Coffee is one of few beverages that has endured through the
ages and made its way into many Americans' morning (and sometimes
afternoon and evening) routines. While coffee drinkers may
disagree on the perfect roast and brew, they all have one
thing in common: coffee is an indispensable part of their
Coffee is the most common "food" consumed
at breakfast in America, according to the American Dietetic
"Half of the adult population in this country are regular
drinking an average of three to four
cups of coffee a day," says Dr. Jim Lane, a researcher
at the Duke University Medical School.
That works out to over 330 million cups of coffee a day,
which explains why, after oil, coffee is the second most valuable
commodity in the world. More than just a beverage, some experts
even argue that coffee has intertwined itself with American
"As you're working during the day, coffee become the
equivalent of 'in-flight fueling station,'" says Bob
Thompson, a professor of popular culture -- and an entire
class on Starbucks -- at Syracuse University. "You grab
a cup on your way to work, you've got your little commuting
holder in your car, there's a pot at work ... I think it's
really appropriate that oil and coffee look the same because
in a lot of ways oil and coffee are doing the same job."
For decades, however, research has been pouring in about
coffee's health effects -- to the tune of 19,000 studies --
often with conflicting results. As it stands, there is no
consensus about whether coffee is good or bad for your health,
just a lot of debate. Here we've compiled some of the most
recent, and most talked about, coffee studies relating to
and left the rest up to you to decide.
Praise for Coffee
"Overall, the research shows that coffee is far more
healthful than it is harmful," says Tomas DePaulis, PhD,
research scientist at Vanderbilt University's Institute for
Coffee Studies. "For most people, very little bad comes
from drinking it, but a lot of good."
Drinking coffee in moderation (a few cups a day) is not only
completely safe, it may even be healthy, according to Harvard's
Women's Health Watch.
Regular coffee drinkers, says the report, appear to gain
the following advantages over non-coffee drinkers:
A lower risk of type 2 diabetes
A reduced risk of gallstones
A lower risk of colon cancer
Improved cognitive function
A reduced risk of liver damage in people at high risk
of liver disease
A reduced risk of Parkinson's disease
Improved endurance performance in long-duration physical
The improvements coffee drinkers seemingly receive are quite
significant. For instance, when the Harvard researchers analyzed
data from 126,000 people for a span of 18 years, drinking
one to three cups of (caffeinated) coffee daily reduced diabetes
risk in the single digits. Drinking six cups or more each
day, however, reduced men's risk by 54 percent and women's
by 30 percent.
Further, other studies have found that people who drink coffee
regularly (as compared to those who do not):
Have an 80 percent lower risk of Parkinson's disease
A 25 percent reduced risk of colon cancer
An 80 percent lower risk of liver cirrhosis
A 50 percent lower risk of gallstones
A lower risk of alcohol-induced pancreatitis
And that's not all. "People who smoke and are heavy
drinkers have less heart disease and liver damage when they
regularly consume large amounts of coffee compared to those
who don't," says DePaulis.
Finally, coffee has also been found to benefit asthma, headaches
and mood and prevent cavities.
While some studies have found that
coffee raises the risk of heart disease, others have
found it lowers it. New research has uncovered that
the discrepancies may be due to a certain genetic trait.
Coffee is Risky Business
Harvard researcher Frank Hu, MD maintains that, "People
who already drink a lot of coffee don't have to feel 'guilty'
as long as coffee does not affect their daily life ... They
may actually benefit from coffee habits in the long run."
Other experts, however, disagree.
"I think on average, the consumption of caffeine probably
does create a public health risk," says Dr. Lane. "We've
been studying this for 15 years, and in every single study
that I've ever done, both in the laboratory and studies of
people's blood pressures when they live their normal lives,
caffeine always raises blood pressure."
In fact, Lane says that many Americans drink enough coffee
each day to raise their blood pressure to the point it increases
their risk of heart attack or stroke from 20-30 percent.
"That might be 100 million people who are putting themselves
at great risk of a heart attack, a stroke or early death as
a result of the coffee drinking they do," he says.
Other health risk associated with coffee have also been uncovered,
Worsening of PMS symptoms in some women
Reducing fertility in women while trying to conceive
Insomnia, anxiety and irritability
Heartburn and indigestion
An increased risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal
A possible increase in the risk of heart disease (studies
Another recent study of more than 3,000 coffee drinkers in
Greece found that coffee drinkers had higher levels of inflammatory
substances in their blood than non-coffee drinkers. Inflammatory
substances have been linked to higher rates of heart attack
Do Genetics Play a Role?
A new study may be able to explain why there are so many
conflicting reports when it comes to coffee.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of
Toronto, Harvard's School of Public Health and the University
of Costa Rica (published in the Journal of the American Medical
Association) found that a genetic trait that causes caffeine
to linger in the body may alter coffee's effects on specific
Out of over 4,000 people, about half had a trait that made
them "slow caffeine metabolizers." The other half
was able to metabolize caffeine quickly.
While fast caffeine metabolizers who drank coffee showed
a reduced risk for heart disease, "slow caffeine metabolizers"
who drank two or more cups of coffee a day:
Were at least 36 percent more likely to have a non-fatal
heart attack than those who drank little or no coffee.
Were more at risk if under the age of 50. This group
was up to four times more likely to have a heart attack.
There currently is no way to tell whether or not you're a
slow metabolizer of caffeine, so what's the answer?
Dr. Roger Blumenthal, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Medical
School who was not involved in the study, said that even if
the findings are confirmed, caffeine likely plays a much smaller
role in heart attacks than other risk factors like high blood
pressure, cholesterol and smoking.
The other thing to keep in mind, experts say, is moderation.
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, an American Heart Association spokeswoman,
said that while the study doesn't say people should cut out
all caffeine, several cups a day may be too much for some
"One good message that we can give people is that life
is about moderation," she says.
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