Some of us can barely open our eyes without our morning cup o’ Joe, while others of us barely blink if we miss our daily coffee. Whether you’re an avid coffee-drinker or just enjoy it on occasion, you’re probably aware that there’s a lot of research that attempts to determine if this caffeinated beverage is good for our health.
According to Dr. Donald Hensrud, a preventive medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic, in the eternal debate about coffee, the beverage tends to err on the “good” side of things:
“The best answer may be that for most people, the health benefits outweigh the risks,” Hensrud said in a recent Mayo Clinic posting.
After much research, studies have shown that drinking moderate amounts of coffee could protect against Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s and some types of cancer due to its high level of antioxidants. A 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that because coffee affects glucose metabolism, regular coffee consumption might be a protective mechanism against type 2 diabetes. In a 2009 National Institutes of Health newsletter, Dr. Walter Willett from the Harvard School of Public Health put it a different way:
“Coffee is an amazingly potent collection of biologically active compounds,” Willett said.
In a recent “Ask the Expert” segment in the Harvard School of Public Health’s publication The Nutrition Source, Dr. Rob van Dam echoed Willett’s statement, pointing out that coffee is more than just “a vehicle for caffeine” – in fact, it contains hundreds of compounds, many of which have been shown to be beneficial, some that produce negative health effects for particular populations and others that have yet to be studied.
Other research has shown that coffee can improve memory and brain function and fight cancer-causing free radicals as well.
Though there are many positive health benefits to coffee, as the research has shown, there are some precautionary measures to take. Women who are pregnant or people who have difficulty controlling their blood sugar or blood pressure should consider avoiding coffee or trying decaf. Also, if you start having tremors, anxiety or are unable to sleep, you should consider lowering your coffee consumption.
Also, when looking at studies about caffeine consumption, you should know that most researchers consider a “cup” of coffee to be an eight-ounce cup with about 100 milligrams of caffeine. However, most “medium” size drinks at well-known coffee chains are actually 16 ounces of coffee and have more than 300 milligrams of caffeine. Size is important because, as Dr. van Dam points out, studies generally show no health negatives for average people who consume up to six, eight-ounce cups of coffee per day, though some people would lower this count to about four cups. Also, most researchers aren’t factoring the sugar and cream that are added to many coffee beverages these days.
While the research on regular coffee consumption is generally positive, Dr. van Dam says it’s OK if you aren’t a coffee-drinker:
“This is a pretty active area of research right now, and it’s not at the stage where we would say,’Start drinking coffee to increase your health even if you don’t like it,'” he said.