Is this black liquid I continually pour down my throat really good for me? At some point we’ve all wondered this, and we’ve continually consoled ourselves with the occasional news headline celebrating the positive health impacts of coffee.
The short answer is yes, but just like grandma always said, only in moderation. I know this isn’t the most sensational introduction, but since this is a health article it’s important to be honest.
So, before I begin to bore you with any more ‘grandma-isms,’ let’s jump into my list of 15 Proven (and honest — as backed up by actual studies) Health Benefits of Coffee.
If that’s not enough, we’ll also bust 3 super common coffee-health myths together, and explore 5 simple hacks that will make your coffee even healthier!
#1 Coffee Helps Burn Fat
After years of being buffeted by an endless stream of gimmicky weight loss ads, you may already be critical of this first topic, but, unlike all those horrifically designed pop-ups, this point holds true.
However, the key word here is “helps,” and the key factor is “caffeine,” so don’t switch over to an all-frappuccino diet just yet.
Excess sugar is still bad for you and other nutrients are still essential, but caffeine can help your body burn any excess fat you’ve been storing. Here’s how:
When it comes to fighting fat, metabolism is like your offensive line — the higher your Metabolic rate, the easier it is for you to eat without gaining weight.
You know those skinny people who can eat a mountain of food and stay skinny? Chances are, they have a high Metabolic rate. They may still be unhealthy, but their bodies burn through calories faster, meaning they aren’t stored as fat.
One study has proven that caffeine can increase your metabolic rate by 3-11%, up to three hours after ingestion (1).
Another study (2) found that caffeine increases oxidative free fatty acid (FFA) disposal by 44%, which is just a fancy way of saying “converted fat to energy.”
Apart from speeding up your metabolism, caffeine also helps to release (3) FFAs into the bloodstream, making them more available for energy conversion.
#2 Coffee Gives You a (Temporary) Energy Boost
I know this point seems rather obvious — after all, it’s the reason most of you drink coffee — but for that very same reason it belongs in this list.
Do you know why caffeinated coffee has this effect?
In technical terms, caffeine induces a brain hypoperfusion (4), which means (just in case you’re not a neuroscientist) that caffeine speeds up the brain’s energy metabolism while also decreasing blood flow.
This triggers the release of norepinephrine, a chemical responsible for alertness and arousal (not that kind…).
And just in case you’ve been living under a rock at the bottom of the ocean for your entire life, I should note that there is some very recent research showing the positive effects coffee has on energy. As stated above, coffee can dramatically improve your alertness, but also can improve your mental performance (5).
Additionally, if consumed on a regular basis (6) throughout the day, coffee can help to maintain mental and psychomotor performance.
But I’m still not done! Some studies even indicate that coffee can improve physical endurance (7) by 12%, but we will get into that a little later.
#3 Coffee Reduces the Risk of Parkinson’s Disease
Apart from giving you energy and helping to burn fat, coffee can also help prevent certain diseases (cue superhero theme music).
Coffee can help to decrease your relative risk to a number of serious diseases, one of which is Parkinson’s disease.
There are quite a few studies that have found coffee can significantly reduce the risk of Parkinson’s. One study (8) reported that a cup of coffee contributes to a substantial 31% decrease in risk.
Other studies have found even greater risk reduction when controlling for outside factors like smoking and drinking alcohol. One such study reported a 58% (9) reduced risk in both men and women. Another (10) found, when consuming five or more cups per day, men had a 61% reduced risk and women had 60% reduced risk.
Although the exact mechanism for coffee’s Parkinson’s demolishing powers is still unclear, one research study reported that it is most likely related to caffeine (11) and not some other nutrient.
#4 Coffee Protects You Against Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Spoiler alert: coffee improves cognitive performance. Total shocker, I know, but for all of you non-believers, take a seat and prepare for some knowledge.
I’ll dive into aspects like general performance, alertness, and memory later, and for now I’ll focus on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
There have been numerous studies to show that regular coffee consumption is related to decreased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
One of these studies (12) reported that drinking 3-5 cups a day, from midlife on, can reduce the risk of both Alzheimer’s and dementia by 65%.
A second (13) study found caffeine to be the primary factor in coffee’s preventive qualities. One of the researchers of the study, Dr. Arendash, was quoted saying:
The study also noted that coffee was the major source of caffeine for the research participants.
Other studies have tried to pinpoint exactly what in caffeine is helping to halt the onset of these diseases. A 2014 study (14) found that caffeine blocks various tau receptors (a protein that contributes to brain cell degeneration). Another study found that caffeinated coffee increased GCSF (15) — a substance greatly decreased in Alzheimer’s patients — levels in the bloodstream.
#5 Coffee Protects Your Liver
Aside from being your brain’s best friend, coffee also has an interesting relationship with some of your other, equally vital organs.
Your liver has benefited from a bromance with coffee ever since they first met. After all, coffee is who your liver calls after a night of drinking, as it has been proven that some of the active ingredients in coffee protect your liver from alcoholic cirrhosis (16).
The results of the study found that there was an inverse relationship between regular coffee consumption and the risk of alcoholic cirrhosis — i.e. The more coffee your drink, the less is your risk of alcoholic cirrhosis. (And no, this does not give you license to start binge drinking.)
Interestingly, another, similar study, showed that coffee can help protect you against nonalcoholic cirrhosis as well (17) — although the causes of N.A cirrhosis are still unknown.
The inverse relationship between coffee consumption and cirrhosis only increases with greater coffee consumption, and over long periods of time — say 40 years — your chances of getting cirrhosis decrease by 55%.
Interestingly enough, this appears to be an exclusive relationship between your liver and some magical effect of coffee (not caffeine). The above studies proved that drinking tea did not have the same protective effects on your liver, meaning the benefits have something to do with something unknown that’s unique to coffee!
#6 Regular Consumption Reduces the Risk of Cancer
Coffee is a virtual cancer-fighting powerhouse, and can help to prevent cancers in many of your body’s vital organs.
According to the CDC, 8% (or approximately 26 million) US adults were diagnosed with some type of cancer in 2014 (18).
One study (19) has shown that coffee consumption is linked to reduced risk of bladder, breast, leukemia, prostate, and pancreatic cancers, with an impressive “but wait, there’s more” list.
Now, let’s dive a little deeper and look at some of the numbers (because, yay numbers!):
- Drinking 1-4 cups of coffee a day can reduce your risk of colorectal (20) cancer by 15%, and drinking 4-6 cups a day can reduce your risk by 26%
- Drinking 2 cups a day has been associated with a 43% reduced risk of liver (21) cancer
- Daily coffee consumption has been associated with a 20% reduced risk of endometrial (22) cancer, with that risk decreasing by 7% with each cup
- Consuming five or more cups of coffee a day has been linked to a 40% decrease in the risk of glioma (23) (brain tumor)
The above are just the most significant findings, but coffee has been linked, although mildly, to decreased risk of many other types of cancer (which you can see here (24) ).
I should point out that coffee has also been shown to have a small, yet positive (which isn’t a good thing in this case) relationship with bladder (25) cancer. However, the same study that reported these findings also noted that this relationship could be linked to smoking or other dietary habits.
#7 Regular Consumption Is Linked to Longer Life Expectancy
Coffee has also been associated with longevity and decreased overall risk of mortality.
A study (26) conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that drinking one cup a day could lower overall mortality risk by 6%, three cups could reduce risk by 8%, and five cups could reduce risk by 15%.
In addition to general longevity (as if that wasn’t a big deal itself), coffee has been shown to help prevent a myriad of life threatening diseases. Some I’ve already covered, others I will cover later in this article; however, since we are talking about life expectancy, here is a quick list of them all:
Since the CDC has listed diabetes (27) the 7th largest killer in the US, it is also worth mentioning that coffee can help prevent that as well.
Although most studies agree that habitual (28) coffee consumption can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, the exact percentage is still up for debate. One study reports that drinking three cups a day can reduce your risk by 42% (29), and another study reports that drinking four or more cups a day can reduce risk by only 30% (30).
However, an analysis (31) of other health studies concluded that each additional cup of coffee contributes to a 7% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
#8 Coffee is a HUGE Source of Antioxidants
Coffee is probably one of the largest sources of antioxidants in your diet, and you would seriously benefit from including it in your diet — today!
It’s no secret that antioxidants are good for you. Antioxidants (32) help to limit a chemical called free radicals, which have been associated with cell degeneration as well as a number of deadly diseases. By increasing the amount of antioxidants in your diet you can limit free radicals in the body, and limit your risk to some of these diseases.
A study of the typical Spanish diet (33) found that, by far, coffee was the largest contributor of antioxidants, making up for a whopping 66% of the antioxidant intake.
Other studies have found similar results. One such study compared the antioxidant contribution of coffee to other dietary items, like fruits, vegetables, wine, grains, and tea. It was found that coffee contributes (34) over 600% more antioxidants than the next nearest contributor, fruits.
#9 Coffee Lowers the Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
Did I mentioned that coffee can also protect your heart? There has been a myth floating around that coffee can increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), but I’d like to put that to rest here and now. Two (35) studies (36) have shown that there is no causal relationship between coffee consumption and increased risk of CHD. Another study, besides helping to disprove the myth, has also shown that “habitual moderate coffee drinking was associated with a lower risk (37) of CHD in women.”
Long term consumption of coffee has also been shown to reduce, although moderately, the risk of stroke (38). Another study pointed out that drinking about five or six cups of coffee a day is associated with the greatest reduction (39) (36%) in stroke risk, and that coffee also contributes to overall reduction of cardiovascular mortality (a less scary way of saying “heart death”).
However, that same study does point out that drinking more than six cups of coffee a day can result in a loss of these preventative benefits.
#10 Black Coffee Can Prevent Tooth Cavities
Coffee wouldn’t be much of a superhero unless it battled some evil enemy with a weird sounding name. And it does!
Coffee can help to protect your teeth by ruthlessly destroying something called Streptococcus Mutans, or S. Mutans.
S. Mutans bacteria are a major cause of dental cavities when their growth goes unchecked. They are hence, ‘the bad guys’.
However, one study (40) has shown that coffee can help to strongly inhibit its progress. The study showed that daily coffee consumption can contribute to, at the very least, a 40% reduction.
Other studies have found similar results; however, they also found that black coffee (41) produced the most desirable preventative results.
The study pointed out that additives, like sugar or syrup, essentially cancelled out any of the anti-mutans properties of coffee. Which means your dentist will not be impressed when you come strolling in for your appointment with a venti caramel macchiato in hand.
#11 The Caffeine Hit from Coffee Improves your Physical Performance
It is not just your mental performance that coffee stimulates, but also your physical performance. In much the same way that coffee wakes up the brain, coffee can also help jump-start your body.
There have been many studies (42) to show that coffee can enhance overall physical performance.
Using measures like time to exhaustion, running/cycling performance, and the perception of fatigue and cycling power, researchers have found that drinking one to two cups of coffee can benefit performance:
RESULT OF CAFFEINE ON PERFORMANCE
Sprinting – Running To Exhaustion
Bench Press -Muscular Endurance
One Rep Weight Increased by 4.4 lbs. (2kg)
Marathon – 8km Run
Blood Lactate Levels Higher After 3 Minutes
Improved Speed, Power & Passing Accuracy. Lower Percieved Fatigue
Cycling – Endurance
Time to Exhaustion Increased
Cycling – Speed and Power
Improved Speed and Power
As mentioned in some of the earlier topics, caffeine provides an energy boost by increasing the release of norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline, into the bloodstream.
This release increases further when caffeine is ingested before exercise (43), which also further increases metabolism, giving the body an even greater jolt of energy.
Another study (44) has measured ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) during exercise immediately after ingestion of caffeine and found that caffeine contributes to a 5.6% drop in RPE. The same study also reported that caffeine improved exercise performance by 11.2%.
#12 Reduces Post-Workout Muscle Pain
Have you ever ‘charged yourself up’ with a coffee before hitting the weights? If so, good news: the benefits of coffee don’t end in the weight room.
Not only will coffee make your routine exercise worthy of one of those ultra-intense Gatorade commercials, where everything has a strange green tint, but it will also help with the post-workout pain.
A number of studies — which like to throw around the word “hypoalgesic” — have shown that coffee can reduce the amount of perceived pain (45) and soreness both during and after exercise — in fact, for up to 3 days after exercise! (46)
The same study also shows that the hit from caffeine may actually help you achieve greater physical fitness by allowing you to achieve a higher number of repetitions during your workout.
Maybe you’re wondering now what is really in your cup of coffee that could help curb muscle soreness?
Maybe you’d like to know how your coffee can, essentially, numb your pain?
A group of researchers (47) testing isolated protein fragments (peptides) from coffee on mice found that one peptide had similar effects as morphine — and that explains the lack of pain!
#13 Coffee Improves Blood Circulation
Here is another one that you’ve already heard: coffee can help improve blood flow.
But you probably didn’t know that, until recently, there wasn’t much scientific proof behind this statement, and that much of the research from before actually argues the opposite.
Let’s start with the opposing view.
A couple of studies, one already mentioned (48), have found that caffeine can actually decrease the blood flow to the brain. One of these studies reported that caffeine reduces (49) cerebral blood flow by an average of 27%. Incidentally, this is also the reason that feelings of alertness (and sometimes, anxiety) are associated with coffee.
Brain blood aside, coffee has recently been shown to increase blood flow throughout the rest of the body.
One study (50) found that coffee can increase blood pressure in non-habitual coffee drinkers, but noted a lack of increase in habitual coffee drinkers.
Another (51) study found that specifically coffee, not just caffeine, contributed to a 30% increase in blood flow over a 75 minute period.
Although the research isn’t exact yet, there is evidence that coffee can increase blood flow to most areas of the body, except the attic.
#14 Coffee Boosts your Short and Long Term Memory
None of this extra energy and improved mental performance wouldn’t be much good if your memory couldn’t keep up.
Fortunately, the coffee gods aren’t that cruel, so they packed in some memory-augmenting power along with all the other good stuff.
Not only can coffee enhance short-term memory, but it has also been shown to improve long-term memory as well.
A study from the Johns Hopkins University found that caffeine aids the neural process that commits (54) memories to long-term storage, known as “consolidation.”
The researchers even made this short video to help explain the study, for all you non-psychologists out there:
Despite the findings of this Hopkins study, other researchers have reached different conclusions. One such researcher reported (55) that “the ingestion of caffeine does not seem to affect long-term memory.”
However, the same researcher did note that coffee does seem to impact certain types of memory and recall, mostly related to alertness and passive learning.
Regardless of these mixed findings, psychology is complicated, and most of the research on caffeine and memory is fairly new, so it should not be too surprising that initial findings are relatively mixed.
#15 Coffee Reduces Gout in Men
Last but not least, coffee can help curb the risk of gout. In case you aren’t familiar, gout is a condition in which defective metabolism of uric acid can cause arthritis. In most cases, gout (56) affects the big toe, but can also cause swelling and pain in other joints of the leg.
A 2007 study (57) found that coffee, not just caffeine, can significantly decrease the risk of gout in men by lowering levels of uric acid in the body.
Drinking six or more cups of coffee a day was associated with a 40% decrease in the risk of gout, but, unfortunately, drinking 5 or fewer cups a day yielded less than a 10% reduction in risk.
Another study, published in 2010, found similar results for women (58).
The study showed that coffee can help reduce the risk of gout in women, and the impact was more significant than that in men, with 4 cups a day yielding almost a 60% reduced risk.
Unfortunately, sugar seems to reverse these benefits.
A study conducted on the relationship between sugar (59) consumption and the risk of gout found a positive link between increased levels of sugar consumption and cases of gout. Accordingly, it’s best to stick with just a black cup and avoid the sugar (once again).
Busting Common Myths About Coffee and Health
There are a lot of myths around coffee; some strange, but some actually believable.
Hopefully with this list of the health benefits of coffee we’ve already debunked some of those myths, yet there are still some out there we haven’t addressed.
What most of these more believable myths have in common is that there is some science behind them, but not completely foolproof science.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these myths:
MYTH #1: Caffeine is Bad for You
People have been throwing this one around for a long time, and they cite everything from “that one headline they saw on yahoo.com” to their yoga teacher.
I’m not saying that coffee doesn’t have some negative side effects (if you like chugging it by the gallon), but to say that it is simply unhealthy is stretching things by quite a lot.
In fact, the opposite is true: coffee is healthy for you.
Just in case you’ve forgotten or (more likely) skimmed through the above list, coffee can help to burn excess fat, prevent many life-threatening diseases, as well as some not-so-deadly diseases, and it can improve both mental and physical performance.
Still not convinced? Then check out this CNN video discussing how coffee can help reduce your risk of skin cancer.
MYTH #2: Unfiltered Coffee is Bad for You
This myth is a little trickier because it does have some legitimate science behind it. There are two relevant studies from where the idea that unfiltered coffee is not okay for you originates.
One of the studies (60) found a 10% increase of homocysteine levels in participants who drank unfiltered coffee, as opposed to those who drank filtered coffee, which it goes on to link with an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
However, the relationship between homocysteine and CVD has been widely debated and is still uncertain.
As one study (61) points out, although homocysteine levels may be linked to other factors that lead to CVD, homocysteine levels do not definitively contribute to CVD.
The other critical study (62) was conducted to determine if unfiltered coffee contributed to a rise in LDL cholesterol. The study found that unfiltered coffee did contribute to an 11% increase in LDL cholesterol levels.
However, this study took place over the course of just 17 days, which is hardly enough time to conclude any long-term health impacts.
When looking at these sorts of data it is important to know their limitations. Although the whole Clint Eastwood approach of shoot first, ask questions later may work well in some situations (but not really), it’s important to know the details before you go pointing fingers.
To sum all this up, the evidence behind the myth is far from conclusive, and there needs to be more research before anyone can accurately claim that unfiltered coffee is bad for you.
MYTH #3: Coffee Will Sober You Up
This myth is pretty popular, and, if you are familiar the way coffee promotes energy and focus, seems pretty logical. However, I am sorry to report that it just isn’t true.
In reality, and strangely, coffee will still provide some of its attention-awaking benefits when consumed after alcohol, which actually contributes to some confusing side effects.
For one, a cup of coffee can actually make it harder for a drunk to realize they’re drunk, reports one study (63). That same study also observed that although coffee can improve alertness, it doesn’t really help you avoid running into stationary objects.
Essentially, what is happening here is that the side effects are mixing, but alcohol is winning.
Even though coffee can give some people the perception of alertness, it does nothing to curb alcohol’s deleterious effects. This is because, as one study (64) reports, caffeine does not reverse ethanol-induced (getting drunk) learning deficits.
You can still try drinking coffee after you’ve been drinking (i.e. during the hangover phase), but it won’t do you much good (apart from possibly giving you a little much-needed energy).
Coffee Health Hacks: Maximizing the Good and Minimizing the Bad
So you now know that coffee is actually pretty good for you, and you are ready to get started, but first let’s have a quick chat about how to get the most out of your coffee.
Here are 5 simple coffee-health-hacks that will help you sidestep (most of) the negative, and magnify the positive:
HACK #1: Use Only Quality Beans
So much of this one comes down to flavor and personal preference. However, just like with anything else you put into your body, you want to make sure it is of good quality.
Avoid cheaply produced coffee like the plague, because cheap production is often synonymous with unhealthy pesticides and chemicals.
This doesn’t mean you should go buy the most expensive coffee you can find, but rather that you should be aware of what goes into growing your coffee.
Buying from local roasters instead of the supermarket is a great way to avoid low quality beans. More than the supermarket clerk, the people working at the roastery will have a much more extensive knowledge of what they sell, and they typically aim for quality anyways.
You’ve been told a thousand time before: always check the label of the coffee you’re buying (and everything else that goes into your body, for that matter).
HACK #2: Choose Your Brew Method Wisely
A little earlier I talked about the possible negative health impacts of drinking unfiltered coffee. Although the evidence isn’t completely convincing yet, you may still decide to play it safe.
If that is the case then you may want to avoid brewing methods like a French Press, which is basically just boiled and strained coffee grounds. It tastes amazing, but there are still ways to get great flavor with filtered coffee.
A drip machine is also a good way to brew filtered coffee. These are the machines you are probably most familiar with, and there are so many different versions.
Generally, I’d recommend avoiding the models that look like the greasy coffee making machines at Waffle House, because there are plenty of other good options out there.
Another common brew method is brewing using immense pressure, AKA the espresso machine – just be sure to pass on the sugar.
You can take a look at all these, and more coffee brewing options here.
HACK #3: Time Your Coffee for a Better Night’s Sleep
There is significant evidence, including common sense, that coffee can disrupt (65) sleep. As we all know, coffee wakes you up, so it’s not hard to see that this might cause some problems with sleep.
However, this issue has an easy fix: good timing.
A recent study (66) on the effects of coffee on sleep found that drinking coffee up to six hours before sleep led to significant sleep disturbance.
Although sleep disturbance is bad, bear in mind that what the study quotes as “significant disturbance” is not “staring at the ceiling all night.”
This means that if you have your last coffee at 5pm, you’ll still have 80mg of caffeine in your system when you try to get to bed at 11pm. It depends on individual circumstances, but you should aim to have 50mg or less of caffeine in your system when you hit the hay.
An awesome way to track your caffeine levels is to use an app called caffeine zone, which allows you to input your beverage, time of consumption, and bedtime, and then tells you if you’re good to go, or if you should skip that brew:
Avoiding these negative side effects is as simple as timing your last cup of joe to 6 hours (ideally, 8) before you plan to go to bed. Personally, I don’t drink coffee after 12pm (unless I know I’ll be up late).
HACK #4: Forget Bulletproof Coffee — Pair it with a Meal
You may or may not be familiar with a new coffee trend called Bulletproof coffee. I call it a trend because it’s got all the makings of a trend.
Despite its lack of any real supporting science, it has gained an almost cult-like following.
The defining ingredient of this coffee recipe is grass-fed butter.
The company claims that adding grass-fed butter, which contains certain fats and nutrients, to their brand of coffee can help to increase brain function and burn fat.
Great news: There’s no need to carry a supply of super-butter around with you.
A simpler and cheaper solution would be enjoying your coffee with a healthy meal.
Here is a list of the best food items to include in a meal (which also offer the same vitamins and nutrients):
- Saltwater fish, like tuna, herring, and salmon, are a great source of vitamin E, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids
- Dark, leafy greens and carrots for vitamin A and vitamin K
- Nuts and whole grains for omega-3 and vitamin E
- Eggs and cheese (which should be used sparingly) are another good source of vitamin A
- And potatoes for vitamin K
Although you can still find many of these nutrients in red and white meat and dairy, those typically come with a lot of fat, and don’t offer as much as the items listed above.
So forget the fad, forget bulletproof, and just shoot for a cup of coffee with a healthy meal (you may already be doing this).
HACK #5: Know Your Caffeine Limits, and Stick to ‘Em
Despite all these numbers and figures and percentages I’ve thrown at you, you may still be wondering, “so, how much coffee should I drink per day?”
It can get a bit confusing, with different amounts yielding different results, but the sweet spot seems to be 4-5 cups a day. According to a review by the European Safety Authority, 400mg is the daily, safe, upper limit of caffeine consumption for adults.
Although some of the studies in this list showed that six or more could help prevent gout (68) and Parkinson’s (69), drinking six or more cups a day can lessen coffee’s other preventative qualities, like heart disease (70) and liver cirrhosis (71) prevention.
Coffee has also been shown (72) to increase short-term feelings of nervousness and anxiety in some people. Keeping below six cups a day, and not drinking more than two cups in one sitting, can help you avoid these symptoms.
However, coffee affects each person differently. Some of this comes down to genetics (73), and some of it tolerance (74). Although 4-5 cups a day is a good average range, it is important to pay attention to your own reactions.
Check out this caffeine calculator for a more accurate (but not perfect) idea of your daily limits.
THE BOTTOM LINE – COFFEE AND YOUR HEALTH
Did you enjoy this list? I hope you learned something new, but if not I hope this list helped point you to even more informational sources. Because there is so much unfounded coffee-bashing going on, it is important to know the facts.
Please share on social media if you liked the article, and in the comments below, tell us your thoughts, and if there is anything you’d like to know more about.