Coffee always seems to be in the news. One day, the benefits of coffee drinking are being praised. A few days later, coffee and caffeine are highlighted as being detrimental for your health.
Many people now seem to view coffee as a guilty pleasure, but what’s the real story behind this popular beverage?
According to research, there’s some truth to both sides of the argument. Coffee has some serious health benefits but also some downsides that make it not right for everyone.
However, studies are showing that the benefits may be even greater than previously thought, and the risks are mostly associated with the amount or quality of coffee that you drink.
Here’s a look at some popular (but untrue) myths about coffee and what research has to say about its health-boosting potential.
5 Myths About Coffee That Aren’t True
Myth #1- Coffee Is Bad for Your Heart
This myth is mostly based on the fact that caffeine raises blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, so some have argued that drinking coffee can cause heart problems down the road.
Caffeine does indeed raise blood pressure but by an extremely small amount: 3–4 mm/Hg. This effect also usually goes away completely for long-time coffee drinkers.
There is a theoretical potential for caffeine to be a problem for those with already elevated blood pressure. However, studies have shown no correlation between coffee drinking and an increased risk of heart problems.
Myth #2- Coffee Has No Nutritional Value
Coffee drinking is usually perceived as being all about the caffeine with no nutritional benefits involved.
While you won’t be getting a multi-vitamin in a cup, coffee does contain several important micronutrients and some beneficial plant compounds.
One cup of coffee typically contains riboflavin/vitamin B-2 (11% RDI), pantothenic acid/vitamin B-5 (6% RDI), potassium (3% RDI), manganese (3% RDI), magnesium (2% RDI), and niacin/vitamin B-3 (2% RDI).
Perhaps more importantly, coffee is also an excellent source of antioxidants. These powerful compounds protect your body from oxidative stress and help fend off many age-related diseases.
Studies even show that in the standard Western diet, coffee is often the number one source of antioxidants.
Of course, you’ll get many more health benefits if you pair coffee with other high antioxidant foods.
Myth #3- Coffee Raises Your Cancer Risk
There’s a common misconception that coffee may contribute to cancer, although it has no basis in fact.
In reality, the opposite is true: There are benefits of coffee drinking for lowering your cancer risk.
A glance at the website of the American Institute for Cancer Research will show you that coffee is on their list of anti-cancer foods. This is largely due to the antioxidant content of coffee, which protects your body at a cellular level.
Studies also show that regular coffee drinkers tend to specifically have a lower risk of both liver and colorectal cancers. These are respectively the third and fourth leading causes of cancer death worldwide.
Myth #4- Coffee Raises Cholesterol
This particular myth has some basis in fact. Coffee doesn’t contain any cholesterol, but the beans do contain compounds called cafestol and kahweol that can potentially stimulate LDL (bad) cholesterol production.
However, if you have normal cholesterol levels, the intake of these compounds is so low that it won’t cause any noticeable changes.
For those with high cholesterol levels, simply filtering your coffee through a paper filter gets rid of most of the cafestol and kahweol. This is because they are found in the oily portion of coffee that gets trapped in filters.
But if you aren’t worried about cholesterol, it may be better not to filter your coffee because cafestol and kahweol have shown some anti-cancer effects.
Myth #5- Drinking Coffee is Unhealthy/Bad for You
This is the large umbrella myth that always seems to surround coffee. It mainly comes from a general perception that caffeine is bad for health and an over exaggeration of coffee’s downsides.
If you aren’t convinced yet of the significant benefits of coffee drinking, keep reading for more research-based findings.
6 More Benefits of Coffee Drinking
May Help You Live Longer
One rather surprising benefit of coffee is that it’s associated with a reduced risk of dying from any cause.
A few large studies involving over 100,000 people concluded that regularly drinking coffee was associated with a “modest” reduced risk of all-cause mortality. This “modest” reduction was as high as 20% for men and 26% for women.
Most likely, this is at least partly due to the antioxidant content of coffee. Combining it with other antioxidant and anti-aging foods will boost your health even more as you get older.
May Help Prevent Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is one chronic disease that coffee seems to be particularly effective against. Multiple studies have documented that coffee drinkers consistently have a lower risk of developing diabetes.
Drinking 3-6 cups (or more) of coffee a day seems to have the greatest effect. Research estimates range from a 23-50% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes with this amount of coffee consumption.
That doesn’t mean moderate coffee drinkers are out of luck. One research review put the benefits of coffee drinking at a 7% lower chance of developing diabetes per daily cup.
Protective of Brain Health
One fascinating health benefit of coffee is its potential ability to help protect cognitive function. Research is revealing a connection between coffee drinking and a lower risk of developing neurogenerative diseases.
More specifically, the caffeine in coffee appears to boost brain health.
One study examined the impact of caffeine consumption on the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The results found that “caffeine intake was associated with a significantly lower risk for AD (Alzheimer’s disease)”.
Another research review concluded that caffeine also has potential protective properties against dementia.
Yet more research has documented an association between coffee and caffeine intake and a lower risk of Parkinson’s, another devastating neurogenerative disease.
So far, studies indicate that decaf coffee does not have the same protective effects for your brain, so don’t be afraid to reach for the caffeinated kind.
Supports Liver Health
Another of the benefits of coffee drinking is for liver health. Your liver is a very important organ, especially for the natural detoxification process that happens continually within your body.
Not only can coffee potentially lower your risk of liver cancer (as mentioned), it may also protect overall liver function and health.
Studies indicate that coffee consumption can reduce your risk of several types of liver problems. This includes cirrhosis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and liver fibrosis.
Research also shows that coffee drinkers are more likely to have healthy levels of liver enzymes.
So far, it seems that these liver-protective properties come from the coffee itself- not the caffeine content. This means both caffeinated and decaf blends should have similar benefits.
Boosts Energy and Focus
One of the most well-known benefits of caffeine is that it can boost your energy and concentration. Drinking a cup of caffeinated coffee can make you feel less tired, more alert, and better able to accomplish daily tasks.
Caffeine has also been shown to give a short-term boost to cognitive function and mood. It helps you perform better on mental tasks and makes you feel better until the effects wear off.
An added bonus is that caffeine boosts how you feel physically as well. It stimulates your nervous system and increases adrenaline, which can improve both physical performance and endurance.
Boosts Metabolism and Fat-Burning (& Potential Weight Loss Aid)
Coffee drinking is known to have benefits for metabolism due to its caffeine content.
The main problem with using coffee for weight loss is that many people drink it loaded with sugar, cream, and other additives. However, if you combine it with a healthy diet and exercise, coffee can provide a welcome boost for your metabolism.
Potential Downsides of Coffee Drinking
Even with all the health benefits of coffee, there are some potential downsides. Most of them are avoidable if you are aware of them, but a few can be problematic for certain people.
Can Cause Anxiety, Jitters, and Nervous System Strain
Coffee (mainly the caffeinated kind) has been known to increase the risk for anxiety, especially in those who already deal with a panic or social anxiety disorder. Lowering your intake or switching to decaf can help if you find this to be a problem.
Caffeine can also cause something commonly called “jitters” in which you feel shaky and have a racing heart. This is almost always associated with excessive caffeine consumption, although some people who are very sensitive to caffeine will experience it even at lower amounts.
Another “drawback” is that if you are using coffee/caffeine as a substitute for rest, you’ll eventually end up with nervous system “burnout”.
Caffeine works by stimulating your nervous system. If your nervous system isn’t allowed to recover by getting rest and a good supply of nutrients, you may end up feeling like you’re constantly in “crash” mode.
Once again, this is largely due to overconsumption and unhealthy use of caffeine- not a risk of coffee in general.
Can Contribute to Insomnia
Coffee drinking may have benefits for energy, but drink it too late in the day, and you’ll have trouble sleeping.
For most people, the cutoff time is somewhere around 3-4 pm. Anytime after that and the caffeine may not be fully processed by the time you go to bed. Even if you can fall asleep, your sleep quality will likely suffer.
Of course, this problem is easily fixed by switching to decaf or cutting off coffee entirely in early to mid afternoon.
Caffeine Is Mildly Addictive
Caffeine isn’t addictive in the same way that addictive drugs are, but it does cause “mild physical dependence.” This only happens if you drink caffeinated coffee regularly.
Because it’s not a true addiction, withdrawal symptoms are not severe or harmful. Nevertheless, you will still likely experience a headache, fatigue, and irritability if you suddenly stop a coffee habit.
Can Cause Digestive Symptoms
Digestive distress is one of the most frequent “side effects” coffee drinkers suffer. Most coffee tends to be very acidic, which can be hard on your digestive system. Heartburn, stomach aches, and nausea can all come from just one cup. Caffeine may also worsen gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
May Be Full of Toxins
Unfortunately, the benefits of coffee drinking are frequently offset by toxins. Like any other crop, coffee trees are often sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals. These toxins can end up in the beans and become concentrated in your freshly brewed coffee.
Mycotoxins are a type of mold toxins that frequently contaminate coffee. They grow within the beans and can trigger inflammation within your body and potentially cause kidney problems. Unfortunately, many commercial coffee blends contain high levels of mycotoxins.
Getting the Most Benefits from Coffee Drinking
As you can see, coffee packs in some major benefits- with a few caveats. Here’s a quick look at how you can make coffee work for your health:
- Enjoy in Moderation– The recommended upper limit for caffeine intake is around 500 mg a day for adults (200 mg for pregnant women). This equals out to about 5 cups of coffee (home-brewed). However, some health experts recommend sticking with 1-2 cups a day for maximum benefit and minimum negative effects.
- Keep It Healthy– Sugar-loaded and artificially flavored coffee drinks are unfortunately the norm. Keep your cup healthy by using a plant-based milk, natural sweetener, or by drinking it black.
- Drink Clean– Treat your body by drinking quality, organic coffee whenever possible. This is the best way to avoid toxins and chemicals that may harm your health. Single origin coffee ensures that all the beans came from the same farm (important for quality). Shade-grown is another label to look out for because this growing method drastically cuts the need for pesticides.