Coffee has been the center of controversy for many years. Conflicting studies have depicted this lovely and robust beverage as a culprit in cardiovascular diseases or as a stalwart protector against cardiovascular disease (Greenland, 1993; Jick, Miettinen, Neff, Shapiro, Heinonen & Slone, 1973; Noordzij, Uiterwall, Arends, Kok, Grobbee & Geleijnse, 2005; Wu, Ho, Zhou, et. Al, 2009). However, current research indicates that coffee can indeed be beneficial for heart disease, postmenopause and depression as well as diabetes and weight loss (Choi, Choi, Park, Shin, Joh & Cho, 2016; Freedman, Park, Abnet, Hollenbeck, & Sinha, 2012; O’Keefe, DiNicolantanio & Lavie, 2018; Wang, Shen, Wu & Zhang, 2016). Go, coffee!
So, what is coffee exactly and why is it so wonderful?
Americans spend over $40 billion for coffee a year, and the world drinks over 1 billion cups of coffee a day according to the National Coffee Association (n.d.). Coffee, as most of us recognize it, is the liquid brewed from roasted beans of the coffee tree. These trees grow all over the world in a range of climates but generally prefer rich soil, balmy temperatures, plentiful rain and some shade from the sun (National Coffee Association, n.d.).
So, to rationalize the amount of coffee that I drink, I scoured EBSCO for pertinent research. I have found the following potential benefits:
- Drinking coffee may assist in bone health with postmenopausal women (Choi, Choi, Park, Shin, Joh & Cho, 2016).
- Drinking coffee may reduce the risk of depression (O’Keefe, DiNicolantanio & Lavie, 2018; Wang, Shen, Wu & Zhang, 2016).
- Drinking coffee may reduce lower risk for type 2 diabetes, as well as liver and colon cancer (O’Keefe, DiNicolantanio & Lavie, 2018; Wierzejska, 2016).
- Drinking coffee may also prevent cardiovascular diseases (O’Keefe, DiNicolantanio & Lavie, 2018; Wierzejska, 2016).
- One of coffee’s constituents, caffeine, has several benefits. As a stimulant, caffeine blocks the effects of Adenosine, an inhibiting neurotransmitter and in turn, releases dopamine and norepinephrine (Fredholm, 1995).
- Coffee also has nutrients and antioxidants (SELF Nutrition Data, 2014).
- Drinking coffee may have neuroprotective applications for some neurodegenerative diseases (O’Keefe, DiNicolantanio & Lavie, 2018).
- Drinking coffee helps with improved asthma control (O’Keefe, DiNicolantanio & Lavie, 2018).
If coffee is so healthy, why is there controversy?
Coffee initially got a bad name mostly in part due to flaws in the research designs of several studies. In several of the studies, certain “confounders” were not identified. Proper screening of pre-existing conditions or habits like smoking or lack of exercise were not completed In the earlier studies (Greenland, 1993; Jick, et al., 1973), Once these confounders were discovered and considered in future studies, coffee got a well deserved reputation for being beneficial. However, certain clarifications should be made about the coffee being consumed in these studies and there are certain situations when coffee consumption should be very limited or avoided sadly. With all good things, it’s important to remember that there must be balance.
- A cup of coffee is considered 6 ounces and not the giant cups (24 oz) found at most convenience stores.
- A cup of coffee means a hot water infusion of coffee beans – boiling hot water slowly poured over ground beans – and not a double mocha frappuccino. Unfortunately, consuming large amounts of sugary coffee beverages can lead to diabetes and heart disease!
- Drinking more than 4 six ounce cups of coffee a day can have side effects like anxiety, insomnia, headaches, tremulousness, and palpitations (O’Keefe, DiNicolantanio & Lavie, 2018). Think about drinking an herbal tea like skullcap or a mushroom coffee. Both of these have the effects of drinking coffee without the caffeine.
- Pregnancy and coffee or any beverage with caffeine may not be a good mix. Limiting to one small cup a day while pregnant may be prudent (O’Keefe, DiNicolantanio & Lavie, 2018). Drinking coffee while pregnant can increase the risk for low birth weight and preterm labor (Australian Breastfeeding Association, n.d.). So if an expectant mother had trouble getting pregnant or is susceptible to premature labor, she should avoid coffee while pregnant.
- Most breastfeeding mothers can drink a moderate amount of coffee or tea without it affecting their babies. However, newborns are very sensitive to caffeine as they take a long time to process it. The wait can lead to cranky babies. As babies reach the age of six months or so, they can work through caffeine in about 2-3 hours. Research is scant on this topic and what is there suggests that there does not appear to be effect (Santos, Matijasevich & Domingues, 2012). However, I would err on the side of caution. My recommendation would be to enjoy a cup of Joe right after nursing or even while nursing and then express breast milk 1-2 hours afterwards to insure that very little if any caffeine would be present at the next nursing.
So, how much coffee should we drink?
In sum, coffee is safe to drink in moderation. Coffee can have positive effects on the body and some even protective. For coffee lovers under the age of 55 years, no more than three to four, 6 to 8 ounce cups of coffee should be drank in a day, not to exceed 28 cups in a week. Coffee drinkers over the age of 55 years can drink as much as they want within reason. Coffee is a bitter and full of tannins so it can get rough on the digestive tract. Coffee drinkers should be mindful of what they are adding to their coffee. Additives may minimize the overall perks of drinking coffee. I think in light of these findings, I will go and joyfully refill my coffee cup, and leave you with one of my favorite coffee poems:
Coffee, coffee, coffee,
Everyone, shut up.
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