Coffee and Inflammation: Does Your Habit Help or Harm?

Coffee and Inflammation

For so many people, coffee is an essential part of life. Often, a cup in the morning can be what wakes you up or gives you the energy and willingness to fight the day. There is even significant evidence about health benefits connected to coffee.

Yet despite that, many people will assume that any discussion of coffee and inflammation is going to be negative.

The truth is that, despite our love for it, there is still a large amount of stigma surrounding coffee. For that matter, many people still view coffee as an unhealthy habit – one that they should probably stop, even if they don’t want to.

So, with that in mind, this post takes a look at the implications of coffee (and caffeine) on inflammation. Does coffee play a role in an anti-inflammatory diet, or is it something you should be avoiding instead?

Inflammation and Human Health

Inflammation itself is an entirely natural process. Basically, this is the way that the body responds to threats. Often, inflammation is noticeable, where a specific area will swell up and often become red and painful.

Yet, that isn’t always the case. Instead, inflammation can also occur within the body and you may not be able to feel it at all. Regardless of the form, inflammation can be both healthy and dangerous.

When it occurs correctly, inflammation is a critical part of the healing process, allowing our bodies to remain healthy and to function optimally. However, there are also many cases where inflammation becomes excessive or misdirected.

Girl with back pain, inflammation concept

In these situations, the body may be responding to a threat that doesn’t exist. Alternatively, it could be over-responding and the problem in question may not be resolvable anyway.

These patterns contribute to a set of conditions known as autoimmune diseases, such as some forms of arthritis (1).

To make matters worse, inflammation may also play a significant role in the development of other diseases – ones that aren’t traditionally related to inflammation.

This happens because of chronic inflammation, which can be prolonged, often lasting years or even decades. For example, Dr. Mercola talks about how inflammation can impact every aspect of your health

That type of inflammation has been linked to the development of a range of diseases, including coronary artery disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease (2,3).

Indeed, there are some theories that inflammation may be connected, in some way, to most of the health conditions that plague modern society (4).

The Modern Diet and Inflammation

Inflammation has become a major issue in modern society because of our eating patterns. In particular, both sugar and processed foods have been linked to inflammation and, on average, we do tend to consume a considerable amount of both (5).

Thankfully, this means that there are many natural ways to combat inflammation.

For some people, the first step is often to simply decrease carb intake and increase the reliance of healthy fats for energy. In some cases, you might want to follow a low carb diet or even a keto diet.

There is also a range of different healthy foods that can help to fight inflammation, including olive oil, tart cherry juice and kale. You can find other examples on the site Body Ecology. Overall, focusing on healthy low-inflammation foods can be powerful in reducing levels of inflammation.

Plus, if nothing else, many of these foods are associated with their own health benefits. That may be reason enough for incorporating them in your diet.

The Connection with Coffee

It’s clear that inflammation can be damaging to health and is something that we need to reduce as much as possible. So, how does coffee factor into the equation?

In particular, does it make inflammation worse or better?

One recent study suggests that a key way to fight inflammation may be to block adenosine receptors. The reason for this is that doing so may also serve to restrict the pathways involved in the production of inflammatory molecules (6). This effect is interesting because caffeine does serve to block those receptors (7,8).

Indeed, the authors of the study were able to illustrate that caffeine could play a role in fighting the production of inflammatory molecules (9).

The outcomes were specific for the older population, who tend to produce a collection of inflammatory compounds as they age (called the inflammasome).

However, it is possible that similar results could occur with a younger population as well.

Now, the study doesn’t prove that coffee or caffeine actually decreases inflammation. But, it does highlight a potential mechanism, which is critical. After all, there are already many studies that show health benefits from coffee and from caffeine, including those that suggest that coffee can increase life length (10,11,12).

Other research has linked coffee or caffeine to inflammation (13), suggesting that coffee may be relevant for reducing inflammation levels (14,15). For example, one such study found that supplementing with caffeine could increase anti-inflammatory response for athletes competing in a 15-km run (around 9.3 miles) (16).

There have also been some animal studies that suggest that either coffee or caffeine may reduce inflammation (17,18).

However, as is often the case, not all authors agree. For example, some research actually suggests that moderate to high levels of coffee consumption contribute to inflammation in some circumstances, rather than helping to fight it (19,20).

Man staring at coffee

One study also suggested that the effects of coffee are strongly individual. In particular, coffee may actually promote inflammation in some people and decrease it in others (21). Such an effect may explain why the outcomes of research have been varied.

The research on the topic is also somewhat limited and there have been relatively few experimental studies directly examining the connection between coffee and inflammation (22,23).

Instead, most of the studies that have been conducted rely on observational methods and this type of study can mask any effect that is truly occurring (24).

Likewise, some of the observational studies have failed to control for all confounding factors (25), which further limits their usefulness.

As a result, much more controlled research is needed before we truly understand the impact of coffee on inflammation, along with why such an impact exists (26,27).

Implications for Health

So, what does all of this mean?

There is certainly some evidence suggesting that caffeine (and perhaps coffee itself) can help to reduce inflammation. By doing so, it may also help to lower disease risk. This stands to reason, especially when you consider all of the other health benefits associated with coffee.

Indeed, researchers argue that there is some evidence of benefits with moderate coffee consumption and little evidence of risk for most of the population (28). This conclusion alone may be reason enough to regularly drink coffee.

However, there is also the suggestion that the observed effects are somewhat individualized. This means that coffee may offer more benefits to some people than to others.

Woman with cup of coffee and cake

Such effects may even be true for some other health implications of coffee. After all, coffee does contain significant caffeine and people respond to this very differently than one another.

For some people, caffeine is an important way to jumpstart their day and can help promote improved mood and cognition (29,30). For others, caffeine may simply serve to make them jittery and nervous. Likewise, caffeine isn’t a good choice for people with some medical conditions.

Figuring out the best answer for you may be a matter of paying attention to the way that your body responds and how you feel. It may also be a matter of choosing the right coffee. For example, there are various options like Javita coffee and Valentus Slim but in most cases you would be better off with just high quality coffee - without added ingredients. 

For people that don’t react well to coffee, there are other alternatives, with tea being an especially good choice. In particular, oolong tea, yerba mate and green tea are all associated with significant health benefits. Oolong tea even has weight loss implications. The site Serious Eats offers an interesting guide on this topic, focusing on how to get into tea and what you can expect. 

Learn More About the Benefits of Coffee:
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