This month, I want to revisit the health benefits of coffee. We've come a long way, in terms of coffee news, from the days when I was a child. My dad, Stuart Daw, would always say (at least after the big "decaf causes cancer" scare) that all it would take is one big study to link coffee to some major illness, and his business was finished. Pretty scary stuff for a kid to absorb, so it may be understandable that I love to write about the virtues of our fine beverage. There have been a couple of new positive studies that are fantastic news, and I also have referred to many others that I previously cited (see VT, September 2015).
Energy: Coffee can increase energy levels and fight fatigue. This one is rather obvious, but here's how it works. In the brain, caffeine blocks an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine. When that happens, the amount of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine actually increases, leading to enhanced firing of neurons. Many controlled trials in humans show that coffee improves certain brain functions. These include memory, mood, energy levels, reaction times and general cognitive function.
Fat burn: Caffeine is one of very few natural substances that have been proven to aid fat burning. Several studies show that caffeine can boost the metabolic rate by 3% to 11%. Other studies show that caffeine can specifically increase the burning of fat by as much as 10% in obese individuals and 29% in lean people. However, it is possible that these effects will diminish in long-term coffee drinkers.
Fight or flight: Caffeine increases epinephrine (adrenaline) levels in the blood. This is the "fight or flight" hormone that makes our bodies ready for intense physical exertion. Caffeine makes the fat cells break down body fat, releasing them into the blood as free fatty acids that are available as fuel. Given these effects, it is not surprising that caffeine can improve physical performance by 11% to 12%, on average.
RDAs: A single cup of coffee contains 11% of the recommended daily allowance of riboflavin (vitamin B2); 6% of the RDA of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5); 3% of the RDA of manganese and potassium; and 2% of the RDA of magnesium and niacin (vitamin B3). If you drink as much as I do, you're getting 100% of the RDA of all of these.
Diabetes: Coffee drinkers have a far lower chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. Studies show that people who drink the most coffee have a 23% to 50% lower risk. One study showed a reduction as high as 67%. According to a review that looked at data from 18 studies with a total of 457,922 individuals, each daily cup of coffee was associated with a 7% reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Alzheimer's: Several studies show that coffee drinkers have up to a 65% lower risk of getting Alzheimer's disease.
Parkinson's: Coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease, with a reduction in risk ranging from 32% to 60%. It appears to be the caffeine itself that is causing the effect. People who only drink decaf don't have a lower risk of Parkinson's.
Women's health: Coffee lowers the risk of dementia in women. Among a group of older women, self-reported caffeine consumption of more than 261 mg. per day was associated with a 36% reduction in the risk of incident dementia over 10 years of follow-up. This level is equivalent to two to three 8-fl.oz. cups of coffee a day.
Liver health: Coffee may protect against cirrhosis. People who drink four or more cups per day have up to an 80% lower risk of cirrhosis.
Depression: In a Harvard study published in 2011, women who drank four or more cups per day had a 20% lower risk of becoming depressed. Another study with 208,424 individuals found that those who drank four or more cups per day were 53% less likely to commit suicide.
Cancer: Coffee appears to be protective against two types of cancer, liver and colorectal. Studies show that coffee drinkers have up to a 40% lower risk of liver cancer. In a study of 489,706 individuals, those who drank four to five cups of coffee per day had a 15% lower risk of colorectal cancer.
Strokes: Some studies also show that coffee drinkers (2-4 cups a day) have a 20% lower risk of stroke.
It also turns out that coffee contains a large amount of antioxidants. In fact, studies show that most people get more antioxidants from coffee than both fruits and vegetables ... combined. This is likely more an indication of bad dietary habits than anything in many folks, but it's still a great statistic.
In most of these studies, there is no definitive proof that coffee is the sole reason for the benefits, as it can be argued that participants in the studies who drank coffee may also have had other attributes that may need to be factored in; but I think it is safe to say coffee has a very impressive list of benefits that continues to grow annually.
As always, may your cup run full, and the brew, exquisite!
KEVIN DAW is president of Heritage Coffee Co. (London, ON, Canada), a private-label roaster serving the breaktime management industries. A 30-year veteran of OCS, water delivery and vending operations, he has concentrated on coffee roasting for the past two decades.