We are a culture that simply can’t get enough of coffee. In fact, Americans consume around 400 million cups of coffee every single day and more than 4 billion dollars of coffee is imported into the United States each year (1).
That’s a lot of coffee to go through – and many of us can’t imagine going through the day without it. Despite the prevalence of energy drinks and soda on the market, even young adults are going back to coffee, with coffee consumption increasing in recent years (2).
So, how do the positives of drinking coffee stack up? In this post, we’re looking at the benefits of coffee – advantages that have been scientifically proven.
Improves Metabolism and Fat Burning
Caffeine is one of the few proven fat burning aids. That’s why you find it in so many weight loss supplements and teas.
Studies show that caffeine can increase the metabolism by 3% to 11% (3,4). It can also improve fat burning by up to 29% (5).
Caffeine also has many related impacts, such as promoting the destruction of fat cells (6) and lowering insulin sensitivity (7).
These effects have only been proven in the short-term. But, caffeine cycling could be a tool to maximize the benefits.
Promotes Weight Loss
The metabolism and fat burning impacts can contribute to weight loss. But, coffee has other implications for weight loss too.
- Caffeine lowers appetite. Research shows that high caffeine intake can result in more satiety (8).
- Coffee does too. The effect isn’t just related to caffeine. As Precision Nutrition points out, non-caffeinated coffee can reduce hunger as well.
- Coffee is also a hot drink that takes time to consume. This can also play a role in weight loss because people don’t tend to look for other food while they are drinking coffee.
- Coffee has mood impacts and can lower depression risk (9,10). These impacts may decrease the risk of emotional eating behaviors.
- The polyphenols in coffee can increase metabolism and decrease the rate of body fat accumulation (11).
Studies have also shown weight loss impacts from caffeine (12,13,14).
Indeed, research has even indicated that people who drink coffee frequently tend to have a lower BMI (body mass index), waist circumference and a range of other factors compared to those who rarely drink coffee (15).
Many people think that coffee increases inflammation, but research contradicts this idea. Instead, coffee can help to reduce inflammation and promote health as a result (16,17,18).
A key mechanism is how caffeine can block adenosine receptors. Doing so may have effects on the inflammatory pathway as well (19).
The outcome is important, as inflammation is associated with the development of many diseases. For example, the impact may be why high coffee consumption can decrease multiple sclerosis risk (20).
Coffee is a surprisingly powerful source of antioxidants as well. Polyphenol-rich foods do tend to offer more antioxidants. Despite this, people often get more antioxidants from coffee, simply because they drink it so regularly.
Antioxidants help fight free radical formation in the body, along with oxidation and oxidative stress. Some oxidation is still important for health, but excessive oxidation can contribute to many health problems.
The antioxidants in coffee help explain many of drink’s health benefits. They’re also powerful for promoting health overall (21). One study even found that this antioxidant impact could help protect against retinal damage (22).
Decreases Type 2 Diabetes Risk
This is an especially well-researched area.
One study (with a sample of more than 100,000 individuals) found that increased coffee consumption significantly lowered type 2 diabetes risk. Lowering coffee consumption had the opposite effect (23).
This impact appears to be independent of caffeine, with caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee showing the same trends (24,25). The outcomes of the study can be seen below:
This graph is based on the data from the study and shows changes in the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to a baseline of 0 cups of coffee per day (so, not drinking coffee would be a relative risk of 1).
Another study found that drinking upwards of 12 cups of coffee a day resulted in a 67% lower risk of diabetes (26).
Various mechanisms have been found for these effects.
- This effect may be related to chlorogenic acid, which can significantly help to reduce blood sugar (27).
- Coffee decreases inflammation and lowers oxidative stress. Both outcomes may decrease diabetes risk (28).
- Coffee has been linked to improvements in glucose metabolism (29).
- Coffee also promotes better insulin sensitivity in healthy males, which may also contribute to the outcomes. (30).
Improves Diabetes Outcomes
Coffee is relevant for people with diabetes as well. It can help lower the amount of carbohydrates stored and improve insulin sensitivity (31).
The various mechanisms that decrease diabetes risk may also help improve outcomes for people with diabetes.
Increases Energy Levels
Coffee makes you more alert too (again, this shouldn’t be a surprise) (32,33).
The effect comes from caffeine, which is a stimulant. Caffeine blocks a neurotransmitter called adenosine. This effect increases the level of other neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine (34,35).
Studies show that the increase in energy and performance can occur during the day or the night (36).
Improves Cognition and Brain Power
Those neurotransmitter effects also help boost cognition, alertness and mental performance (37,38,39).This is why caffeine is sometimes used as a nootropic to improve mental function.
It’s also why you are often able to concentrate better after a coffee and why your reaction times may be improved too.
Can Improve Your Mood
Coffee is well-known as a way to improve your mood – and research supports that effect (40).
- This is partly because caffeine helps to make people more alert and reduces feelings of fatigue. This, in turn, boosts overall mood.
- The neurotransmitter impacts can also improve mood, especially as caffeine can affect dopamine levels.
These impacts remain significant for habitual coffee drinkers (41). So, you never entirely develop a tolerance for these benefits.
They also occur for people who are sleep deprived and those who are not (42).
Decreases Depression and Suicide Risk
Research also indicates that drinking coffee regularly can act to significantly decrease the risk of suicide, due to the caffeine (43,44). Caffeinated coffee has also been linked to a decrease in the risk of depression as well (45).
The mechanisms are likely to be similar to how coffee can improve mood.
It is likely that this outcome occurs through many of the same mechanisms through which coffee (and caffeine) is able to improve mood.
Can Lower Alzheimer’s Disease Risk
Caffeinated coffee has been linked to improvements in Alzheimer’s disease and even as a way to reduce the risk of getting the disease.
This topic has been most commonly studied in mice, with one study finding that coffee offered some protection against the development of Alzheimer’s disease and the decrease in levels of amyloid-beta (a critical component of Alzheimer’s disease) (46).
A meta-analysis also supported the potential of coffee to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, as this did this recent study with new research although it is clear that more work in the area is needed (47).
Decreases Parkinson’s Disease Risk
A similar effect occurs for Parkinson’s disease, where regular consumption of caffeinated drinks can decrease your risk.
The image below shows the outcomes of one such study, which looked at the incidence of Parkinson’s disease in Japanese-American men.
This particular study considered outcomes from a 30-year follow-up and included 8,004 participants (48). Overall, higher levels of coffee consumption were associated with lower rates of Parkinson’s disease.
Another study found similar outcomes when looking at 6,710 males and females (49). The authors also found that the association was stronger in people who were overweight.
A third study considered 77,713 females and found similar outcomes (50). One key difference with that study was that the authors looked at caffeine itself rather than coffee consumption. This suggests that the protective effects of coffee are the result of caffeine rather than other components of coffee.
Protects Against Heart Disease
A persistent myth about coffee is that it increases the risk of heart disease or stroke.
This belief is largely based on early research, which used a research design that did not take all factors into account.
However, more recent results have called this myth into question.
Some of these studies have even indicated that moderate consumption of coffee can lower the risk of heart disease (51,52). This includes a 2017 study in Korean women (53). One mechanism is how long-term coffee consumption can decrease hypertension risk (54).
Has Similar Effects for Liver Disease
Research also suggests that coffee provides some benefits in the case of liver disease.
- Higher levels of coffee consumption have been linked to slower fibrogenesis progression in people with chronic and alcoholic liver disease (55).
- Coffee consumption may help to protect people against the development of liver disease, although more research is needed (56).
- Likewise, a meta-analysis indicated that coffee may reduce the risk of liver cirrhosis (57).
Improves Cholesterol Levels
Coffee is also associated with improved cholesterol levels, including increased levels of HDL cholesterol (58). This effect may be a key mechanism behind coffee’s positive impacts on heart health.
May Lower Cancer Risk
Now, you may have heard rumors that coffee can contribute to cancer development but this perspective is mostly just that, rumor. In fact, the World Health Organization recently removed coffee from its list of possible carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) (59) and research has failed to find a causal link between coffee and cancer (60,61).
Instead, coffee may actually act to decrease cancer risk.
- A study that followed 47,911 men from 1986 through to 2006 found that participants who drank more than six cups of coffee per day had a lower risk of prostate cancer (62). The outcome was found for both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.
- A study on 67,470 women over a 26 year period also found that coffee consumption decreased the risk of cancer, in this case, endometrial cancer (63). This study also differed in that it found that four or more cups of coffee per day were associated with a decrease in the risk of cancer.
- Another study found that coffee consumption was able to significantly reduce the risk of death from liver cancer among a study group of more than 215,000 (64).
- A similar outcome has been found for colon cancer in Japanese women (65).
- A large-scale study found that coffee decreased pancreatic cancer risk in Scandinavian countries, although no effect was observed for kidney or esophageal cancer (66).
- Coffee may also lower the risk of oral and pharyngeal cancers (67,68).
- Finally, a meta-analysis found that drinking more than 5 cups of coffee per day was associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer (69).
Reduces the Risk of Death
Overall, coffee consumption has been linked to a decreased risk of death.
For example, one study looked at coffee consumption of 400,000+ people who were somewhere between 50 and 71 years old when the study first began (70). Not only did the study find a significant negative association between coffee consumption and death overall, but also for a number of different specific causes of death.
The graph below shows some of the key outcomes of the study and similar outcomes were seen with the individual causes of death.
This graph is interesting. It shows that the best outcomes in terms of risk of death were at between four and five cups of coffee per day. After that point, the risk of death started to increase again, although it remained far below the original baseline.
Another study indicated that a decrease in mortality because of coffee consumption occurred for caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee – suggesting that the caffeine is not the reason for a lower risk of death (71).
Another study found a similar outcome for the connection between coffee and longevity (72). In this case, the outcomes for the study looked like this:
Even though the pattern here looks a little different, it still reinforces the idea that coffee consumption can decrease the risk of death. In this case, every group that consumed less than 5 cups of coffee per day had a lower risk of death than people who did not consume coffee.
As with the earlier study, this response was also dose-dependent. In this case, the people with the lowest risk of death were those consuming between 1 and 3 cups of coffee per day.
Despite the differences between the studies, this research does strongly support the idea that people who consume coffee have a lower risk of death than those that do not (although, this is questionable for people who drink more than 5 cups per day).
This outcome has been further supported by recent research in people that have had a heart attack (73). A large 2017 study also found that coffee drinking was associated with a lower risk of death (74).
May Help Fight Aging
There is also another interesting area to consider - the potential of coffee to promote longer telomeres (75).
The video below highlights why telomeres are significant and what they mean for aging.
Telomeres are basically repeating sequences of DNA that are present at the end of chromosomes. Essentially, these act as caps, protecting your important DNA and the information it provides and the information that those chromosomes provide (76).
These telomeres decrease over time. Late in life, the telomeres become so short that they are no longer effective at preventing DNA damage
In theory, if we can find ways to lengthen telomeres, it may be possible to 'turn back' the biological clock and help people to live longer. Indeed, research has supported the idea that short telomeres can contribute to a shorter life. Likewise, lifestyle factors can influence the length of our telomeres, which may be one reason why people with healthier lifestyles tend to live longer (77,78).
This field is still a fairly new one but one piece of recent research did find that coffee consumption was associated with longer telomeres in nurses (79), suggesting one possible mechanism for the connection between coffee and life length in the population as a whole.
Coffee may also help maintain DNA integrity (80).
Can Improve Athletic Performance
There is also an indication that caffeine may help to improve sports performance, in moderate doses (81,82). The site Ironman provides more details about this association. While many athletes would rely on caffeine supplements to get this benefit, coffee itself would also be a way to increase performance.
The impact partly occurs because caffeine increases levels of epinephrine in the blood (83,84).
Reduces Muscle Pain
According to one study, caffeine can decrease muscle pain that follows exercise (85). The dose was roughly equivalent to two cups of coffee.
Lowers the Risk of Kidney Stones and Gallstones
Research has also indicated that caffeine consumption can significantly reduce the risk of developing kidney stones (86) as well as gallstones (87,88).
However, both of these areas have been the subject of a relatively limited amount of research, so the outcomes are far from conclusive.
May Protect Against Tinnitus
Another relatively surprising outcome is that the consumption of caffeine can help to reduce the development of tinnitus in women. Tinnitus is a steady ringing in a person’s ear and for this particular study most of the caffeine consumed came from coffee (89).
This particular piece of research was a prospective study. As such, it offered some evidence that a negative relationship between caffeine consumption and tinnitus exists, but more research on the topic is needed.
How Safe and Beneficial is Coffee Really?
It’s clear that drinking coffee comes with some powerful health benefits. And, in many ways, this isn’t surprising at all. Coffee beans are packed with plant-based compounds, many of which have direct impacts on our body.
This area is one that Chemistry World turns to in considerable detail. Their article on the topic is a great place to turn if you want to understand more about why coffee impacts health so dramatically.
A recent meta-analysis also shows that coffee is safe for most people – and the benefits tend to outweigh any risks (90).
Still, as with any food or drink, coffee isn’t an amazing cure-all and it won’t suit everyone. Anyone who is sensitive to caffeine may want to rely on decaf instead or avoid coffee altogether (tea makes a good alternative). The same is true for people with heart conditions and for pregnant women.
Additionally, excessive coffee consumption does come with some risks, largely because of the caffeine content.
The balance of research suggests that you will get the most benefits from 2-4 cups of coffee per day. While some studies have found advantages at higher levels (including contributions to longevity), risks generally increase with consumption as well.
So, if you can control your consumption, there is no reason why you can’t regularly drink coffee every day. There are also many different ways to drink coffee and machines that can help you get the most out of it. The Coffee Maven is a great resource for that purpose, offering powerful buyers guides for coffee makers.
Likewise, you can turn to approaches like cold brew coffee if you want something different. Some people even use protein powder in their coffee, as a way to get the benefits of protein and coffee at the same time. Adding coconut oil to coffee is another option.
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