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7 amazing benefits of coffee

When I started on my nutrition course a few years ago, I was constantly told to give up coffee. It was on the evil list according to all the tutors and all the text books. And if you had any hormone imbalance, it was a definite no-no as it is acts as a stimulant.

I always thought this was so unfair. I loved my coffee! The smell walking into a nice coffee shop was irresistible to me and the thought of giving up my morning cuppa was unthinkable.

To my utter delight I discovered some emerging research suggesting coffee was actually good for you! One study concluded that drinking coffee reduced overall mortality by 10% over 13 years. This was great news for us coffee lovers.

But as always things are never black or white (sorry!). Research is very mixed and opinions in the health world divided.

The good news;

  1. Heart health – hang on, isn’t caffeine supposed to increase your blood pressure? Well it does raise it initially, but some studies suggest that when caffeine is consumed as coffee, blood pressure elevations are small and coffee beans actually have a protective effect on blood vessels. They act as anti-oxidants, reducing harmful cholesterol. Research suggests 2 cups a day are heart protective.
  2. Diabetes – many studies have linked coffee with improved glucose metabolism and insulin secretion.
  3. Weight loss – coffee contains chlorogenic acid, a plant compound that is an effective anti-oxidant thought to reduce glucose absorption. Caffeine increases metabolism and helps to burn fat.
  4. Cancer – studies suggest moderate coffee intake can be protective against several types of cancer.
  5. Brain health – we know that coffee makes you more alert, but new research suggests it actually protects against dementia and Parkinsons Disease.
  6. Depression – coffee might also benefit our mental health. Caffeine stimulates dopamine and adrenalin, giving us a mental boost. 4 cups or more per day has been linked to a 20% reduced risk of depression versus those who drank 1 cup per week.
  7. Liver disease – while the liver has to break down caffeine, coffee itself can be protective against cirrhosis, non alcoholic fatty liver disease and Hepatitis C.

The bad news;

  1. Caffeine stimulates cortisol, our stress hormone. And if you are stressed already, you may be relying on coffee for your energy hit – a vicious cycle which can be addictive. High cortisol can inhibit thyroid and sex hormone function causing symptoms such as fatigue, PMS, depression, weight gain, infertility, poor immunity and digestive issues.
  2. Caffeine can interfere with your blood sugar balance, therefore increasing your risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.
  3. The beneficial chlorogenic acid in coffee may increase homocysteine levels, an indicator for increased risk of heart disease.
  4. Caffeine can cause loss of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. It may also inhibit absorption of Vitamin D and B vitamins.
  5. Caffeine can interfere with detoxification in the liver of medications and toxins. Certain medications are poorly absorbed with coffee (eg thyroxine and some antidepressants).
  6. Modern day coffee is often loaded with milk and served with a muffin or other carb-loaded treat. This will cause a huge insulin surge and wipe out any benefits from the coffee bean! Best to drink your coffee neat (or with a small amount of organic milk), alone or with protein.

So like anything we have to take the information and apply it to our own individual cases, and make our own minds up.

We are all genetically different, so we have varying degrees of efficiency at detoxifying caffeine. Some of us can handle caffeine with no problem (most Italians I know!), but I know if I have an espresso after dinner, I won’t be getting to sleep any time soon after. Some people can’t handle any at all. They get tremors, palpitations, anxiety and find it impossible to sleep. And if your liver struggles with caffeine, you are putting it under stress and more susceptible to poor liver function. If that is you, you should stay well clear of caffeinated coffee. Also get advice from your doctor if you are pregnant or have a health condition.

If you can’t handle caffeine or you’d rather not have it,  you can still enjoy the benefits of the coffee bean by switching to a good quality decaff. Beware of cheap commercial brands that use harsh chemicals to remove the caffeine. Go for the naturally decaffeinated brands if you can. Look for CO2 or water decaffeinated coffees – these are more and more available – just check the label.

And if you can handle caffeine, a word of caution before you stock up on the Nescafe. The benefits suggested are found from REAL coffee. The less processing the coffee bean undergoes, the more nutrients are preserved.

So have your coffee, but make it the best quality you can find and you could be giving yourself a real health boost.


[toggle title=”Sources” open=”no”]

Freedman ND, Park Y, Abnet CC, et al. Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med. 2012;366:1891-1904. Abstract

Wu JN, Ho SC, Zhou C, et al. Coffee consumption and risk of coronary heart diseases: a meta-analysis of 21 prospective cohort studies. Int J Cardiol. 2009;137:216-225. Abstract

Gómez-Ruiz JA, Leake DS, Ames JM. In vitro antioxidant activity of coffee compounds and their metabolites. J Agric Food Chem. 2007;55:6962-6969. Abstract

Sartorelli DS, Fagherazzi G, Balkau B, et al. Differential effects of coffee on the risk of type 2 diabetes according to meal consumption in a French cohort of women: the E3N/EPIC cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91:1002-112. Abstract

Vinson JA, Burnham B, Nagendran MV, et al. Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled crossover study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a green coffee bean extract in overweight subjects. Program and abstracts of the 243rd American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition; March 25-29, 2012; San Diego, California. Abstract 92.

Li J, Seibold P, Chang-Claude J, et al. Coffee consumption modifies risk of estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res. 2011;13:R49.

Cao C, Loewenstein DA, Lin X, et al. High blood caffeine levels in MCI linked to lack of progression to dementia. J Alzheimer Dis. 2012;30:559-572.

Lucas M, Mirzaei F, Pan A, et al. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of depression among women. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171:1571-1578. Abstract

Molloy JW, Calcagno CJ, Williams CD, Jones FJ, Torres DM, Harrison SA. Association of coffee and caffeine consumption with fatty liver disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, and degree of hepatic fibrosis. Hepatology. 2012;55:429-436. Abstract

Acheson KJ1, Gremaud G, Meirim I, Montigon F, Krebs Y, Fay LB, Gay LJ, Schneiter P, Schindler. Metabolic effects of caffeine in humans: lipid oxidation or futile cycling? L. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Jan;79(1):40-6.

Huxley R, Lee CM, Barzi F, et al. Coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea consumption in relation to incident type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169:2053-2063. Abstract

Van Dam RM, Willett WC, Manson JE, Hu FB. 2006. “Coffee, caffeine, and risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study in younger and middle-aged U.S. women.” Diabetes Care (2) 398-403

Kynast-Gales SA, Massey LK. Effect of caffeine on circadian excretion of urinary calcium and magnesium. J Am Coll Nutr 1994;13: 467–72. [/toggle]

Nicki Williams7 amazing benefits of coffee

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