Every day, so many of us rely on coffee for a wake-up boost, and depending on who you ask, it is often either a healthy drink or incredibly harmful. Coffee is actually quite the complex drink and its health effects are controversial. The active ingredient in coffee is of course Caffeine, which is a stimulant and the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance (chemical that changes brain function) in the world. Here, I delve into the good, the bad and why a little bit of something good, doesn’t mean that alot is necessarily better, or even safe at all. But first, what exactly is Caffeine?
WHAT IS CAFFEINE?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant most commonly found in tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and coffee. It works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system helping you to stay alert.
Once consumed, Caffeine is quickly absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream. It then travels to the liver and is broken down into compounds that can affect the function of various organs. However, the brain is most affected by Caffeine.
Caffeine is naturally found in the seeds, nuts or leaves of certain plants such as cocoa. Natural sources are processed to produce caffeinated foods and drinks. The amounts of Caffeine expected per 240ml (one small mug) vary across popular drinks and an excessive daily consumption of Caffeine is over 400mg. Espresso: 240–720mg | Coffee: 102–200mg | Energy drinks: 70–160mg | Brewed tea: 40–120mg | Soft drinks: 20–40mg | Decaffeinated coffee: 3–12mg | Chocolate milk: 2–7mg.
Here are 7 reasons why coffee is sometimes considered healthy.
COFFEE CAN ENHANCE BRAIN FUNCTION
In a typical day levels of a neurotransmitter called Adenosine build up resulting in tiredness and eventually sleep. Caffeine is such an effective awakener because it’s first move in the brain is to block the effects of Adenosine.
Caffeine exerts its effects quickly, it can take as little as 20 minutes to reach the bloodstream and less than one hour to reach full effectiveness. Caffeine increases neuronal firing in the brain and the release of other neurotransmitters like Dopamine and Norepinephrine. As a result, many studies demonstrate that Caffeine can improve mood, memory and general cognitive function in a short space of time.
COFFEE MAY HELP PROTECT YOUR BRAIN
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease and a leading cause of Dementia. Remarkably, some research has suggested regular coffee drinkers have up to a significantly lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Similarly, coffee drinkers appear to have a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease which is caused by the death of dopamine-generating neurons in the brain.
COFFEE MAY LOWER RISK OF TYPE 2 DIABETES
Type 2 Diabetes is characterized by elevated blood sugars due to resistance to the effects of insulin. Interestingly, consuming Caffeine appears to have a significantly reduced risk of developing this disease.
COFFEE MAY LOWER RISK OF LIVER DISEASES
The liver is an incredibly important organ that has hundreds of different functions in the body. Liver damage results in it being replaced with scar tissue known as Cirrhosis. Coffee drinkers in multiple studies have been seen to have significantly lower risk of developing Cirrhosis. Liver cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death worldwide.
COFFEE MAY LOWER RISK OF DEPRESSION
Depression is the world’s most common mental disorder and there is little doubt it leads to a significantly reduced quality of life. There is also a suggestion that people who drank 4 or more cups of coffee per day are less likely to become depressed.
COFFEE MAY INCREASE LIFE EXPECTANCY
Given that coffee drinkers appear to have a lower risk of many common, deadly diseases its logical that coffee will help you live longer.
It’s really important to know that many of the studies invovled in any such suggestions are observational which simply means they do not prove that it was specifically the coffee that caused any beneficial effects. On that note, it is only right to share the important negative aspects to coffee.
While there are fewer reasons why coffee may actually be detrimental to your health, it’s often argued these far outweigh any of potential benefits.
CAFFEINE CAN DISRUPT SLEEP
Coffee is proven to disrupt your sleep due to its diuretic effects (increased production of urine). Coffee consumed late in the evening effectively resets the body clock by delaying a rise in the level of melatonin, our sleep hormone. If coffee reduces the quality of your sleep, try avoiding it later in the day such as after lunchtime.
CAFFEINE CAN CAUSE ANXIETY
Consuming too much Caffeine can lead to anxiety, heart palpitations and may even exacerbate panic attacks in some cases. If you are even remotely sensitive to Caffeine and tend to become over stimulated, then please stop drinking it to avoid any unnecessary heart health risk.
CAFFEINE CAN HARM AN UNBORN BABY
With Caffeine able cross into the placenta and increases maternal catecholamine levels, concerns have been raised about a potential relationship between Caffeine exposure and the incidence of spontaneous miscarriage. Studies have also suggested an association between coffee drinkers and risk of low birth weight. It is for these reasons that those pregnant women shouldn’t consume coffee of any kind.
CAFFEINE CAN ENCOURAGE WEIGHT GAIN
Caffeine increases cortisol secretion in people both resting and undergoing mental stress. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and it’s known as a stress hormone because it’s normally released when your body senses stress. Elevated levels of cortisol can lead to overeating and weight gain. Over time, increased cortisol secretion can significantly impact your health. Women who carry excess weight around the middle respond to stress with a greater increase in cortisol. Those on restrictive diets will also see an increase cortisol even without Caffeine, another reason why no restrictive diet proves a sustainable weight management solution.
CAFFEINE IS ADDICTIVE & CAN LEAD TO WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS
Caffeine is an addictive substance and drinking coffee regularly will see you become tolerant to it. Its either stops working as it used to, or a larger dose is needed to get the same stimulant effects. Excessive Caffeine intake will more than likely result in dependence or addiction which is dangerous. When people abstain from Caffeine, withdrawal symptoms like headache, tiredness and irritability will be seen and can last for a few days.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REGULAR AND DECAF COFFEE?
The way decaffeinated coffee is usually made is by rinsing coffee beans with solvent chemicals. This process occurs repeatedly until most of the Caffeine has been removed. It’s important to keep in mind that even decaffeinated coffee does contain Caffeine, just much less than regular coffee. Even more importantly, not all of the health benefits of black coffee apply to decaffeinated coffee.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN DRINKING COFFEE
To maximise the beneficial health effects you get from drinking coffee, there are a few things to remember. The most important is to not add anything unhealthy to it. This includes sugar and any sort of artificial sweetener. My blog on Sugar Alternatives will help find a healthier choice. If you don't drink black coffee, there are countless additives to dilute the bitter flavour and strength but some milky, sugary coffees can contain upwards of 500 calories particularly those Frappuccinos. So, if you think you're doing yourself a favour with these treats, the health detriments of the added calories, sugar and unhealthy fat will more than cancel out any magic associated with coffee.
SHOULD YOU BE DRINKING COFFEE?
Some people should definitely avoid coffee altogether. These include pregnant women and those with anxiety issues, high blood pressure or insomnia. If you don’t drink coffee at the moment, any supposed health benefits are not compelling enough reasons to start drinking it. Ultimately, it's hard to know for sure whether coffee causes any beneficial effects at all. The mere lifestyle associated with coffee consumption may be more influential on your health than coffee itself. Doctors aren't convinced to prescribe coffee yet and I personally don’t believe it belongs in the same category as green and Matcha tea for example. While these also contain Caffeine, it is slowly released ensuring they energise without any overwhelming negative symptoms. Given it is the awakening experience that is why so many indulge in coffee every day, there are quite simply superior options available. However, if you do drink coffee, enjoy it, but I wouldn't recommend taking it up if you don't.
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