Is drinking coffee good for you?
The earliest reliable evidence of drinking coffee appears in the middle of the 15th century in Egypt and Yemen, when it was used in religious ceremonies. The first coffee shops were established in Istanbul in the 16th century and from there spread to Europe, notably Vienna, Paris, London and Italy, then the US, and relatively recently, also to Asia, especially China and India. Today, coffee has become the drink of choice throughout much of the world. Sharing a cup of coffee in a café, coffee house, or at home with family or friends, or at the workplace has become an institution, creating pleasant social spaces and reasons for people to meet and enjoy each other's company.
But ... is drinking coffee good for you? Yes and no.
Yes: Coffee can have a stimulating effect on the brain and the central nervous system because of its caffeine content. Coffee also contains more than 1000 additional compounds. It is thought that coffee's beneficial effects could be due to its ability to inhibit oxidative stress, oxidative damage, cell proliferation and metastasis.1 Research has shown that drinking up to 4 cups of coffee every day may help prevent or delay several chronic diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease. It may also play a possible role in weight loss due to its capacity to increase energy expenditure and the body's metabolic rate.1 There is also little evidence that drinking coffee increases the risk of cancer. Indeed, evidence indicates that moderate intake of coffee may protect against colorectal cancer and liver cancer. Drinking coffee (or tea) also enhances alertness and boosts learning and memory - facts that millions of students and adults can attest to.
No: However, despite its many benefits and despite its wide use and daily consumption by millions of healthy people, caution is still required, because drinking coffee bears potential risks. For example, excessive caffeine intake can cause headaches, nausea, restlessness, and anxiety. It can also elevate blood pressure and bring about an increased risk of bone loss and fractures in women (but not men). Therefore, some groups of people, including pregnant women, children, adolescents, the elderly and people with high blood pressure should remain cautious. Pregnant women, for instance, who drink more than 3 cups of coffee per day, increase the risk of spontaneous abortion or impaired foetal growth. Drinking coffee during pregnancy may also increase the risk of childhood leukaemia2. Also not known yet is how caffeine impacts on the developing brain of children and adolescents.1 Children and adolescents ingest caffeine mainly in the form of tea, carbonated soft drinks or energy drinks. Caffeine has a potential for addiction in a select group of individuals and regular use can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms once coffee consumption is being restricted or stopped altogether.3
Thus, the jury is still out. In some areas, there are clear benefits, in others there are risks. In cases of uncertainty such as this, it is for the time being left to the consumer to determine whether coffee is right for him/her. Moderation is probably the way to go, unless you belong to one of the high risk groups. If in doubt, always consult with your doctor.
1. Bøhn, S.K., Blomhoff R. and Paur I. 2014. Coffee and cancer risk, epidemiological evidence, and molecular mechanisms. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 58(5).
2. de Mejia, E. G. and Ramirez-Mares M.V. 2014. "Impact of caffeine and coffee on our health." Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism 24(10).
3. Addicott M.A. 2014. Caffeine Use Disorder: A Review of the Evidence and Future Implications. Current Addiction Reports (1).
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