You love coffee, but ever wonder if it is good for you?
Great news! Due to the rich antioxidants in coffee, there are many positive health benefits of a regular coffee habit.
Many Healthy Benefits of Coffee
A regular coffee habit has robust health benefits:
Metabolic—Coffee lowers risk of type 2 diabetes and improves fat burning.
Cognitive—Coffee improves brain function and reduces risk of several mental disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Liver Health—Coffee protects the liver, lowering risk of liver disease.
Mood—Coffee helps fight depression and other forms of mental illness.
Cancer—Coffee prevents certain types of cancer, especially colon and liver cancer.
Vascular—Coffee may benefit blood vessels, lowering risk of stroke.
Longevity—Coffee lowers risk of death by all causes and it may help you live longer with a higher quality of life.
Chronic Disease—Coffee protects against many chronic diseases and other health problems including gout and kidney stones.
Although the benefits are well documented, scientists have been unable to nail down exactly how coffee promotes health. Is it the caffeine? The vitamins and minerals? The polyphenols?
Coffee Raises The Natural Antioxidant System
A new review concludes that coffee beans are good for you in the same way as fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are healthy due to the antioxidants they provide. The theory goes that the phytochemicals in leafy greens, broccoli, dark-colored fruits, and berries scavenge free radicals and lower oxidative stress.
In fact, the effect is more nuanced: The antioxidants in most plant-based foods lead to tiny increases in blood plasma level that are far too low to have the strong protective effect observed from a regular coffee habit.
Instead, of the compounds in coffee quenching free radicals themselves, they raise levels of endogenously produced antioxidant enzymes that have an anti-inflammatory effect. This is a more powerful mechanism. It means that coffee is helping the body’s natural antioxidant system function at peak performance.
Coffee Raises SOD and GPx Antioxidants
The two most important endogenous antioxidants are glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and superoxide dismutase (SOD). Both SOD and GPx are higher in people who regularly drink coffee. These antioxidant enzymes improve detoxification while and protect DNA. Drinking coffee improves health of immune cells by as much as 35 percent. At the same time, when these enzymes are active there is decreased levels of pro-inflammatory compounds, such as TNF-alpha.
Coffee Improves Your Gut Health
Another reason coffee is good for you is that it improves you gut health. Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave, you know gut bacteria can improve mood and protect health. Getting your gut microbiome right can be tricky, especially if your diet is poor, you take prescription drugs, or have used antibiotics. Coffee can help.
Early research shows that coffee serves as a prebiotic fuel for healthy gut bacteria. Better known prebiotic foods include bananas, garlic, onions, potato starch, and oats. Coffee is just as effective at allowing your protective gut bacteria to thrive. Without prebiotics, the beneficial bacteria in your GI tract have no food. They won’t proliferate and can more easily become overwhelmed by harmful bacteria.
Coffee Raises Antioxidant SCFAs
Coffee raises levels of protective short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like propionate and butyrate that are produced in the gut. These SCFAs are considered powerful antioxidants, lowering oxidative stress that impairs insulin signaling. Butyrate improves the pH of the intestines, accelerating how food moves through the GI tract. When food moves easily through the gut, you improve absorption of nutrients. This has implications for appetite. Butyrate may help regulate calorie intake for better weight management.
What About the Caffeine?
Often viewed as a guilty pleasure, caffeine is not the source of the health benefits in coffee. Notably, caffeine has a negative effect on glucose tolerance, but caffeinated coffee is still protective against type 2 diabetes. Drinking caffeinated, but not decaffeinated coffee, leads to problems with blood sugar balance, suggesting that other phytochemicals in coffee outweigh any harmful effects of caffeine.
In other areas, caffeine is beneficial: It is a powerful stimulant that improves physical performance and cognitive function. Caffeine can ease pain and combat fatigue. It’s a go-to for improving motivation when exhausted.
The negatives arise when you go overboard with caffeine. Too much and sleep is impaired. You may also have more trouble handling stress. For example, studies show that caffeine can shift your circadian clock, delaying release of the sleep-hormone melatonin. Your whole physiological system gets changed. This is hard to recover from and will make your experience of fatigue and sleeplessness worse.
Meanwhile, some people are much more sensitive to caffeine due to different genotypes that affect how the body metabolizes caffeine. Age, stress levels, and mental health also impact how you respond to caffeine.
If caffeine is causing you problems, don’t worry!
Decaf coffee appears to be just as good health-wise, though the literature is not as robust as with caffeinated coffee and more research is needed.
Coffee is on par with fruits and vegetables for health and wellness.
There is a dose-response effect: More coffee is better up to a point. Benefits probably level off around 4 to 5 cups a day.
To improve physical performance, about 3 mg/kg of caffeine is recommended. This equals 225 mg of caffeine for someone weighing 75 kg, or 2 to 3 cups of coffee, depending on the caffeine content.
As great as coffee, be cautious with caffeine. Some people are slow metabolizers and find that it affects sleep or causes the jitters. If you’re having trouble sleeping or want help handling stress, cutting back on caffeine may help. Decaf appears to be a comparable solution.