Kevin Huang, BSc Pharm Student
When we talk about coffee, we often talk about its stimulating effects and how it keeps us awake for those long days of work. But did you know that coffee has over 1000 biologically active compounds that can affect many of our bodily/organ systems?1 With numerous studies on its benefits and risks, many of us remain unsure about the potential impact of continued caffeine consumption. Today, we’ll spend some time going over the latest evidence to get you up to date.
The Benefits of Coffee
- On the Heart: Think back to the first time you felt a coffee buzz. Your mind was clear, your body charged with energy, and your heart was pumping faster than ever. This sharp increase in blood pressure is well known amongst the effects of coffee and is a large concern for many new drinkers. Fortunately, this effect is only seen with new drinkers (coffee-naïve), as their bodies have not adapted to the heart-stimulating effects of caffeine.2 Studies have shown that habitual (long-term) coffee drinkers do not show significant changes to their blood pressure, nor are they at a risk for developing high blood pressure or irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmia).3 In fact, further research has determined many cardiovascular benefits with moderate caffeine consumption. With an average of 3-4 cups of coffee a day; individuals have shown to have a lower risk of developing type-2 diabetes, heart failure, stroke, and premature cardiovascular death.4
- On the Brain: On top of preventing cardiovascular diseases, researchers have shown coffee may have a strong association with lowering the risk of neurological diseases. In a 2010 study, a team of researchers determined that an “intake of 3 cups of coffee per day can reduce your risk of developing Parkinson’s diseases by 25%”.5 These benefits can also be seen with Alzheimer’s disease.4 Some theories have suggested that caffeine is a protective agent that stabilizes neurological structures. This prevents cellular damage to the brain that can often lead to neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.5,6 Furthermore, these neurological protective effects are not limited only to coffee but are also present in other caffeinated drinks such as tea and cola drinks.5
- On Mental Health: Interestingly, coffee-consumption is shown to be effective in reducing the risk of depression and suicide. A study in Finland found that hospitalized patients with high caffeinated coffee intake showed a lower risk of developing symptoms compared to those who drank minimal amounts.7 However, this relationship appears to reverse itself at extreme levels of caffeine intake. Individuals who consume more than 8 cups/day may be at a higher risk for suicide.7 Researchers are currently debating the potential reasons behind this: some have suggested that those with severe depression tend to drink greater amounts of coffee, not that coffee increases depression. Nevertheless, moderate use of caffeinated coffee has shown to have beneficial effects on preventing psychiatric disorders.
Things to Consider
Even though coffee has shown to have many health benefits, there are still several considerations that need to be made. Like anything, moderation is the key. The following points contain some useful information that will help you make informed decisions regarding consumption of your favourite caffeinated beverages.
- Unfiltered Coffee: Diterpenes in unfiltered coffee can negatively increase your blood cholesterol.7 Fortunately, this lipid elevating substance is commonly filtered out through the use of standard coffee filters.7 With this consideration in mind, coffee lovers shouldn’t have to worry about the harmful effects of bad cholesterol.
- Sleep Quality & Anxiety: Although coffee has been praised for its energizing effects, late exposures in high concentrations can affect one’s sleep quality and stress levels.8 It’s been hypothesized that drinkers may be concerned about the stimulating effects of caffeine, resulting in increased levels of anxiety during attempts to sleep. Individuals that struggle with insomnia and anxiety should minimize the amount of coffee ingested and avoid drinking past the afternoon. From there, individuals may adjust their intake to find their right balance.8
- Hot Drinks: In a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), any beverages hotter than 65 °C may be carcinogenic to the human body.7 Since coffee is commonly served at temperatures around 65 °C, it is highly recommended to wait for the beverage to cool down before consumption.
- Loaded with Sugar: Many caffeinated drinks are served with a high quantity of sugar. This may effectively diminish coffee’s cardioprotective effects. To receive the full benefits of coffee, it is recommended for you to use minimal amounts of sugar.
The Bottom Line
In today’s world, the majority of society practically runs on coffee, and that’s just fine. Fortunately, caffeine’s infamous effects on heart health and blood pressure are likely not as bad as most people think. That said, excessive use of sugar can affect heart health and increase the risk of diabetes in the future. Moderate amounts of caffeine can also have benefits on one’s emotional and neurological health, but drinkers should avoid late night consumption if they have problems sleeping.
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- O’Keefe J, DiNicolantonio J, Lavie C. Coffee for Cardioprotection and Longevity. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. 2018;61(1):38-42.
- Mesas A, Leon-Muñoz L, Rodriguez-Artalejo F, Lopez-Garcia E. The effect of coffee on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in hypertensive individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2011;94(4):1113-1126.
- Steffen M, Kuhle C, Hensrud D, Erwin P, Murad M. The effect of coffee consumption on blood pressure and the development of hypertension. Journal of Hypertension. 2012;30(12):2245-2254.
- Freeman A, Morris P, Aspry K, Gordon N, Barnard N, Esselstyn C et al. A Clinician’s Guide for Trending Cardiovascular Nutrition Controversies. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2018;72(5):553-568.
- Costa J, Lunet N, Santos C, Santos J, Vaz-Carneiro A. Caffeine Exposure and the Risk of Parkinson’s Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2010;20(s1):S221-S238.
- Wierzejska R. Can coffee consumption lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease? A literature review. Archives of Medical Science. 2017;3:507-514.
- Lucas M. Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Depression Among Women. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2011;171(17):1571.
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