Contrary to popular belief, coffee (real black coffee, not 20 ounce raspberry-mocha blendaccinos) is in fact one of the healthiest beverages you can drink. Rich in polyphenols and other antioxidants, the benefits of coffee far exceed the potential risks.
Coffee has long been known to be protective against liver disease. Though the reason for the benefit remains unclear, the protection increases linearly with greater coffee intake and is considered a potential therapy for those with liver dysfunction.
Regular coffee consumption also seems to be protective against liver and endometrial cancers, and potentially colorectal cancer as well. While some studies have shown an association between coffee and bladder cancer, the link is weak and inconsistent, and only occurs at heavy intake.
Caffeine can also improve athletic performance, including endurance training, high-intensity exercise, and resistance training.
For many years the greatest concern with coffee and caffeine has been for those with high blood pressure. However recent reviews of the data indicate that while caffeine does temporarily raise blood pressure for about three hours after consumption, there is no long term increase in risk of hypertension from drinking coffee. In fact, at high levels (four cups per day or more) there seems to be a protective effect of coffee, possibly from the polyphenols or other antioxidants.
Some argue that coffee and caffeine are diuretics and therefore can be dehydrating. The most recent evidence, however, suggests that while there is a mild diuretic effect, the fluids lost are less than the amount taken in. In other words, there is still a net increase in hydration.
The only real danger in drinking too much coffee is in how it affects your quality of sleep. If you are very sensitive to caffeine and have problems falling or staying asleep at night, cutting back on coffee and other caffeinated beverages may be helpful in getting more restful slumber.
To summarize: Coffee is surprisingly good for you and may protect you from a number of diseases, but if you’re having trouble sleeping it might not be a good idea to drink too much.
When it comes to the science of wellness, distinguishing the facts from the urban legends can be tough. That’s why we’ve enlisted Darya Pino – a scientist, foodie, and self-proclaimed geek girl. Check out the ZocDoc Blog every Tuesday to see her bust the biggest myths in health.
Image: Café con leche – Milchkaffee, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from marfis75’s photostream.