Is coffee good or bad for you? Here's how much you should drink
Scientific research has gone back and forth on coffee, with health reports either glorifying the drink or ripping it apart. Find out whether coffee is actually good or bad for you.
Is coffee good for you? Is coffee bad for you? Depending on whom you ask, coffee — which contains a whole cocktail of chemicals, the most famous of which is caffeine — will stunt your growth, cause heart attacks, and probably give you cancer. It also reduces your risk of cancer (of other kinds), lowers the risk of heart failure, and makes you smarter. When it comes to the scientific research behind the health benefits and detriments of drinking coffee, there’s a constant barrage of reports that seem to contradict each other. According to Kolkata-based dietician Anupam Dey, the reason is that it’s quite a complicated area and one that researchers are still studying.
However, if you have toyed with the idea of giving up coffee for good, lucky for you, many studies looking at the long-term effects of drinking coffee regularly have found no significant link between the caffeine in coffee and heart-related issues, such as high cholesterol, irregular heartbeats, and strokes or heart attacks. Moreover, there's increasing evidence that consuming caffeine, in moderate amounts, is perfectly healthy. "Newer studies have revealed that earlier health studies that compared coffee drinkers to non-drinkers on a number of health measures, didn’t always consider many other factors that could account for poor health, such as smoking, drinking and a lack of physical activity," explains Dey.
In many ways, drinking coffee every day is a healthy habit: research has found that coffee may boost longevity and decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and more. Ahead, we list the science-backed health benefits of drinking coffee.
Coffee may help you live longer.
A 2018 study of half a million people found that drinking coffee is associated with longer life. The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, reveals that people who drink more coffee have a lower risk of death, even if they drink eight or more cups per day, and even if their genetics make them slow to process caffeine. Stanford University School of Medicine researchers revealed in a 2017 study that some of the chemicals in coffee may help reduce inflammation, which has been found to play a role in a number of ageing-related health problems, including dementia and Alzheimer’s. Some evidence also suggests that coffee may slow down some of the metabolic processes that drive ageing.
Coffee eases muscle pain.
Drinking coffee before a workout has been proven to prevent post-workout soreness. One University of Georgia study found that moderate doses of caffeine can reduce the pain by nearly 50 per cent.
Coffee improves memory.
There's promising research that the caffeine in coffee has a positive effect on memory and thought processes, specifically when it comes to Alzheimer's disease. Mice with the rodent equivalent of Alzheimer's disease, who consumed caffeine-spiked drinking water experienced a reduction in the levels of a protein in the brain that is a key aspect of the disease.
Coffee fights against diseases.
The antioxidants in coffee have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, gallstones, and Parkinson's. Studies also show that people who drink coffee regularly may have an 11% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-drinkers, thanks to ingredients in coffee that can affect levels of hormones involved in metabolism. Furthermore, in a large study involving tens of thousands of people, researchers found that people who drank several cups a day — anywhere from two to four cups — actually had a lower risk of stroke. The study revealed the benefits may come from coffee’s effect on the blood vessels. "By keeping vessels flexible and healthy, it may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, which can cause heart attacks," it said. It’s also high in antioxidants, which are known to fight the oxidative damage that can cause cancer. Dey says this may explain why some studies have found a lower risk of liver cancer among coffee drinkers.
One downside of coffee is that people may become dependent on it
With all that said, one has to admit that coffee isn't a miracle beverage. According to a 2014 Harvard report, drinking too much can contribute to high blood pressure, sleep issues, headaches, and digestive problems. "People can develop a dependence on coffee and other caffeinated beverages, such as tea. The symptoms — headaches, irritability and fatigue — can mimic those of people coming off of addictive drugs," says Dey. Yet he doesn't consider the dependence anywhere close to as worrisome as addictions to habit-forming drugs. While Dey says that caffeine is not truly addictive in the way that drugs and alcohol are, he confirms that "people certainly do develop tolerance and dependence and go through withdrawal when they stop using it." While unpleasant, caffeine 'withdrawal' symptoms are "tolerable and tend to go away after a day or so," says Dey.
How much coffee is safe?
Like so many foods and nutrients, too much coffee can cause problems. "Moderation is key. But sipping coffee in reasonable amounts just might be one of the healthiest things you can do," he says. Coffee’s caffeine content is highly variable, ranging from 50 to over 400 mg per cup. But studies have shown that drinking up to 400 mg of caffeine per day is safe. As a general rule, you can assume that an average 240 ml cup of coffee offers around 100 mg of caffeine; therefore 400 mg, or the equivalent of four such cups, is safe for most healthy adults. However, keep in mind that many other sources of caffeine exist, including tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, and certain medications, says Dey.