The Science Behind Coffee And Why It’s Actually Good For Your Health

The Science Behind Coffee And Why It’s Actually Good For Your Health

Coffee isn’t just warm and energising, it may also be extremely good for you. In recent years, scientists have studied the effects of coffee on various aspects of health and their results have been nothing short of amazing.

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Here’s why coffee may actually be one of the healthiest beverages on the planet.

Coffee Can Make You Smarter

Coffee doesn’t just keep you awake, it may literally make you smarter as well. The active ingredient in coffee is caffeine, which is a stimulant and the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world. Caffeine’s primary mechanism in the brain is blocking the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine. By blocking the inhibitory effects of adenosine, caffeine actually increases neuronal firing in the brain and the release of other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine (1, 2). Many controlled trials have examined the effects of caffeine on the brain, demonstrating that caffeine can improve mood, reaction time, memory, vigilance and general cognitive function (3).

Bottom Line: Caffeine potently blocks an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, leading to a net stimulant effect. Controlled trials show that caffeine improves both mood and brain function.

Coffee Can Help You Burn Fat and Improves Physical Performance

There’s a good reason why you will find caffeine in most commercial fat burning supplements. Caffeine, partly due to its stimulant effect on the central nervous system, both raises metabolism and increases the oxidation of fatty acids (4, 5, 6). Caffeine can also improve athletic performance by several mechanisms, including by mobilising fatty acids from the fat tissues (7, 8). In two separate meta-analyses, caffeine was found to increase exercise performance by 11 to 12 per cent on average (9, 10).

Bottom Line: Caffeine raises the metabolic rate and helps to mobilise fatty acids from the fat tissues. It can also enhance physical performance.


Coffee May Drastically Lower Your Risk Of Type II Diabetes

Type II diabetes is a lifestyle-related disease that has reached epidemic proportions, having increased 10-fold in a few decades and now afflicting about 300 million people. This disease is characterised by high blood glucose levels due to insulin resistance or an inability to produce insulin. In observational studies, coffee has been repeatedly associated with a lower risk of diabetes. The reduction in risk ranges from 23 per cent all the way up to 67 per cent (11, 12, 13, 14). A massive review article looked at 18 studies with a total of 457,922 participants. Each additional cup of coffee per day lowered the risk of diabetes by 7 per cent. The more coffee people drank, the lower their risk (15).

Bottom Line: Drinking coffee is associated with a drastically reduced risk of type II diabetes. People who drink several cups per day are the least likely to become diabetic.

Coffee May Lower Your Risk of Alzheimer’s And Parkinson’s

Not only can coffee make you smarter in the short term, it may also protect your brain in old age. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disorder in the world and a leading cause of dementia. In prospective studies, coffee drinkers have up to a 60 per cent lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia (16, 17, 18). Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, characterised by death of dopamine-generating neurons in the brain. Coffee may lower the risk of Parkinson’s by 32 to 60 per cent (19, 20, 21, 22).

Bottom Line: Coffee is associated with a much lower risk of dementia and the neurodegenerative disorders Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.


Coffee May Be Extremely Good For Your Liver

The liver is a remarkable organ that carries out hundreds of vital functions in the body. It is very vulnerable to modern insults such as excess consumption of alcohol and fructose. Cirrhosis is the end stage of liver damage caused by diseases like alcoholism and hepatitis, where liver tissue has been largely replaced by scar tissue. Multiple studies have shown that coffee can lower the risk of cirrhosis by as much as 80 per cent, with the strongest effect for those who drank 4 or more cups per day (23, 24, 25). Coffee may also lower the risk of liver cancer by around 40 per cent (26, 27).

Bottom Line: Coffee appears to be protective against certain liver disorders, lowering the risk of liver cancer by 40 per cent and cirrhosis by as much as 80 per cent.

Coffee May Decrease Your Risk of Dying

Many people still seem to think that coffee is unhealthy. This isn’t surprising though, since it is very common for conventional wisdom to be at exact odds with what the actual studies say. In two very large prospective epidemiological studies, drinking coffee was associated with a lower risk of death by all causes (28). This effect is particularly profound in type II diabetics, one study showing that coffee drinkers had a 30 per cent lower risk of death during a 20-year period (29).

Bottom Line: Coffee consumption has been associated with a lower risk of death in prospective epidemiological studies, especially in type II diabetics.


Coffee is Loaded With Nutrients And Antioxidants

Coffee isn’t just black water. Many of the nutrients in the coffee beans do make it into the final drink, which actually contains a decent amount of vitamins and minerals.

But this isn’t all. Coffee also contains a massive amount of antioxidants. In fact, coffee is the biggest source of antioxidants in the western diet, outranking both fruits and vegetables combined (31, 32, 33).

Bottom Line: Coffee contains a decent amount of several vitamins and minerals. It is also the biggest source of antioxidants in the modern diet.

Take Home Message

Even though coffee in moderate amounts is good for you, drinking way too much of it can still be harmful. I’d also like to point out that many of the studies above were epidemiological in nature. Such studies can only show association, they can not prove that coffee caused the effects. To make sure to preserve the health benefits, don’t put sugar or anything nasty in your coffee! If it tends to affect your sleep, then don’t drink it after 2pm. At the end of the day, it does seem quite clear that coffee is NOT the villain it was made out to be. If anything, coffee may literally be the healthiest beverage on the planet.

Why is Coffee Good For You? Here are 7 Reasons [Authority Nutrition]

Kristjan Gunnarsson is a medical student, professional blogger, certified personal trainer and a fitness and health enthusiast. His main passions in life are health and nutrition and he contributes to Authority Nutrition every week, with fresh ideas on weight loss, nutrition, and the things that are required to gain optimal health.


        • Depends which type of tea doesn’t it? Green tea for example still has a lot of caffeine (almost as much as coffee or more in some cases). Caffeine is the bad thing in coffee is it not? So the same would be true for tea? Man i really want a coffee now.

          • There are a few bad things in coffee (eg. diterpenes in some coffee that increase risk of heart disease) but caffeine is the big one, yes. Your typical mug of coffee contains 100-150mg of caffeine, depending on how it’s prepared (drip coffee is a lot stronger, for example).

            Tea has a few bad things in it too, like tannin, but the age of the tea leaves when prepared makes a huge difference in effect. Tea leaves themselves have more caffeine than coffee beans, but the resulting drink is the opposite. A typical mug of black tea has about 75mg of caffeine, and green and white teas have about 50mg. Those are averages though, because naturally the way the plant is grown and prepared has a big difference on the amount of transferrable caffeine in the steeped drink.

            Too much caffeine and the negatives start to outweigh the positives. Where the recommended daily intake of coffee to get the full antioxidant benefit is about 4 mugs (400-600mg caffeine), you can have 8-12 mugs of green tea (for example) for the same caffeine intake, but you get more antioxidants in total from the tea even though coffee has a higher concentration per-mug.

            Plus, not all antioxidants were created equal (*cough* four legs good, two legs bad *cough*) and there’s studies that suggest while there are less antioxidants in tea, they’re more effective against a wider range of health concerns (cancer in particular) than those found in coffee.

            Edited to add: the only reason I know anything about this stuff is I’m a migraine sufferer, and caffeine can be a migraine trigger for many sufferers. After I was diagnosed, I did a lot of research on what contains caffeine, and the full health risks and benefits of drinks like tea, coffee and energy drinks like Red Bull. In the end, I settled on green tea as my drink of choice.

          • well there you go- personally i love both black coffee and green tea at different times 🙂

            as an aside isn’t caffeine sometimes beneficial for headaches/ migraines? i know over in the ‘states a lot of over- the- counter headache preparations have caffeine in them, my assumption is that they somehow utilise the constricting effect caffeine has on some blood vessels to your brain…

          • I’ve heard people say caffeine can be good for headaches, but that hasn’t matched my experience with it unfortunately. For me, I’ve had both caffeine hangovers (even from just one large mug a day, every day) and migraines that were probably triggered by the caffeine. I’m not sure of the particulars of how it works for headaches, I just know it doesn’t work that way for me.

  • “Coffee may decrease your risk of dying” – awesome. I am drinking this magical life-preserving elixir AND NOTHING ELSE forever 🙂

    (And yes, I did actually read it, and I know it’s for specific illnesses and such, but still. The phrasing here is awesome!)

  • How many times are we going to revisit this subject.?
    It’s been done to death.! To the point where there are conflicting views and studies.
    Bloody hell, everything in moderation… That should be the mantra…

    • Pretty much. Almost all the benefits listed here also exist in tea, but with fewer drawbacks than coffee has. Though I do object to the statement ‘coffee makes you smarter’, because it doesn’t. It gives a temporary boost to certain mental functions, but brings on mental weariness much faster. Not to mention the amount of caffeine in coffee inhibits calcium absorption and has a negative effect on bone health. It seems a little disingenuous to write an article about the positives of coffee without addressing the negatives.

      And now I see why. The source, ‘Authority Nutrition’ is written by a student. So much for ‘authority’.

  • Coffee, green tea, black tea are all good for you and all taste good. Anything in high doses will kill you (eg: carrots, water). For me personally I can’t have tea in the morning or I vomit, so it’s morning coffee and I have tea at night.

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