I am one of those people who can’t function without my double flat white in the morning. In addition, one of my favourite hobbies is ‘procaffinating’ with willing colleagues (I may have taken more than one coffee break while writing this article). So I was thrilled to discover that, according to new findings, coffee and its energy-boosting main ingredient, caffeine, are beneficial to your health, while plenty of their long-touted negative effects have been dispelled. So grab yourself a cuppa and read on to find out the health benefits of coffee.
By Tracy Branfield
Recently, the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) conducted a follow-up to the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (which looked into the effects nutrition has on women and men’s health respectively), and found that drinking coffee was linked to an eight percent decrease in the risk of Type 2 diabetes in women. Caffeine content did not affect the results of this study, meaning you can enjoy the benefits of coffee whether it’s full strength or decaffeinated.
So what exactly are these ‘wonder’ ingredients that give coffee its healing powers? The wide range of antioxidants that contribute to the intoxicating aroma and flavour of coffee includes polyphenols (also known as flavonoids), chlorogenic acid and quinides, which have all been proven to protect the body against the environmental toxins we encounter on a daily basis in polluted cities.
It turns out that coffee is great for your ticker too. Researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre and the HSPH completed a meta-analysis of 45 years of research relating to the relationship between habitual coffee-drinking and heart failure. The study found that four servings of coffee per day actually protect against heart failure – a far cry from the old-school opinion that coffee is harmful to cardiac health.
Another meta-analysis from the Mayo Clinic in 2012 failed to confirm the widely accepted belief that coffee consumption has a direct correlation to high blood pressure and hypertension. While newbies to coffee might experience an initial hike in their blood pressure, this will stabilise after a week of continued caffeine intake, meaning that coffee isn’t associated with a substantial increase in the risk of long-term hypertension.
And as for those rumours that your cup of joe helps fight against certain types of cancers, the HSPH found that men who drink six or more cups of regular or decaf coffee per day have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer, while women who consume more than three cups of caffeinated coffee per day are less likely to develop basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
YOUR DAILY GRIND
As a substance once banned at the Olympics and other major sporting events due to its ability to enhance performance, it’s no surprise that coffee has far-reaching effects on the brain. Any coffee lover can attest to its mood-enhancing properties, transforming your groggy pre-caffeinated self into a wide-awake, upbeat worker ready for the day ahead.
Harvard University researchers even found that women who drink two to three cups of coffee per day are 15% less likely to develop depression over the next 10 years, with four or more cups lowering the risk of depression by a further five percent.
Caffeine may also relieve shoulder, neck, forearm and wrist pain while you’re furiously typing away at your desk. Researchers from the University of Oslo reported that workers who consume coffee before computer-based tasks experience less intense pain in those areas than those who don’t have any java.
HOLD THE FOAM
Although the World Health Organization’s guideline is three cups of coffee (300 mg of caffeine) per day, the HSPH research found that drinking up to six cups of coffee a day has no negative health effects either. And although this may be terrific news for coffee lovers, overconsumption is not a good idea.
‘We need to bear in mind that most of these studies use standard coffee cups containing black coffee or coffee with limited milk or sugar,’ explains dietitian Dr Christa North. ‘Some individuals are fast metabolisers and can handle more caffeine than others, which is why tests are performed on individuals’ genetic caffeine sensitivity.’
Fellow dietitian Nicola Drabble agrees: ‘A normal cup of filter coffee has only eight kilojoules, but by adding sugar, syrup and whipped cream, you can easily rack up more than 1 000 kilojoules. Drinking a decadent dessert-like coffee on a daily basis can result in weight gain and, in turn, diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol.’
She recommends no more than three to four cups with no additives per day to avoid insomnia, nervousness, irritability, a raised heartbeat and muscle tremors. If you find yourself suffering from any of these symptoms, you should cut back on your caffeine intake and consult your doctor.