Whether it is finals, packing the kids up for camp or trying to stay awake after another late-ending June wedding, there are many reasons this month why one may turn to coffee. After downing three or four cups, one may be thinking, “This really can’t be good for me!” However, you may be surprised to find out the many health benefits in your cup of Joe.
Coffee has long been thought of as a controversial drink. Its caffeine may temporarily increase heart rate and blood pressure, and in excess can cause restlessness and irritability. However, coffee also contains numerous compounds and antioxidants, which is why it is the focus of much research. In a large observational study published last May, researchers from the National Institutes of Health analyzed diet and health questionnaires filled out by members of AARP between 1995 and 1996. The 400,000 individuals who responded were followed until 2008. The researchers found that individuals who consume coffee regularly are also more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, consume more red meat and less fruits and vegetables than individuals who don’t consume coffee regularly.
However, once the above risks were controlled for, the data showed that individuals drinking approximately two to six cups of coffee a day were less likely to die prematurely from diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke and infections. In fact, over the 14- year study period, the risk of dying was approximately 10 percent lower for men and 15 percent lower for women. These results were seen with both caffeine free and caffeinated coffee. The study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is significant as it seems to indicate that one need not worry that drinking coffee is hazardous to one’s health.
This is not the first study to sing the praises of coffee. In recent years, research has shown that coffee may protect against type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver cirrhosis and Parkinson’s disease. Research has also shown that those who drink a moderate amount of coffee a day are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later in life. However, coffee, at least in large amounts, is not for everyone. While pregnant women do not need to eliminate their daily cup, it is advisable to limit their caffeine consumption to approximately 200-300 mg a day. Women who drink large amounts of coffee when pregnant may increase their risk for miscarriage, stillbirths, and babies who are small for gestational age. Coffee may also damage the lining of the GI tract and individuals who suffer from gastritis or peptic ulcers are advised to steer clear. And while individuals who start drinking caffeinated beverages will see a rise in blood pressure, research has shown that after the body becomes accustomed to caffeine, the rise in blood pressure is less pronounced. Overall, drinking caffeinated coffee does not seem to be a major risk factor for hypertension.
When discussing coffee consumption, researchers warn the public to keep in mind that a “cup” of coffee is an 8 ounce cup with approximately 100 mg of caffeine and not a 16 ounce cup that one may purchase at 7-11 or Starbucks. Another thing to keep in mind is that the research is discussing coffee with minimal milk and/or sugar. A frappuccino with its 450 calories did not make the cut.
So if it is 3 a.m.and chemistry is making no sense, go for another cup of coffee.
By Shoshana Genack