Coffee is a nationwide habit, with estimates suggesting that Americans drink more than 400 million cups every single day (1). Indeed, many of us can’t imagine going through a single day without having some coffee and we might drink multiple cups in a day.
At the same time, coffee manages to be incredibly controversial.
In fact, it’s consistently viewed as unhealthy, even by the people that regularly drink it. And, in fairness, coffee can be bad for you if you have excessive amounts each day or if you tend to add in significant sugar and creamer.
Likewise, there are even some arguments about a connection between coffee and bone loss, or between coffee and other health conditions. But, many of these perspectives tend to be based on hype and assumptions, rather than actual research.
In this post, we’re focusing on one specific area of this, which is how coffee and bone loss are related.
Does Coffee Cause Bone Loss?
There is a strong belief that drinking coffee will contribute to bone loss.
However, the research behind this idea is fairly mixed. For example, some research suggests that the consumption of colas may lead to lower bone density. This is thought to be because of the caffeine, yet the same effect isn’t present in black tea, which also contains caffeine (2).
In one particular study, only women with a specific genotype (tt VDR) were susceptible to this outcome and they made up a little more than 10% of the sample population (5).
In 6 out of 11 cases, the individuals were also protected from any negative impacts because their caffeine levels were low enough.
This suggests that most people can have high caffeine intake without significant effects on the bones. But, a subset of the population may be more vulnerable than most.
However, it’s important to note that this outcome was for elderly women and does not necessarily apply to younger women or to men. Indeed, one meta-analysis suggested that coffee increased the risk of fractures for women and decreased that risk for men (7).
As such, the precise relationship between coffee and bone loss is likely to depend on the individuals being considered. This also means that more research is needed before we know precisely how much coffee different people should be consuming.
For that matter, bone loss with aging is a significant issue and it’s likely that the impacts of coffee (and caffeine) are different in the older population compared to younger individuals.
At the same time, these effects are specifically connected to caffeine intake.
As a result, seniors could choose to rely on decaffeinated coffee. Doing so could be particularly relevant as many of the health benefits of coffee are related to the coffee itself, not to caffeine.
One recent large-scale study took a detailed looked at this relationship between coffee and bone loss in older Korean women (8).
The study itself was observational but it was still powerful simply because it considered 4,066 different participants. As part of the study, individuals were questioned about their coffee consumption and their bone mineral density was also measured.
The outcomes of the research were interesting. Specifically, the authors found that the participants drinking the most coffee had a 36% lower chance of developing osteoporosis.
In other words, coffee consumption helped to protect against osteoporosis, rather than contributing to it.
For that matter, the antioxidants in coffee may well play a role in promoting bone health, rather than causing harm. Some studies have also failed to find a connection between coffee and bone loss or risk of fracture (9,10).
Furthermore, research suggests that any impact of caffeine on calcium absorption (which is a key reason for the coffee and bone loss connection) can be offset by simply adding a tablespoon or two of milk to your coffee (11). The reason for this is simply that the size of the effect is small (12).
As a result, even if caffeine and coffee do affect bone density, the implications for health are likely to be insignificant for most people.
The site Cleveland Clinic offers more insight into this connection and the implications for health. They also discuss how this applies to other caffeine-containing drinks.
Coffee and Your Health
With results like the ones above, it’s easy to see why coffee is controversial.
Yet, negative effects were mostly found in elderly women and primarily among those with a specific genotype. At the same time, the relationship between coffee and bone loss appears to be complex, with some research suggesting that coffee has a protective effect.
So, what does this mean for the general population?
Realistically, coffee offers a large number of health benefits. Many of these are connected to the caffeine but some are also present in decaffeinated coffee.
For example, I’ve covered a number of specific considerations in the past. These include the following:
- Coffee and Its Powerful Health Benefits
- 11 Reasons Why Coffee is Good for You
- Getting Antioxidants from Coffee
- Can You Lose Weight Drinking Coffee
- The Unexpected Relationship Between Coffee and Skin Cancer
- Instant Coffee and Health
- Coffee and the Liver
There are also many other benefits to consider.
For example, coffee plays a role in improving brain function (13,14,15), decreasing heart disease (16,17), liver disease (18,19,20) and cancer (21,22,23,24) risk, contributing to weight loss (25,26,27) and even decreasing overall risk of death (28,29,30,31).
The reality is that the health benefits of coffee far outweigh any negative impacts, including the connection between coffee and bone loss in older women. Indeed, any potential negative outcomes can be mostly avoided by keeping an eye on your coffee intake and paying attention to your own body.
The site Holisticole offers an interesting discussion on this topic, including why a person's response to coffee can vary dramatically.
Where do you stand with coffee? Are you a coffee lover?
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