The Health Benefits of Coffee and Caffeine
By Elliot Fisher MS, ATC, CSCS, PES
Coffee and caffeine are widely consumed substances. People drink coffee for more energy, motivation, and taste. Some people believe that there are many health risks to drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages (like energy drinks for example). In reality, there are a lot of health benefits to coffee and caffeine with very few negatives.
Antioxidants are substances that inhibit oxidative reactions and protects cells and tissues from damage.1 Antioxidants are associated with decreased risk of chronic diseases including high blood pressure, as well as heart disease and risk of strokes. Coffee has been shown to be a good source of antioxidants.2 By drinking coffee on a regular basis you are getting some health promoting antioxidants in your diet consistently.
The liver is a very important organ in the body. It helps breakdown toxins and stores glycogen.3 There is evidence that coffee and caffeine consumption lowers the rate of liver cirrhosis, as well as decreasing risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).4 There is also an inverse correlation between coffee/caffeine consumption of fatty liver.4 It has been hypothesized that this benefit of caffeine is caused by downregulating the underlying mechanisms that cause liver cirrhosis, specifically, transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGFB-1). Additionally, the antioxidants as previously mentioned have a positive impact on the livers health and maintenance.
As people get older, the brain can develop different conditions. One condition is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is characterized by dementia, where the memory begins to fade slightly, confusion begins, there is poor judgement, and agitation.5 Caffeine consumption has been shown to protect against memory impairment. This is done through caffeine decreasing the level of amyloid-b, which is the hypothesized mechanism of Alzheimer’s disease.6
Diabetes is a condition where the body is unable to produce or use insulin efficiently. There is some evidence that suggests caffeine consumption decreases insulin sensitivity (which would increase the risk of diabetes).7 However, in a study by Dam et al. there was a lower risk of diabetes in coffee drinkers.7 There is newer research coming out showing an increase in insulin sensitivity which would explain a decrease in diabetes, however this research is mixed currently.8
Cardiovascular disease the number one cause of death in America. Regular consumption of coffee can decrease the risk of heart disease.9 This is due to many different mechanisms. As previously mentioned, coffee can decrease the risk of diabetes, which can decrease the risk of heart disease. Also, the increased antioxidant consumption can be protective of the heart.
Negatives of caffeine
Caffeine consumption can induce anxiety in some people. If taken before bed it can disrupt sleep and cause insomnia. Also, if coffee is consumed with a lot of added sugar or cream it can add a lot of calories into a diet. This is a negative if an individual has trouble controlling their calories. Finally, if consumed in large quantities, caffeine can be overdosed leading to hospitalization or even death. If you find that caffeine gives you trouble in any of these areas, you should limit or discontinue its use.
Dunford, M., & Doyle, J. A. (2011). Nutrition for sport and exercise. Cengage Learning.
Brezová, V., Šlebodová, A., & Staško, A. (2009). Coffee as a source of antioxidants: An EPR study. Food Chemistry, 114(3), 859-868.
PubMed Health. (2018). How does the liver work?. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072577/ [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].
Saab, S., Mallam, D., Cox, G. A., & Tong, M. J. (2014). Impact of coffee on liver diseases: a systematic review. Liver international, 34(4), 495-504.
Bird, T. D. (2015). Alzheimer disease overview.
Arendash, G. W., & Cao, C. (2010). Caffeine and coffee as therapeutics against Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 20(S1), 117-126.
Ärnlöv, J., Vessby, B., & Risérus, U. (2004). Coffee consumption and insulin sensitivity. Jama, 291(10), 1199-1201.
Loopstra-Masters, R. C., Liese, A. D., Haffner, S. M., Wagenknecht, L. E., & Hanley, A. J. (2011). Associations between the intake of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee and measures of insulin sensitivity and beta cell function. Diabetologia, 54(2), 320-328.
O’Keefe, J. H., Bhatti, S. K., Patil, H. R., DiNicolantonio, J. J., Lucan, S. C., & Lavie, C. J. (2013). Effects of habitual coffee consumption on cardiometabolic disease, cardiovascular health, and all-cause mortality. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 62(12), 1043-1051.