It's Official: Coffee Is Good For Your Health

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - 2:53pm

By Kathleen Goodwin, RD

"Heard the latest research study? They say coffee causes high blood pressure. Wait— this just in—it raises cholesterol levels too. Hmm, no, now I hear that it could help prevent cancer. And to top it off, it may reduce the risk of diabetes. How confusing!” If you’re like most Americans, the news about the "latest research study” will prove to be anything but helpful. It seems like everyday there is new information that proves or disproves previously held medical opinions. When it comes to coffee, the confusion couldn’t be worse.

That’s why we did the hard work for you and sifted through hundreds of the most recent research studies about coffee and its effects on cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis. In most cases, old research that claimed adverse effects with coffee consumption has been disproved by newer, bigger, and better research studies. The bottom line? Coffee, in moderation, can indeed be good for you.

Coffee, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure

In a 2005 research meta analysis (in which several research studies on a single topic are reviewed and synthesized into an overall conclusion), the German medical journal Therapeutische Umschau concluded that:

"Despite many studies, no clear association between coffee and the risk of hypertension, heart attack, and other cardiovascular diseases was found. Recent publications suggest that moderate coffee intake does not represent a health hazard, but may even be associated with beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system….”

The American Heart Association reaches the same conclusion in its 2005 meeting report, which states:

"Studies investigating a direct link between caffeine, coffee drinking and coronary heart disease have produced conflicting results. However, moderate coffee drinking (1-2 cups per day) doesn’t seem harmful.”

For further information on coffee and heart disease see the following article from TheDietChannel: Heart disease & coffee: Are coffee-drinkers more likely to get heart disease?

Coffee and cancer

The American Cancer Society reported in 2002 that no research has linked coffee intake to increased risk of cancer. In addition, widely published studies from the past that linked coffee to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer have since been disproved. If that news wasn’t positive enough, recent studies have shown a correlation between coffee consumption and reduced risk of liver, breast and colorectal cancers.

Coffee and type 2 diabetes

There is also great news about Type II diabetes and coffee. A 2005 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association supports the conclusion that habitual coffee drinking is associated with a significantly lower risk of Type II diabetes. Apparently, coffee contains many types of antioxidants, including quinines, which can improve insulin sensitivity and improve blood glucose regulation. It does appear, however, that it may take as many as 4 cups of coffee per day to attain this benefit.

Coffee and osteoporosis

It’s true that drinking coffee leads to excretion of calcium in the urine, and calcium loss is attributed to increased risk of osteoporosis. About five milligrams of calcium is lost per every six ounces of coffee consumed. However, calcium losses due to coffee intake are easily replaced with two tablespoons of milk or yogurt per cup of coffee. Also, evidence suggests many people who drink coffee have diets that are poor in calcium and vitamin D intake; oftentimes they substitute coffee and sodas for milk rather milk as a beverage. Thus, it is difficult to conclude that coffee alone—and not a diet poor in calcium and vitamin D overall—is a culprit in bone mineral density loss. If osteoporosis runs in your family, it’s a good idea to moderate your coffee intake and to increase your consumption of dairy products.

Other good news about coffee

Like all plant foods, the coffee bean contains more than 1000 naturally occurring substances called phytochemicals, which may help prevent disease. Many of coffee’s beneficial substances are antioxidants, which help protect cells against "free radicals”. Recently, it has been discovered that coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet, largely because Americans drink so much of it.

The bottom line is that few research studies claim that moderate coffee consumption (equal to 1-3 cups per day) has a detrimental effect. And, when it comes to certain ailments—like cancer, diabetes, cirrhosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and gallstones—coffee may actually be beneficial.