The usage of coffee started back in the 1500s, when an Ethiopian goatherd caught his goats eating the leaves and berries from an unknown plant and decided to try it himself. Although it was discovered in Ethiopia, it was the Arabs who opened the first coffee houses.
Since its discovery, the health benefits of coffee vary, from bad, to not so bad, to beneficial.
When the first coffee houses were open, it was said that the patrons of these coffeehouses were very likely to engage in gambling and unorthodox sexual activities, and the coffee houses were closed by the mayor of Mecca.
Later in the 1600s in England was believed that coffee cures alcoholism, aids in digestion and helps with head and stomach aches. At the end of the century, the women in England believed that coffee makes man impotent and asked for closing of the coffee houses.
Starting in the 1900s till today, there are many studies conducted on the impact of coffee on our health. The conclusions from these studies vary throughout the years:
- Drinking more than 5 cups of coffee a day increases the risk of heart attack and heart disease;
- Coffee increases the risk of urinary tract cancer;
- Drinking 2 cups of coffee a day decreases the risk of liver cancer;
- Drinking 3-5 cups of coffee a day decreases the risk of stroke and prostate cancer;
- 4 cups of coffee daily lowers the risk of heart disease;
- Drinking 3-4 cups of coffee each day lowers the risk of heart disease, numerous cancers, neurological, metabolic and liver disorders, and overall mortality.
Before making any conclusions on whether or not coffee is good for you, let’s take a look in more details of how coffee impacts our health.
Pros and cons of coffee consumption
As you noticed from the studies from before, the amount of coffee consumed throughout the day has great significance on the impact of coffee on our health.
The health experts say that drinking 300-400mg (3-5 80z cups) of caffeine a day is safe amount and beneficial for our health. Anything more that that has negative impact.
- Caffeine is addictive – Caffeine, which is a mild alkaloid stimulant found in the coffee beans, can cause mild physical and psychological dependence. People who are dependent on it can find it very difficult to quit or even cut back. When a regular caffeine consumer stops drinking caffeinated beverages, she/he may experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches, nausea, fatigue, irritability, inability to focus, and even mild depression. These symptoms usually begin after 12-24 hours of the last consumption of caffeine, peak around the 48 hour and can last up to 5 days. However, cutting down the caffeine intake by about 50 mg (half a cup) a day, can minimize or eliminate these withdrawal symptoms.
- Caffeine tolerance – Caffeine tolerance refers to how person responds to a dose of caffeine and is acquired over a period of time. When a person starts using coffee for a first time or after certain period of abstinence, she has zero tolerance for caffeine, and can experience feelings of euphoria, increased alertness and energy. Consuming the same amount of coffee on daily bases can decrease these effects, and the person can soon start feeling “normal.” When I say “normal” I mean that the person feels tired and exhausted, having hard time to concentrate, that she needs to have caffeinated beverage in order to return to normality, or increase the amount of consumed caffeine if she wants to experience the effects that caffeine produces. One study found that it usually takes 1-4 days for a person to develop caffeine tolerance.
- Increases the chances of developing Adrenal Fatigue – Adrenal Fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms, such as fatigue, body aches, nervousness, unexplained weight loss, sleep disturbances, digestion problems etc. People who have developed caffeine tolerance, after the effects of drinking coffee wear off, have the urge to drink another cup so that they can experience the same effects again. As a mild stimulant, caffeine puts you in fight or flight state, and if you are drinking several cups of coffee throughout the day, your nervous system is constantly under the fight or flight mode. In this state, the adrenal glands are not able to keep up with the demands for producing the adrenal hormones, causing the effects mentioned above.
- Elevated Blood Pressure – A study published in The American Journal of Hypertension in 2003, revealed that people who are suffering from hypertension, and were given 250mg of caffeine, had elevated blood pressure for 3h after drinking the coffee.
- Increases the risk of complications in people with type 2 diabetes – Study conducted by researchers from the Duke University Medical Center in 2004 concluded that caffeine impaired the metabolism of glucose in people with type 2 diabetes, resulting with elevated levels of glucose and insulin after caffeine consumption.
- Worsens Menopausal Symptoms – Study published in the Journal of The North American Menopause Society reported that caffeine use is associated with greater vasomotor symptoms (night sweats, hot flashes) in postmenopausal women.
- May reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia – Caffeine is known to have short-term stimulating effects on the central nervous system. Scientists from the University of Eastern Finland, comparing multiple studies on the subject, found that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee per day is associated with decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease for about 65%.
- Lowers the risk for type 2 diabetes – There is a difference in how people who have diabetes and people who don’t respond to drinking coffee. Before I shared with you a study which concludes that caffeine can be dangerous for people with type 2 diabetes. However, another study conducted by researchers from Harvard University found that people who increased their coffee intake by 1 cup a day had 11% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Lowers the risk of heart disease – Heart health benefits of coffee have been studied for many years. Study conducted by researchers from Stanford University found that coffee reduces the inflammation linked to cardiovascular disease. Another study done by researchers from Heinrich-Heine University in Germany, found that caffeine promotes the movement of a regulatory protein into the mitochondria of the heart, enhancing their function and protecting the heart cell from damage.
- Lowers the risk of certain cancers – Although cancer is very complex disease, and it’s very hard to determine the cause of it, research shows that drinking coffee (3-4 cups a day) can lower the risk of developing certain cancers. This might be due to the antioxidants found in coffee, which have anti-inflammatory properties. A meta-analysis of 40 cohort studies showed that drinking coffee is associated with lower risk of prostate, endometrial, melanoma, oral, liver, leukemia, and non-melanoma skin cancer.
- Reduces the risk for depression – For a long time it was thought that depression is a result of low serotonin levels in the brain. However, a meta-analysis done by scientists at Washington University in St.Louis, who analysed the information from more than 40.000 people, found no significant correlation. Recent research done by scientists from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto found that clinical depression is associated with 30% increase of inflammation in the brain. A meta-analysis conducted by Chinese scientists found that caffeinated coffee is associated with decreased risk of depression, most likely due to the anti-inflammatory properties of the antioxidants found in coffee.
- Aids in weight loss – The weight-loss effects of coffee are due to its caffeine component. Research shows that the thermogenic effects of caffeine help with increasing energy expenditure (4-5%), fat oxidation (10-16%) and the metabolic rate, which consequently, with healthy nutritional habits, aids to weight loss and restoring positive energy balance.
How you brew your coffee matters
The brewing method you use for making your coffee determines the nutritional value and the amount of antioxidants in the coffee. It also affects some of the most fundamental elements of the coffee, such as the taste, levels of caffeine and natural oils found in the coffee. All of this, does not only impacts your taste buds, but your health as well. So let’s take a closer look at how the method of coffee brewing affects all of this.
- Standard Drip Coffee
- Caffeine – About 145 mg per cup. Darker roasts have less caffeine, because it gets burned during the prolonged roasting period.
- Taste – The hotter the water and the longer the brewing period, the coffee will taste more bitter.
- Oils – The filters are preventing the oils found in coffee during the brewing process. These oils are contributing to rising the LDL cholesterol levels, especially if you have diet high in refined sugar and fats, and drink more than 6 cups of coffee per day. (Standard white paper coffee filters are bleached with chlorine and are carcinogenic. Although it is not known how much of them end up in your coffee cup, much better solution is to use reusable hemp coffee filters.)
- French Press
- Caffeine – About 110 mg per cup
- Taste – Strong, smooth, and rich flavor
- Oils – Contains significant amounts of the natural oils contained in coffee, which can raise the cholesterol levels if consumed more than 6 cups per day.
- Instant Coffee
- Caffeine – About 70 mg in 2 tsp
- Taste – Bitter, almost sour taste
- Oils – Contains only small amount, because they are filtered out during the processing
- Single-Serve Pod Coffee Maker
- Caffeine – About 100 mg per cup
- Taste – Depends on the roast. Many company nowadays make them with different flavors
- Cold Brew
- Caffeine – It depends on the beans you are using, although in general, contains more caffeine than hot brew, due to the longer steep time
- Taste – Smooth and rich
- Oils – Contains small amount when filtered
- Turkish Coffee
- Caffeine – About 25 mg per fluid oz.
- Oils – Contains significant amounts
- Taste – Bitter taste. Lower brewing temperature can eliminate the bitterness
- Moka Pot
- Caffeine – About 120 mg per cup
- Oils – Significant amounts
- Taste – Concentrated, robust flavor
Each person is differently affected after consuming coffee. Some people need small amount of coffee to feel its effects, while others need larger amount so that they can feel the same effects. The reason for this lies in the genetic make-up, unique to each one of us, which determines how we metabolize the caffeine. Consequently, this determines how much coffee each person chooses to drink per day.
After consumption, caffeine is absorbed from the stomach and intestines into the bloodstream, metabolized by the liver, and excreted in the urine. Depending on how slow or fast it is metabolized, its effects usually start 30 min after consumption and may last for several hours. The half-life of caffeine is approximately 4-6 hours. Meaning that if a person drinks a cup of coffee containing 100 mg of caffeine, after 4-6 hours, there will be about 50 mg of caffeine left in their body. After another 4-6 hours, the amount goes down to 25 mg, and so on.
Other than genetics, another factors that affect the metabolism of caffeine are:
- Age – Younger individuals have quicker reaction to caffeine;
- Gender – Both man and women have similar reactions to caffeine, although certain conditions (Parkinson’s, menopause in women) have additional impact;
- Tolerance to habitual coffee intake – People who develop tolerance to certain amount of coffee a day, usually need to increase the amount consumed in order to start feeling the effects of caffeine;
- Smoking status – Smokers usually metabolize caffeine faster than non-smokers;
- Alcohol intake – Drinking alcohol extends the half-life of caffeine and reduces its clearance;
- Dietary factors – Eating food rich with Vitamin C decreases caffeine half-life;
- Medications – Certain medications metabolized by the liver who tend to interact with caffeine, usually are prolonging its half-life;
- Pregnancy – Pregnancy slows down caffeine metabolism, especially during the later stages, which is why is recommended for pregnant women to limit their caffeine intake to 200 mg a day, or completely remove it from their nutrition.
Based on the genetic make-up, there are three different levels of caffeine sensitivity:
- Hypersensitivity – People who are hypersensitive to caffeine can experience symptoms of caffeine overdose (increased heartbeat, jitters, insomnia) only by consuming small amounts of coffee.
- Normal Sensitivity – Majority of people fall into this category. People who have normal caffeine sensitivity don’t experience any adverse caffeine reactions. Intake of about 200-400 mg of caffeine per day doesn’t affect their sleeping pattern as long as its consumed early in the day.
- Hyposensitivity – People who are hyposensitive to caffeine need larger amount of caffeine in order to feel its effects. They also report that drinking coffee before going to bed doesn’t impact their sleeping.
Most people adjust their coffee consumptions depending on their needs. I personally, love coffee, mainly because of its taste and the social component when I get together with my friends. Until a few years ago, I used to drink about 4-5 cups a day, and after I started my health journey and learned how it affects our health, especially the hormones, I reduced it down to 1 cup of organic home brewed coffee a day, which I drink with my breakfast in the morning. If throughout the day, I meet with my friends or I feel like having another cup, I go for decaf.
Although health professional recommend consuming 4-6 8oz cups of coffee per day, take the time to experiment with consuming different amounts and find how much coffee fulfills your daily needs and desires. If you find yourself developing tolerance to coffee, or experience some of the adrenal fatigue symptoms, consider slowly reducing the amount of coffee you drink daily or replace it with tea, so that you can avoid experiencing caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
Hopefully, the information provided above will help you determine the right amount of coffee you choose to drink, so that you can you can establish optimal health and live healthy lifestyle.
Until next time!