“Is coffee good for me?”
Emile and I are not coffee drinkers; however, on rare occasions, we will enjoy a cup of coffee (decaf for me) on a lazy weekend afternoon. The fun comes when we bump into a client at a cafe, in which case several things happen: one, they hide their cup of coffee behind their backs; two, they start making some incredible excuses of why they are drinking coffee and how this is just an exception because they actually “never” drink coffee; and three, when they realize that we are also there to drink coffee, they look surprised, as if we were about to commit a health crime.
After all, we are “ambassadors of what’s good for you”, so then, why oh why, are we drinking coffee?
Until recently we have assumed that coffee was bad for our health (hence our clients hiding their cups of coffee), but lately there have been some interesting studies which show us a very different picture: coffee might actually be good for us, and the press have been loving it, from the New York Times to the BBC news.
As with any hype, we like to take a closer look at all the issues involved, building on the basic principle that “nothing is always good for everyone“.
Here are our results:
- A meta-analysis looking at the “long-term consumption of coffee and risk of cardiovascular disease,” recently published by the American Heart foundation, found that those who consumed a moderate amount of coffee (3-5 small cups of black coffee) were at lower risk for heart problems.
- A previous study showed similarly reduced risk related to stroke.
- Australian researchers who looked at 18 studies of 458,000 people confirmed a drop of 7% in the odds of developing type 2 diabetes for every additional cup of coffee consumed in a day. Coffee contains magnesium and chromium, which help the body use insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar in the body.
- The data that has been most constant through the years seems to be about the direct relationship between higher consumption of coffee and decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease, although it is not yet clear how or why.
- Higher consumption of coffee has also been linked to lower risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s (from a study carried out in Finland and Sweden in 2009).
When we read these impressive results, there seems to be little reason not to drink coffee, right?
Well…not for everyone. Coffee does contain caffeine, a powerful stimulant that can have some clearly negative effects on our health:
- There are contradictory results regarding the effects of caffeine and high blood pressure. The medical profession cannot agree on this. Dr. Dean Ornish, one of the most respected cardiovascular specialists in the world, does not promote coffee as beneficial for your health, although he does encourage drinking moderate amounts of green tea.
- People who suffer from kidney problems such as kidney stones and urinary tract infections should stay off coffee, as it has a strong diuretic effect and it can worsen these issues.
- Caffeine is not recommended for those who suffer from gout (a disease in which defective metabolism of uric acid causes severely painful arthritis, often on the big toe).
- Naturally, coffee should also be avoided by people suffering from insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks.
- Coffee contains certain types of acid that make it intolerable for those who have indigestion or heartburn (stomach acid).
- In some individuals, coffee can be a trigger for headaches and migraines.
- It should not be consumed by children, and pregnant women should limit themselves to one or two small cups per day.
Drinking up to 5 small cups of black or nearly black coffee (without sugar or sweetener) per day can be good for you, except in the cases just mentioned. So you don’t have to hide your coffee from your yoga teacher. Just remember: the data above does not include Frappuccinos…The decision is now yours.
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