Dr. Kevin Most: The benefits of coffee
Ok, so I feel a bit bad after being told by many that I ruined the Bar B Q season after talking about the health dangers of grilling and letting salads sit in the sun at picnics. I felt it might be a good idea to share with you that the $6 coffee you may be drinking right now is actually good for your health, for the most part.
I thought I would share with you some of the benefits we see from coffee, some may really surprise you. Now I do have a disclaimer, I have not had coffee since my junior year at The University of Kansas. I was never a coffee drinker but drank it for about a month as I studied for finals. I quit shortly after that and have not had coffee since. So as they say, I have no horse in this race, and I will be as objective as I can around the studies that show coffee not only gets you started in the morning, it actually may be good for your health.
Just a few quick coffee facts that are interesting.
1.) Every day in the US, 400 million cups of coffee are consumed, that comes out to 146 Billion cups a year
2.) 52% of people would pass on a morning shower if they had to choose between coffee and a shower
3.) 49% of people would rather give up their cell phone for a month than give up coffee for a month
4.) Decaf coffee is not completely without caffeine, it removes around 80% in many cases, and the caffeine removed is sold to soda companies, so coffee manufactures actually make more money on decaf coffee
5.) The Boston Tea Party and the heavy tax on tea was a tipping point for the consumption of coffee in the US, as tea was then considered unpatriotic
6.) Too much of anything can kill a person, but it would take 70 cups of coffee to kill the average adult
7.) Historically coffee has been thought to stunt your growth (1916) and give you bad grades (1927) both of which were proven false when actually studied
8.) FDA estimates that 90 percent of people worldwide consume caffeine daily, in the United States that number is 80 percent
So normally at this point I would be telling you the health concerns about coffee but in fact I will be discussing the health benefits of this drink. The US Dept. of Agriculture actually sees it as something one should add for a healthy lifestyle, as long as you stay in that 3 – 5 cup range. Let me be clear when we discuss the benefits of a cup of coffee it is relating to an 8 oz. cup, many individuals drink the “grande” which in most coffee shops approaches 16 ounces. So understanding the dose when we discuss the benefits is important
Believe it or not, there have been many studies on coffee and its effect on one’s health is actually quite interesting. Although the governor of California recently made coffee producers label their coffee cups with a warning, informing individuals that there have been carcinogens noted in coffee. The carcinogen noted however would need to be exposed to people in levels 1,000-10,000 times of our normal exposure to cause the cancer it did in mice. So the studies have not shown that coffee causes cancer and in fact there are many studies that have shown the benefits of coffee and we will touch on a few.
As Heart disease continues to be a major cause of death and disability in this country, it would be good to know that drinking as little as one cup of coffee a week lowers your chance of stroke and heart failure. Now when a claim like this is made it is often taken with some skepticism. However this claim has been reaffirmed in many large studies both here and abroad. In the US, a large study that has been going on for 34 years showed that a decrease in heart disease in those who drank coffee when compared to those who did not. Studies completed in Japan and Sweden also showed that drinking 1-2 cups of coffee a day decreased your risk of dying from heart disease by 38% and this study had 76,000 individuals. For prevention of heart failure they found that 4 cups showed the lowest risk, and you had to drink 10 cups a day to tip it to a bad association. The thought is the antioxidants found in coffee are protective against heart disease. Personally I am surprised people don’t get chest pain from the price of a cup of coffee !!
We do know that caffeine causes a temporary increase in one’s blood pressure and the rise can be significant but only lasts for a short period of time. It is unclear as to why this occurs but physicians do recommend that those with high blood pressure refrain from drinking coffee before engaging in other activities that would raise your blood pressure such as heavy exercise, weightlifting or hard physical labor. If you have a BP cuff at home you can check yourself and see what the impact of coffee is on your blood pressure. Take your blood pressure before coffee and then repeat it 20-30 minutes after your morning coffee and you can see the difference and impact coffee may make on you personally.
We have talked a lot about Diabetes and how it is becoming an epidemic here in the United States, we have over 100 million adults with Diabetes. Researchers at UCLA and Harvard have shown that those individuals who have an intake of about 2 cups of coffee a day have a lower risk of Diabetes type 2. They looked at 40,000 individuals and actually, as long as you limited your sugar intake in the coffee, the protective diabetes benefit increased as you drank more coffee, with the benefit capping at 4-5 cups a day.
The neurologic benefits of coffee may be obvious to many, as you think it stimulates you to wake you up or keep you awake. Would you be surprised if it actually was also shown to relieve pain and prevent pain as well. Drinking coffee before you sit down to work has been shown to decrease neck and shoulder pain in office workers. That morning coffee is also thought to lower the pain of those boring meetings you have to go to in the morning.
Coffee, but more importantly the caffeine found in coffee has been shown to actually enhance memory for at least up to 24 hours after it is consumed. In a study out of Johns Hopkins it was shown to strengthen memories and making individuals resistance to forgetting for at least 24 hours.
One of the more interesting studies have shown that individuals who consume 4-5 cups of coffee a day when compared to non coffee drinkers have cut their risk of Parkinson’s in half. A study out of McGill University was initially thought to have shown that caffeine from coffee helped control movement, in people suffering from Parkinson’s. This has since been proven to show no benefit from caffeine in Parkinson’s. Initially the thought that caffeine would help in those with movement disorders was picked up by the media and widely touted as a treatment. Further studies proved this to not be true, however that fact was not shared as widely in the media and thus many patients still feel that coffee and caffeine help with their tremors but it is anecdotal at best as true research has shown this to not be true.
Coffee has also been shown to decrease the risk of MS, depression, decrease cognitive decline and slow other neurodegenerative disorders. It is thought that coffee promotes the release of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. Studies are now looking at the protective nature of coffee in Alzheimer’s as well.
We know that coffee contains antioxidants which appear to protect our heart, it also has a major impact on cancer. Antioxidants appear to be protective. Coffee intake appears to help protect us from Prostate, liver and endometrial cancer. The studies show that 4-6 cups are need to be protective so this may not be as protective to those 2 cup a day folks. Studies are now looking at a combination in your diet of coffee and a secondary source of antioxidants for those who do not drink 5 cups a day.
Now I can’t leave the topic without a few concerns about coffee use. The first is that coffee during pregnancy should be limited to one cup a day. There are conflicting conclusions from many studies that have led to the recommendation that those women who are pregnant limit their intake to lower the chance of a miscarriage. Coffee has also been associated with low birth weight and pre term deliveries. Women who are pregnant should discuss coffee intake with their obstetricians.
We also know that those with anxiety issues may be affected as well with increased anxiety due to the caffeine. Finally as we have discussed sleep health, refraining from any caffeinated drinks for 6 hours before sleeping appears to be the best way to prevent any sleep disorder due to caffeine.
With all the benefits from coffee we do have to realize that some of the benefits may be lost as we load in the creams and sugars.