Drinking coffee: pros and cons from a medical perspective

Drinking coffee: pros and cons from a medical perspective

2017-12-07T11:50:39+00:00

Coffee is in the news regularly and it seems the body of data suggests that it could be beneficial for a number of medical conditions is steadily growing. It’s an amazingly potent collection of biologically active compounds which have far reaching effects on the body. As such it needs to be perceived and respected as a potent drug.

Caffeine, the most widely known compound in coffee, only makes up a mere 1% to 2% of the bean. The other ingredients such as chlorogenic acids, caffeol, polyphenols, phytoestrogens and diterpenes are now being researched regarding their effects on health.

Highly regarded Medscape News published an excellent and extensively referenced summary of the potential medical benefits of coffee consumption (you can check it out here although registration is required to view in full). In summary, the main health conditions/ body systems covered in the summary include:

  • Cardiovascular system – despite potentially increasing blood pressure, coffee may lower the risk for coronary disease and protect against heart failure. In cited studies, moderate coffee intake was associated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease as far out as 10 years, and new data suggests that an average of 2 cups a day protects against heart failure.
  • Coffee consumption may cut stroke risk by as much as 25%. While its impact on stroke risk in those with cardiovascular disease is still in question, data presented at the European Meeting on Hypertension 2012 found that 1 to 3 cups a day may protect against ischemic stroke in the general population.
  • Weight loss and diabetes – studies have linked coffee consumption with improved glucose metabolism, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and promotion of weight loss in overweight people.
  • Cancer – according to recent data moderate to heavy coffee consumption (4-6 cups per day) can reduce the risk for numerous cancers. The benefits are thought to be at least partially due to its antioxidant and anti-mutagenic properties.
  • Dementia and Parkinson’s disease – it’s clear that coffee temporarily affects cognition, many of us need it to get going in the morning! But new research also links it with more enduring effects on cognitive wellbeing including slowing the progression of dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Depression – coffee drinkers reportedly have significantly decreased risk of developing depression. A 2011 study suggests that a boost in coffee consumption might also benefit our mental health: women who drank 2 to 3 cups of coffee per day had a 15% decreased risk for depression compared with those who drank less than 1 cup per week. A 20% decreased risk was seen in those who drank 4 cups or more per day.
  • Liver disease – coffee has been reported to slow disease progression in alcoholic cirrhosis, hepatitis C and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The liver helps to break down coffee, but coffee might also protect the liver (in some cases).
  • It can also be beneficial for dry-eye syndrome, gout and in preventing MRSA infection. Coffee and hot tea consumption were found to be protective against one of the most concerning bugs, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Drawbacks and risks

As is often the case, with the benefits come the risks, and coffee consumption certainly has negative medical and psychiatric effects to consider. The Medscape News report mentions that besides the potential increase in blood pressure, coffee can incite or worsen anxiety, insomnia, tremor and potentially elevate glaucoma risk. Also, given the potential severity of symptoms, caffeine withdrawal syndrome is under consideration for classification as a type of mental disorder.

I would also add the following drawbacks:

  • The acidity of coffee is associated with digestive discomfort, indigestion, heartburn, GERD and dysbiosis (imbalances in gut flora).
  • Elevated urinary excretion minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium have been noted in coffee drinkers. An imbalance in the electrolyte status can lead to serious systemic complications. It also interfers with iron absorption.
  • Use coffee with care if you have depleted adrenals manifesting in fatigue, low energy, sugar cravings and heightened stress response.
  • Constituents in coffee can interfere with normal drug metabolism and detoxification in the liver making it difficult to regulate the normal detoxification process in the liver.
  • Another issue to be aware of is that for certain medications that are poorly absorbed to start with, their absorption decreases even further, with coffee making any symptoms worse.
  • Addiction is often an issue with coffee drinkers. Ask any coffee drinker about how it feels to withdraw from coffee, and you may mistake their story for that of a drug addict’s…

It’s worth noting that the above evidence and cited studies didn’t specify the types and preparations of coffee used, naturally it makes a difference from the nutrition and symptoms points of view.

My take on drinking coffee

Although I also enjoy a cup of coffee now and then, I don’t consider it as food required for our health and wellbeing. While certain people may tolerate coffee and even enjoy some health benefits, it is evident that it is not for everyone. However, if you decide to keep drinking it have only good quality coffee and consider the following:

  • Have organic coffee whenever possible – coffee crops are heavily sprayed and the pesticides remain in the coffee beans. Go for the free-trade varieties that are farmed using more traditional methods in developing countries (that way you can also help the farmers!).
  • Have it between the meals – coffee speeds up the digestion and movement of food through the gut and thus decreases absorption of many nutrients as well as medications. Having coffee with or immediately after meals is most problematic.
  • Have black coffee (e.g. short or long black) rather than one with milk. Most supermarket milks are highly processed foods and, if not organic, they contain hormones, pesticides and preservatives which add to the body’s toxic load. If you can’t give up white coffee, use a small amount of cream instead (ideally organic).
  • Have it in glass or ceramic cups – take-away coffee sold in plastic containers has traces of plastics and other preservatives/coatings found inside the cups and released with the heat.
  • Coffee is dehydrating so you need to add an extra glass of water per coffee cup you consume per day.
  • Skip the sugar it adds up if you are having a few cups per day plus sugar will ruin any of the benefits discussed above by spiking your insulin levels contributing to insulin resistance.
  • If you have depleted adrenals and cortisol imbalances it’s imperative you stop drinking coffee during the treatment until they are fully restored.

Given the pros and cons mentioned above, further research is necessary to better assess and balance the potential benefits and drawbacks of coffee consumption. In the meantime you can test coffee’s benefits and/or drawbacks on yourself by, for example, taking a break from it for about 3-4 weeks and see how you feel!

What’s your view on this topic? Do you have any updates to add? Please comment below.

Good health and blessings

Joanna Sochan
Adrenal Fatigue and Digestive Health Expert
Naturopath || Herbalist || Nutritionist || Reiki Practitioner

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18 Comments

  1. CoffeeMorning July 20, 2016 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    I love coffee and have for years, so it’s great that there are some health benefits. I usually stick to one cup a day; if I drink more than two cups, I can get too wired.

    • Joanna Sochan July 27, 2016 at 5:59 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your comment.

    • Aldi coffee lover! December 15, 2016 at 8:53 am - Reply

      That’s me to a T aswel!… The past year I have enjoyed just one a day at 10am. On the very rare occasion I will have another in the arvo, definitely no later than 4pm. As it makes me to ‘wired’ aswel!… I am a mum of 3 young boys and live on acerage, so my lifestyle is very full on. Especially this day and age with life being so fast forward as it is… I think it’s time I look at investing in a good quality coffee tho, at the moment we are absolutely loving Aldi coffee from their coffee machine. May have to say goodby to our Aldi coffee ????

      • Joanna Sochan December 20, 2016 at 10:18 am - Reply

        Supporting liver function would be indicated here. Dandelion coffee/ tea and herbs such as globe artichoke and St Mary’s thistle are my top suggestions.

  2. Jennifer Lingad September 21, 2016 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    How about powdered coffee? The one that we can buy at the groceries?

    • Joanna Sochan September 21, 2016 at 8:21 pm - Reply

      Instant coffee is highly processed with added preservatives to keep it in a powder form. It’s the least nutritious form of coffee, in my opinion.

  3. mayank September 30, 2016 at 4:18 am - Reply

    I am drinking 3-4 cup of coffee in a day is it good or not.. And please suggest brand of coffee that I can choose.

    • Joanna Sochan October 2, 2016 at 8:37 pm - Reply

      It depends! If you’re in good health and don’t have any side effects from it such as sleep disturbances, headaches or feeling wired, then it may be OK. Make sure you choose organic coffee to avoid any traces of pesticides and chemicals used in growing and processing it.

  4. Mary Wilde October 30, 2016 at 4:02 am - Reply

    New research has come to light that demonstrates another unexpected health benefits of coffee. This comprehensive study that lasted more than 18 years, and involved more than 70,000 women in the US, of age between 30 and 44, revealed an interesting fact: participants who had more than three cups of coffee a day, had a 15% reduced chance of tinnitus development. This number jumped up to 20% for the women that had more than four cups. Read more about this: http://www.hearlink.com.au/industry-news/could-coffee-help-fight-symptoms-tinnitus/

    • Joanna Sochan October 30, 2016 at 3:23 pm - Reply

      Thank you Mary! Very interesting and worth trying for individuals who suffer from tinnitus. Looks like research on coffee is an active area of interest and we’ll, no doubt, see more updates as we go along. I’m happy to post your link here.

  5. Student@uni December 6, 2016 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    So is it worth drinking coffee?

    All aside, what would you say for students especially?

    When would be a good time to start drinking coffee?

    Which types of coffee should you completely avoid?

    • Joanna Sochan December 7, 2016 at 6:57 pm - Reply

      Good questions, thank you Student!

      I’d say if you feeling energised and alert after drinking coffee and don’t have any health conditions, such as adrenal depletion, high blood pressure or gut problems, and you don’t get any side effects as mentioned in my post (e.g. sleep problems, anxiety, irritability etc), then you likely belong to the group of people who can enjoy drinking coffee and its benefits.

      What to avoid? Non-organic coffee varieties. Coffee crops are heavily sprayed with chemicals and pesticides and non-organic coffee beans are left with a residue that contributes to the toxic load of the body. So choose the best coffee you can get. Plus don’t drink it from plastic caps, use cups instead to avoid adding plastics and other chemicals to your coffee!

  6. Heather February 26, 2017 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Aldi stock organic fair trade coffee ground beans. Keep coffee in the freezer as it goes rancid if it’s not freshly ground. Coffee also blocks iron absorption.

  7. Jeff Allen February 28, 2017 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    Great blog Joanna. Good to see common sense combined with some more in depth information.
    I’m always learning – it never seems to stop. Thank you!
    Cheers Jeff

    • Joanna Sochan February 28, 2017 at 12:42 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome Jeff, thank you for reading! And for taking the time to comment as well:)

  8. Bynemara August 25, 2017 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Good stuff Joanna! I own a coffee estate and what I would say is that Coffee is good if we take in proper amount. You had mentioned things very clear in this article, cheers!

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