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Coffee - Can It Be A Health Conscious Choice?

Contributed by reader, Emma Phillipson

cup of coffee on a saucer surrounded by coffee beans
Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

Coffee has been around for nearly a thousand years and this is partly attributable to its infamous effect on keeping one alert. However, this drink confers far greater advantages that are seldom appreciated in the modern world. The health benefits of coffee are such that it brings to the table a wide variety of intrinsic properties that have the effect of significantly reducing mortality in a wide array of conditions. In recognizing the beneficial spectrum of properties that coffee provides, we can reap the rewards by improving our workout and dietary performance.

Advantages of Drinking Coffee

Coffee is an immensely popular drink. In the United States, studies show that up to 54% of Americans over the age of 18 drinks, on average, three cups of coffee every day. Furthermore, this coffee bonanza has been calculated to amount to up to $40 billion for the United States every year. With these staggeringly high statistics, it becomes even more important to understand this drink, what advantages it can offer, and how it can profit those who haven't really thought about drinking it.

Despite the simple beginnings described earlier, coffee has proved to be an increasingly complex and rewarding drink. Research from Harvard University has shown how regular coffee consumption is associated with a reduced risk of liver disease. Indeed, it was revealed that those who consumed coffee were 50% less likely to suffer from conditions such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. In fact, coffee has been shown to lower the rate of other malignancies such as colon and rectal cancer. In addition, they revealed that coffee drinkers were less likely to contract type 2 diabetes, as much as 50% less by some accounts. This is due to its dual effect of lowering blood sugar as well as increasing the resting metabolic rate.

Perhaps quite interestingly, moderate coffee consumption is associated with a reduction in the risk of Parkinson's disease for men but not for women; this is thought to be due to the higher levels of oestrogen found in women. However, it's not all bad news for women. A 2011 study revealed that women who drink coffee are at a 25% less risk of suffering from a stroke compared to those who drink little to no coffee. These health benefits can be considered the long-term advantages that coffee can confer but we mustn't ignore the short-term impacts whose utility can be just as important.

Coffee and Fitness

One of the chief advantages of coffee is the boost in concentration and awareness that it can illicit. This can have a significant impact on fitness as it can provide the impetus for training. Moreover, caffeine, the active substance found in coffee, has been shown to increase the metabolic rate up to 10% and that this effect is responsible for a further increased rate in the burning of fat. Despite these metabolic benefits, the same study also showed that this may be a limiting effect such that long-term consumption of alcohol could, in effect, neutralise this benefit - more research needs to be performed in this regard.

As well as this, caffeine has also been shown to stimulate the release of neurotransmitters such as epinephrine; the substance responsible for the "fight or flight" response. This energetic lift also has the effect of making more energy available to the body in times of stress such as during a workout. This significantly augments training performance as well as burning fat for those currently on a diet. It is suggested that coffee should be ingested approximately half an hour prior to a training session to fully reap these benefits.

Myths and Reality of Coffee Consumption

In the recent past, it has been common to hear about the negative dietary impact of coffee. However, a lot of these claims are out of date. Modern research has shown that coffee is a complex beverage with hundreds of different constituents, each of which needs to be examined on its own merit. In this sense, it is universally agreed that coffee has a nutritional net benefit in contrast to those who drink no coffee at all. However, this does not mean that coffee is without any consequences and it's important to balance this against the advantages that were hitherto described.

One of the problems with discussions over the benefits of coffee concerns the quantity that is consumed. The studies referenced in this article all reflect moderate coffee ingestion - up to about five cups of standard coffee in a single day. A greater amount of coffee can cause an elevated quantity of caffeine in the body that can cause symptoms such as tremors, insomnia, anxiety and stress. Due to the severity of these symptoms, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 2013 introduced caffeine withdrawal as a legitimate psychiatric disorder. It is not uncommon to find many people who suffer from this addiction attending drug treatment centres to ameliorate their symptoms. Either way, this condition must be acknowledged as a legitimate concern as well as a reflection on moderation as opposed to excess.

There is little doubt from this avalanche of evidence-based research that coffee has proved itself to be of remarkable importance in varying and flexible ways. It enjoys the long-term benefits as a prophylactic against types of cancer and diabetes and yet also profits the user short-term benefits when it comes to fitness, training and diet. These health benefits are, of course, only applicable when coffee is enjoyed in moderation.

Source Materials, External References and Citations

NIH Study finds that Coffee drinkers have lower risk of death

Coffee by the Numbers

Coffee's Health Benefits

Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centre Directory

Coffee Consumption and Risk of Stroke in Women

Effects of Caffeine on Energy Metabolism, Heart Rate, and Methylxanthine Metabolism in Lean and Obese Women

Does coffee offer health benefits?

Coffee and Health

Caffeine Addiction a Mental Disorder?