I might not be very much of a chocolate person (apart from brownies, and cookies, and cocoa and hot chocolate fondant of course). However, I am VERY much a coffee person.
My happiest times in life are sunny holidays, big meals with my family, cocktails with my girlfriends…. and hanging out alone on my sofa at 5am, reading a book with a homemade latte.
Sometimes I’m so excited about my morning coffee I wake up at 3am, hoping it’s morning already. And, whilst I always claim smugly ‘I guess I’m just a morning person’, really I think I’m just a coffee person. When we run out of coffee, I rarely wake myself up with excitement at 3.30 am. Actually, that’s not true …. when we run out of coffee, I just steal it off my housemate (I love you Angie!)
Luckily for me, although coffee often gets a bad rep nutritionally, there is actually plenty of evidence to indicate consumption may be good for us. And, since I most definitely do not feel alone in my true-love-meets-dependency coffee relationship, I thought I’d do a quick breakdown of the facts:
Coffee consumption does not raise blood pressure or risk of mortality from any cause; This is the current viewpoint regarding coffee, illness and mortality to come from the Nurses study.
For a long time it was proposed that coffee elevated blood pressure and was not advisable for people at risk. The elevated blood pressure seemed to be a ‘logical’ effect from the high caffeine content. Many early studies also found a general association between coffee consumption, and the risk of stroke or cancers.
However, coffee consumption often goes hand in hand with other ‘high risk’ behaviours, including smoking and lack of physical activity. It has now been shown that, once you separate coffee consumption from the other risk factors, coffee itself has no harmful associations. The ‘caffeine elevates blood pressure’ theory seems logical, but is also being increasingly refuted (much like the claims around dietary cholesterol, raised cholesterol and heart disease!).
In fact, the latest news is that coffee might even decrease blood pressure; This information comes from a 2010 study carried out on 485 older people, living on the Greek island of Ikaria. The study found significantly greater blood vessel elasticity in older people who consumed one or two cups of coffee per day. These older people also had lower instances of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Although the diets and lifestyles of these older people are very different to those in the UK or in the US these findings are pivotal, and scientists are looking to carry out further work on other groups.
Coffee may cut risk of dementia: This information comes from various studies, the most recent of which was carried out in Denmark on 1,409 participants.
The Danish study tracked 1409 men and women for over 21 years, from middle age into their older years. It found that those who consumed three to five cups of coffee were 65% less likely to develop dementia. This finding supports various historical studies that seem to show coffee consumption, particularly of higher amounts, to be negatively associated with all types of dementia. In fact the associations are on such a direct gradient that many studies are now occurring to test whether coffee can directly prevent alzheimers.
This finding supports many historical studies showing suicide rates to be lower in those who consume coffee. Previously, it was always thought the connection was associative. People who drink coffee are also more likely to smoke and drink alcohol, and less likely to be overweight. This indicates that they are more likely to be social people, who are always less at risk for depression.
However, there may be something more direct occurring. Coffee is temporary mood elevator definitely, but scientists are now looking at the possibility that the effect is more long term, and connected to passageways within our brain. It is still too early to recommend coffee as a preventative anti-depressant, but interesting work is underway.
Coffee does not increase risk of osteoporosis; This is the current conclusion taken from various studies on the subject.
Coffee is a diuretic and for this reason it was often stated that it leeches minerals such calcium and magnesium from the bones. Therefore, drinking coffee was proposed to place women at even greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
Whilst some studies have shown decreased bone mass for women who consume high levels of caffeine (over two cups of coffee per day), it has been shown that the effect can be offset with adequate calcium intake. This is usually accepted to be one glass of milk per day, or the equivalent. So basically latte’s are fine! Some new evidence even suggests the anti-oxidants in coffee may protect against osteoporosis, although more work needs to be carried out in this area.
Coffee increases productivity: Um, I’m not entirely sure why they needed a formal study to prove this. Nonetheless, someone has now done the groundwork.
Now, although there is clearly a lot of good news about coffee (and no clear reason to eliminate it, as far as I’m concerned) it is important to keep a couple of other facts in mind:
Coffee is a diuretic and is therefore dehydrating. It IS important to have one extra glass of water for every coffee (or tea!) that you have, in addition to your standard eight glasses per day. Dehydration can give you nasty headaches and is also stressful to the body.
Coffee is a powerful source of caffeine, which acts as a stimulant on the central nervous system. Although this can lead to temporary feeling of pleasure or increased alertness, all stimulants can be exhausting in large doses. Even in moderate doses coffee can contribute to anxiety and panic attacks, for people who are particularly sensitive. Anyone who suffers with these conditions is strongly recommended to stop drinking coffee and see if doing so helps.
Too much caffeine can also lead to lower level problems with headaches, mild anxiety, irritablilty and insomnia. Far too many people (myself included!) carry on to the point of headaches or nasty moods. If you DO notice any of these symptoms, try cutting your consumption in half to see if you notice an improvement. Personally I know I dont feel great with any more than two weak cups per day, but everybody will be different.
Having said that, when it comes to direct impact on health, all the currently accepted negative associations related to mood or sleep patterns; there is no strong evidence associating coffee with illness or disease! So long as you keep aware (and hydrated!), if you enjoy drinking coffee, in my opinion carry on.
I think it’s much more important to focus any of your health concerns on more serious topics like processed meats and refined carbohydrates. Who knows… your coffee drinking habits might even be doing you a direct favour!