Coffee and Health: The scoop on the bean

Dr. Jenny Wilson

Today is international coffee day. Yes, apparently there’s a day for that. It was launched in Milan by the International Coffee Organisation as part of the expo 2015. Those Italians love their coffee…..

The purpose of International Coffee day, aside from coffee shops hijacking your Instagram feed, is to promote fair trade, and raise awareness for coffee growers.

According to Starbucks, “coffee is the second most traded commodity after oil.” Fact checking reveals this to be an internet myth; nevertheless, with more than 225 billion cups consumed per year, it’s no surprise that caffeine is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world.

A psychoactive substance is, “any substance that alters brain function, and leads to temporary changes in perception, consciousness, or behaviour.” While a cup of Joe is not as mind-altering as LSD or cocaine, caffeine is a stimulant and can be addictive. Unlike LSD and cocaine, coffee is legal, ubiquitous and unregulated.

Is coffee good or bad for our health?

The short answer, like so many things, is balance, and individual differences matter.

On the whole drinking coffee has been found to be correlated with a number of positive health measures. (Yay!)

Coffee is linked to Longer lifespan

A recent study published in JAMA found drinking coffee is associated with a longer life span. The study examined the data from half a million British volunteers. After controlling for factors known to be harmful to health (for example, smoking and alcohol), they found fewer coffee drinkers died early than non-coffee drinkers.

Coffee drinkers were also less likely to die from heart disease and cancer, as well as other diseases.

Results from other published studies corroborate this, and additionally report that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of: Alzheimer’s Disease; Parkinson’s disease; Cirrhosis of the liver, and Type 2 diabetes.

The good news is these findings do not just apply to the coffee aficionados who demand the perfect espresso. The JAMA study found the type of coffee people drank: instant or ground, natural or decaffeinated, made no difference.

The Magic Bean:

One reason for such health benefits may be that coffee beans contain over 1000 bioactive compounds; many having potentially beneficial antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, or anti-cancer effects.

Unfortunately, the complexity of the coffee bean, along with the inherent problems of observational studies, makes it difficult to identify exactly what it is about coffee that reduces the risk of dying early. As always in science, caution should be applied before drawing conclusions between causation and correlation.

To add to the confusion about the health benefits, when coffee is roasted it produces a toxic compound called acrylamide, a potential carcinogen. Mold on coffee can also cause health issues.

Who should avoid coffee?

Pregnant women take note: high coffee consumption during pregnancy is linked to low birth weight and premature birth.

Also, for women, there is an association between coffee consumption and likelihood of suffering a bone fracture.

Anxious people may also experience exacerbated symptoms of anxiety including jitters and palpations.

Coffee and Brain health

Coffee drinkers are less likely to have depression, and 53% less likely to commit suicide than non-coffee drinkers.

In terms of focus and concentration, the caffeine in coffee makes us feel more alert, and has been shown to give short-term memory a boost. However, there is a price: tolerance to caffeine is built quickly, and effects are relatively short-term.

The high also wears off leaving you feeling more fatigued, and irritable. Excess coffee drinking can also affect the sleep cycle and give rise to insomnia.

In conclusion, for most people coffee is more friend than foe, and who knows, accepting an invitation for a coffee might just be good for your health.

For more information on how to gain a sharper mental edge, and master the ‘coffee nap’ contact


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