Is Coffee Good For Us?
Coffee is the most widely-consumed stimulant in the world. Coffee was, and largely still is, viewed as a tonic with revitalizing properties for the sick and the weary. However, coffee is not a health drink. It is clearly addictive and there are many better sources of phytonutrients. But what effects is the coffee fix having on our health?
In fact, the effects of coffee are mixed, probably because coffee is a complex mixture of different compounds from the bean as well as generated or excluded in the processes of fermentation, roasting and preparation. Some of these may be beneficial for human health, like vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. Others, like acrylamide and diterpene are noxious chemicals. Coffee beans grown using sustainable organic practices and in the absence of synthetic pesticides herbicides and fertilizers also have number of positives for the coffee drinker.
The most well known component is caffeine, the main stimulant in coffee. It acts by blocking receptors in the brain whose job it is to dull brain activity. So by preventing dulling, it stimulates. This may seem useful on Monday mornings or when we’d rather be in bed. But it also increases our blood pressure and metabolism, stiffens our arteries and acts as a diuretic, making us pee more. If we drink caffeine regularly, even as little as a cup a day, we can suffer withdrawal symptoms if we stop. The more coffee we drink, the more likely we will experience the need for a cup! Some of the feeling we get from our morning ‘fix’ of coffee is relief of this withdrawal.
How Does Coffee Impact Our Health?
Overall, a regular moderate intake of coffee (2-3 cups a day) does not appear to be harmful to health. A regular coffee may slightly reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, hip fracture and liver disease. For heart disease and diabetes, at least, this is not the caffeine, as the same benefits are also seen in those who drink decaffeinated coffee, especially when prepared in the absence of chemical solvents (e.g. the Swiss Water method). It could be that there is something about coffee drinkers that protects them (e.g. they have less stress in the mornings, the social ritual, or even the stress of daily withdrawal).