Although coffee gets a bad rap, it’s actually a medicinal food. In fact, this stimulating bean isn’t nearly so bad as we’ve all been taught. Although I’m skeptical about grande latte supplementation in the long run (it’s a drug, after all), I found myself surprised by much of the science on coffee. Poor Ponce de Leon; all this time he should have been searching for the espresso machine.
Step aside, acai. Here are 20 surprising health benefits of coffee.
Apparently, coffee and alcohol really do go together. Believe it or not, alcohol drinkers who also drink coffee regularly have a lower chance of developing cirrhosis of the liver. That’s not to say it’s a healthy lifestyle - obviously, lowering your alcohol consumption is better. But…science says…
Caffeine reduces risk of skin cancer. Sorry, venti quaffers, this prevention method is topical. Lotions containing caffeine (both from coffee and green tea) have been shown to prevent the occurrence of cancerous tumors on the skin - in murine trials, anyway.
Have a smile with your morning brew! If you’re a caffephile, you don’t need this Johns Hopkins study to tell you that a cup or two a day increases your sense of well-being and happiness. You can thank dopamine for that, which also contributes to coffee’s addictive nature. But be aware, the study also noted that more than 2 cups daily increases the risk of anxiety and panic attacks. Some people respond more readily than others - if you find yourself feeling jittery or nervous, ease up on the joe.
Caffeine may reduce chance of Parkinson’s Disease. A 30-year study has shown that non-coffee drinkers have a higher chance of developing Parkinson’s Disease than their coffee-drinking counterparts.
Most Americans get their antioxidants from coffee. That doesn’t mean it’s the best source of antioxidants, just that it’s the most consumed. But, it’s true, coffee is very high in antioxidants. As for me, I’ll stick to fruit.
Black gold. After petroleum, coffee is the second most valuable economic product in the world. Imagine the financial potential of running our cars on coffee grounds.
Coffee may cut colon cancer in women. A 12-year study on Japanese women found that drinking 3 or more cups of coffee per day may actually halve the risk of developing colon cancer. They found no beneficial effect from green tea on the colon - in this case, it was strictly a coffee thing.
Coffee and diabetes, that’s a tricky one. Even though a Finnish study shows that drinking large amounts of coffee can reduce the risk of developing Type-2 Diabetes, coffee drinkers who already have diabetes have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels.
Coffee reduces muscle pain. After a hard workout, a cup or two of coffee has been shown to reduce muscle soreness (in women, anyway) more effectively than naproxen, aspirin and ibuprofen. (But don’t replace your water thermos with coffee.)
Coffee will detox your liver in surprising ways. This remedy is not one for drinking: we’re talking about the coffee enema. Some people swear by it - using a tube to introduce coffee into the rectum and colon in order to stimulate the liver to remove toxins. Definitely not for the squeamish.
Coffee may reduce chance of death from heart disease. Studies show that drinking 4-5 cups of coffee a day can make you less likely to die from heart disease. The researchers think it may have something to do with coffee’s anti-inflammatory effects.
The devil is in the grounds. When coffee, which originated in Ethiopia and became popular in the Arab world, was first introduced to Western culture, Christian priests denounced it as the devil’s drink, given to the Muslims as a substitute for the wine (Christ’s blood) they weren’t allowed to consume. The belief at the time was that any coffee-drinking Christian risked burning in hell forever. Hooray, progress!
Coffee may help with short term memory. It’s probably because of caffeine’s stimulant effects, but an Austrian study showed that volunteers given caffeinated coffee had better reaction times and short-term memory function than those who were given the cup of decaf.
For women, caffeine may prevent long term memory loss. Because caffeine is a psychostimulant, older women who drink 3 or more cups of coffee or tea a day have less memory loss and cognitive decline than their counterparts who drink less or none. Unfortunately, caffeine consumption doesn’t seem to have any preventative effect against dementia.
Caffeine won’t cause hypertension. Some of the studies can be contradictory and confusing. What we do know is that for non-habitual coffee drinkers, those first few cups will cause a temporary rise in blood pressure, but for regular drinkers, a tolerance develops and won’t cause any long term, permanent increase.
The injustice of cheap coffee. No, it’s not just an injustice to your connoisseur taste buds; conventional coffee farming exploits workers and destroys communities in third world countries. On average, 5% of the profits actually make it back to the farmers, who are hungry, underpaid and treated badly. Why do they work on coffee plantations at all? Because in many cases, the plantations own the most fertile land (which was most often acquired unscrupulously) and the local people won’t survive from subsistence farming alone. How can you avoid supporting the cycle of poverty, corruption and injustice? Only buy Fair Trade certified coffee.
Pesticides in your brew. Because almost all coffee is grown in third world countries with less stringent laws than Europe or the United States, your non-organic cuppa is probably laden with chemicals. That’s not just bad for you, it’s bad for the farmers and the tropical ecosystems in which the coffee is grown. Go organic, will ya?
Pick your poison - literally. Caffeine is an alkaloid, which is a type of poisonous, bitter substance found in plants. Other alkaloids include strychnine, nicotine, morphine, mescaline, and emetine (the deadly ingredient in hemlock). Fortunately, in small quantities the bean is harmless, but it’s worth thinking about if you choose to use other drugs (both pharmaceutical and recreational).
The FDA has approved caffeine for babies. This doesn’t mean you can wake up your sleepy infant with a bottle of latte. Caffeine injections have been used medicinally since 1999 in the United States to stimulate breathing in infants who are experiencing apnea. It’s still recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women keep their caffeine intake to a minimum, but a modest amount is safe.
Coffee can fight cavities. Just avoid all the sugar and milk! Actually, roasted coffee has some antibacterial properties, particularly against Streptococcus mutans, one of the major causes of cavities. By the way, these properties have nothing to do with caffeine, so decaf drinkers will get the same protection.
Despite the positive health studies, it’s best not to intentionally pick up the caffeine habit if you’re not already a regular coffee drinker. Even though some of the studies suggest drinking 3 or more daily cups to get the benefits, everyone is different. If it makes you jittery and sick to your stomach, stick to a milder pick-me-up like green tea or yerba mate. But if that morning cup makes you feel awake, alive and eager to greet the day, you might as well indulge (in moderation) in the world’s most well-loved drink.