans are richer in beneficial compounds and lower in caffeine than lighter roasts
  • If you are caffeine sensitive or have an adverse reaction to coffee, you might not have the same reaction to a different brand of coffee, a different type of bean, or a different brewing method

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For years, physicians have been warning about the negative health effects of drinking coffee. You may have been told that coffee will raise your blood pressure, lead to heart disease, give you an ulcer or make you diabetic. But studies continue to roll in that caste doubt on this “common wisdom.”

Certainly, like anything, coffee should not be used in excess. However, study after study has failed to prove that moderate coffee consumption increases your risk for cardiovascular disease or any other serious illness.

In fact, it’s beginning to look like coffee – at least in moderation – may have a number of unrecognized health-promoting properties. As a result of the rather impressive list of therapeutic benefits, I’ve changed my recommendations about coffee.

One of the latest studies, published in April 2012 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition1, confirms earlier studies that coffee may actually reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Regardless of traditionally ominous warnings that coffee should be avoided, it’s being consumed in massive quantities worldwide. Although it’s inarguable now that coffee does have therapeutic benefits, if you are dousing your cup of Joe in creamer, sugar, and other sweeteners and flavorings, you are missing out on the therapeutic benefits and potentially harming your health.

Please understand that I am not changing my position to justify a “bad” habit. I personally have never enjoyed the taste of coffee and have had less than five cups my entire life and those were used therapeutically to compensate for jet lag.

Could Coffee Really be GOOD for You?

My understanding of coffee’s virtues was greatly enhanced by my interview with Ori Hofmekler, author of The Warrior Diet and Unlocking the Muscle Gene, who has researched coffee extensively. Ori explained how coffee, when consumed in the right way, can be used effectively as part of your overall health and fitness plan.

Although organic coffee as a whole food may be therapeutic, caffeine in isolation can be quite toxic. The natural blend of polyphenol antioxidants (including chlorogenic acids), bioflavonoids, vitamins and minerals in coffee beans all work together to help neutralize the harsher effects of the caffeine2. There are literally thousands of different natural chemical compounds in your brew, and science now suggests the synergy between them can pack a nice nutritional punch.

With all of these compounds, you might wonder if there are any that have undesirable health effects. Yes, there are. But as I mentioned earlier, these are more concerning if ingested in isolation, as opposed to being consumed as part of the whole food.

What about the Caffeine?

Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world and can be helpful or harmful, depending on how it’s used. Caffeine provides a “lift” by blocking the normal action of adenosine. Adenosine normally slows down your brain’s activity and induces sleepiness. Some people are caffeine sensitive and don’t tolerate it well, or have problems sleeping if they have caffeine too late in the day.

Caffeine levels vary depending on type of bean, roast, grind, and brewing method. Contrary to popular belief, darker roasts typically contain less caffeine than lighter roasts due to the prolonged heat breaking down more of the caffeine molecules. Bean species also differ widely in their naturally occurring concentrations of caffeine. Additionally, drip coffee actually has more caffeine than espresso because the brew time is much longer. And in general, the finer the grind, the higher the caffeine in the coffee. So, you might want to vary some of these factors if you experience a reaction, like switching from drip coffee to espresso, or changing brands.

If you have an issue with decreased adrenal function, use coffee with care, as it can be hard on your adrenal glands. Coffee also has a diuretic effect, so if you have problems with electrolyte imbalance, you might want to avoid it.

If you have any negative reactions to coffee, caffeine isn’t always the culprit. You could be sensitive to some of the burnt sugars or oils produced during the roasting of the beans, rather than the caffeine. People experience symptoms such as stomach cramping, heart palpitations and other autonomic symptoms, and these symptoms are usually interpreted as caffeine sensitivity when they are actually more of a food intolerance. There is also the possibility of mold or other contaminants triggering an allergy (as coffee is a dried food), so you want to make sure your coffee is of the highest quality and meticulously produced.

But as a whole, if you’re healthy, coffee is pretty well tolerated and the positive effects seem to outweigh the negative ones for most people. Please note that I still recommend women completely avoid using caffeine while pregnant.

The List is Growing of Health Benefits from Coffee

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