Coffee in the Spotlight
Coffee has suffered from a spotty reputation over the years. So what’s the scoop: Is it good for you, or bad? To this day, rumors persist that drinking coffee may somehow be bad for you. Relax. Coffee won’t stunt your growth, or dehydrate you, or whatever other bad things you may have heard over the years. In fact, it’s not only NOT bad for you, it can actually be quite beneficial.
Some people who like drinking coffee, but fear it’s supposed adverse effects, make the switch to decaffeinated. But the dangers of caffeine in coffee are largely overblown. In fact, caffeine in coffee may actually account for its benefits, in some instances. That’s not to say that decaf doesn’t have some benefits, too. Many of coffee’s beneficial properties derive from it’s complex blend of natural antioxidant compounds. And those are present in both decaf and regular brews.
For example, recent research shows that drinking caffeinated coffee is linked to a significantly lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It’s also linked to a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Men over 40 who are at risk for the painful joint condition, gout, may reduce their risk by drinking coffee. Coffee drinking has also been linked to protection against liver disease and liver cancer.
In addition to caffeine—which boosts reaction times and improves short-term memory—(especially among the elderly) coffee features a complex stew of potent antioxidant chemicals. Some of these probably account for coffee’s health benefits. One caveat: pregnant women really should cut back. A Danish study concluded that drinking up to eight cups daily increases the risk of stillbirth. And there’s no getting around the fact that coffee stains the teeth. Of course, devotees would argue that dingy teeth are a small price to pay for java heaven.
Caffeine is stimulating, so first-time drinkers may experience a disconcerting buzz that feels a lot like nervous energy. That’s why it’s a bad idea to give strong coffee to children or teens. But most drinkers quickly become accustomed to the effects, and actually enjoy the sense of heightened attention and energy it provides.
Caffeine can stimulate the kidneys, too, so many people persist in believing that coffee is dehydrating. Not so. The kidneys quickly adapt to the effects, and respond accordingly. In fact, the water in coffee contributes perfectly well to your daily need for hydration.
So there you have it. Coffee or tea? Decaf or caffeinated? Black or white? You decide. They’re all beneficial, on balance. Green tea provides more of the highly beneficial compound, EGCG, but black tea has some benefits, too. Likewise, regular coffee may be best for older folks hoping to avoid Alzheimer’s disease. The choice is yours. I’d love to hear from you. Let me know if this has changed your attitudes towards these popular drinks. Cheers!
Eskelinen MH, Ngandu T, et al. Midlife healthy-diet index and late-life dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Dement Geriatr Cogn Dis Extra. 2011 Jan;1(1):103-12. doi: 10.1159/000327518. Epub 2011 Apr 27.