Caffeine Can Offer a Myriad of Health Benefits

Caffeine Can Offer a Myriad of Health Benefits

Most people are aware of the typical benefits of caffeine like increased energy levels, enhanced focus, increased fat burning, and lower appetite, but caffeine is actually better for you than you might imagine. In fact, a recent report by the top nutritional committee in the US stated that not only can people stop worrying about health risks with caffeine, but that they may even consider increasing their consumption as evidence showed clear health benefits associated with up to five cups a day.

Coffee is better for you than you thought!

One of the key factors is the way caffeine affects the body. It alters the brain's natural state, increasing neuronal activity, sending a trigger to the pituitary glands and then signals to the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline (epinephrine.) Further stimulation is produced by blocking uptake receptors for adenosine, a neurotransmitter that amongst other things makes you feel sleepy.  And while adenosine levels drop, pleasure neurotransmitters like dopamine increase, which makes a caffeine a mood-booster as well.

Caffeine crosses the blood-brain barrier easily, and in just 15 minutes it stimulates the central nervous system, increasing alertness and focus, boosting metabolic function and decreasing reaction time. But beyond these, studies are coming out regularly that show all sorts of additional positive effects from caffeine. For example, neuroscientists report that it makes us more supportive of others in social situations and even helps reduce the risk of workplace accidents.

So these are all the usual benefits of caffeine, but here are some you probably didn't know about.

First, coffee is packed with valuable nutrients, and is one of the best sources of anti-oxidants in the modern western diet. It contains health-boosters like magnesium, potassium, manganese and vitamins b2, b3, and b5.  Even though the levels per cup are relatively small, if you drink 3 or more cups a day, which is very common, the numbers become significant.

Anti-oxidants fight oxidation which means less stress on the body, less disease, better immune response, slower aging, and better overall health. When we start looking at all the clinical evidence, the benefits really start racking up. In two very large National Institute of Health studies, drinking coffee was actually associated with a 20% lower risk of death in men and a 26% lower risk in women http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=668690).

Caffeine and cognitive benefits:

Cognitive skills are also improved by caffeine. Studies show it improves memory recall and consolidation (Post-study caffeine administration enhances memory consolidation in humans) The cognitive benefits extend to helping with degenerative diseases. One study suggested that coffee drinkers are 65% less likely to develop Alzheimers (Does caffeine intake protect from Alzheimer's disease? L. Maia and A. De Mendonça, 3 JUL 2002, J Alzheimers Dis. 2010 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20182026).

Another study found that coffee drinkers had a 30-60% lower chance of developing Parkinsons. (Association of Coffee and Caffeine Intake With the Risk of Parkinson Disease. Webster Ross, MD, et al. JAMA. 2000). It also was shown to help reduce uncontrolled movement, which is very valuable to Parkinsons sufferers. Moreover, the results were definitively due to caffeine as decaf drinkers showed no such effects.

Beyond the cognitive, caffeine seems to have a protective effect on various other functions. It replenishes muscle glycogen, making it useful for exercise recovery, relieving post work-out muscle pain by up to 48%.  It protects against liver damage, against heart damage, against cataracts, and surprisingly even lowers blood pressure. The University of Texas Medical School even reported that male coffee drinkers were less likely to develop erectile dysfunction, and had increased semen volume.

Research continues, but caffeine's benefits keep on showing.

Excitingly, a meta-study of 22 studies found that each daily cup of coffee was associated with a 11% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and that people who drink coffee have lower sugar and insulin levels (http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/6/1023.short.) This is still a complex issue and there were a few studies that showed contradictory results, but the majority of them bore this out. (Coffee, tea, and incident type 2 diabetes: the Singapore Chinese Health Study, Andrew O Odegaard, Mark A Pereira, Woon-Puay Koh, Kazuko Arakawa, Hin-Peng Lee, and Mimi C Yu; 2008 American Society for Clinical Nutrition http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/88/4/979.short).

Another major benefit is the effect on cancer.  Tests on a variety of forms of cancer showed that caffeine can lower incidences. One trial at Rutgers University found that it prevented skin cancer in mice. Another showed that coffee drinkers have up to a 40% lower risk of liver cancer, a 15% lower risk of colorectal cancer (Coffee Consumption and Risk of Liver Cancer: A Meta-Analysis Susanna C. Larsson, Alicja Wolk; Gastroenterology Volume 132, Issue 5, May 2007) and a 50% lower risk of mouth and throat cancer.

And last but not least is the impact on mood. As I mentioned, coffee increase dopamine production, so is a mood elevator. This area has received considerable attention lately and in one Harvard study, women who drank 4 or more cups per day had a 20% lower risk of becoming depressed (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/coffee-depression-women-ascherio-lucas/). Another study showed that those who drank 4 or more cups per day were 53% less likely to commit suicide. (A Prospective Study of Coffee Drinking and Suicide in Women; Ichiro Kawachi, MD; Walter C. Willett, MD; Graham A. Colditz, MD; Meir J. Stampfer, MD; Frank E. Speizer, MD; Arch Intern Med. 1996).

Anecdotally, Albert Camus once said, "Shall I kill myself or have another cup of coffee?"

So clearly caffeine has many health benefits. Despite some opinions about the risks of caffeine consumption, a summary from a Johns Hopkins trial stated that, for the general population, coffee drinking doesn’t have any serious detrimental health effects. So in the balance, caffeine can be safely consumed and will afford nothing but rewards.

Now having said that, I must emphasize that as in all things moderation is the key. The generally accepted limit for benefits is an average of 600mg per day, but everyone reacts differently, so make sure to monitor how your own body reacts to caffeine. I am not advocating for everyone to increase their caffeine intake. Caffeine is best obtained from tea, coffee, or supplements, so definitely avoid sodas, energy drinks, and other caloric and sugar-ladened foods and beverages.

If you do not like the taste of coffee but would still like the benefits, research shows that caffeine exerts a greater ergogenic effect when consumed in an anhydrous state as compared to coffee, so taking a carefully-balanced anhydrous caffeine-containing energy supplement can be smart. Look for a high-quality supplement with between 200-300mg per dose for an average-sized person, and preferably one that is balanced with nutrients and adaptogens to support the body while adrenal and metabolic function is increased.

I'll leave you with the words of one of my most beloved authors, Dave Barry, who summed it all up perfectly:

"It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some sort kind of recreational activity."

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The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.


3 Comments

    • Avatar
      JuneBug
      Aug 22, 2014

      This is good to know for next time my husband tells me to stop drinking coffee for my health. Love the Barry quote too, btw.

    • Avatar
      heddy
      Feb 1, 2015

      Informative and thorough. I have filed this in with all the other justifications I have amassed for continuing to drink too much coffee. Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Kate H
      May 27, 2015

      I simply cannot imagine my life without coffee. I love it so much I am browsing sites just reading about it! I really enjoyed your post.

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