Is Coffee a Health Risk?

Lattes, mochas, Americanos or a strong cup of Joe" coffee is #2 on the list of most-traded commodities in the world, second only to oil. As some of us just can't seem to get by without coffee, it is important to know the facts when it comes to our health.

The Good News
It has been suggested that coffee consumed in moderation may offer a short-term boost in metabolism. Because coffee contains caffeine which is a stimulant, it also helps to promote alertness, concentration and wakefulness.

Other healthy ingredients of coffee are melanoidins and chlorogenic acid antioxidants that can help inhibit oxidative stress, thereby preventing cell damage and slowing the aging process.

Regular consumption of coffee also appears to lower risks for Alzheimer's disease. A recent study with mice showed that daily caffeine (equivalent to five cups of coffee) lowered levels of plaque in the brain which is known to contribute to Alzheimer's.

Several studies have also shown that regular coffee drinkers are less likely to develop Parkinson's disease, and women who are regular consumers of coffee may lower chances for developing type II diabetes. Regular intake of coffee may also provide protection from cirrhosis of the liver, particularly alcoholic cirrhosis.

There is also evidence to suggest that coffee may help to prevent the formation of gallstones in men and women. Because drinking coffee increases the volume of urine in the body, it has also been shown to aid in the prevention of kidney stones.

The Bad News
While coffee beans DO contain healthful antioxidants, ingredients added to many latte and mocha drinks can be very high in calories, so it is important to read labels and menus.

According to the book, Caffeine Blues, author Stephen Cherniske suggests that coffee initiates uncontrolled firing of neurons in the brain, which can trigger the release of adrenalin. Associated with the "fight-or-flight" response, adrenaline can boost energy in the body, putting it on high alert. When this eventually wears off - fatigue, irritability, headache and confusion can set in.

Because coffee can boost acidity in the body, it may also contribute to estrogen dominance in women. This is a condition where the balance of estrogen and progesterone in the body is out of whack. Over-acidity in the female diet appears to increase estrogen levels and lower progesterone. A small study of 500 women conducted by the American Academy of Anti-aging showed that women drinking four to five cups of coffee daily showed levels of estrogen 70 percent higher than women drinking less than one cup of coffee per day.

This imbalance is thought to contribute to a variety of health issues including allergies, breast and cervical cancer, cysts in the breasts and uterus, endometriosis, hair loss and infertility. Heavy coffee consumption of four or more cups per day has also been shown to increase risks for osteoporosis in women particularly those with low intake of calcium.

Other possible negative effects of coffee include increased stiffness of arteries, rapid or irregular heartbeats and a slight increase in risks for sustained hypertension in people with high blood pressure.

While the stimulating effects of caffeine might be welcomed during the day, they are not always helpful in the evening. Limiting the consumption of coffee to mornings usually solves this problem. It is important to note that caffeine IS a drug which can generate dependence. Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include headache and irritability, but this usually fades after a few days.

The Consensus
Upon weighing all of the pros and cons, it becomes clear that "moderation" is the key to coffee consumption. If limited to three cups or less per day, coffee may actually be more beneficial to the health than harmful. The Food and Drug administration placed coffee on the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list in 1958.

Prospective study of coffee consumption and risk of Parkinson's disease. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jul;62(7):908-15. Epub 2007 May 16.
Van Dam RM, Willett WC, Manson JE, Hu FB. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study in younger and middle-aged U.S. women. Diabetes Care. 2006 Feb;29(2):398-403.
Leitzmann MF, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Spiegelman D, Colditz GA, Giovannucci EL. Coffee intake is associated with lower risk of symptomatic gallstone disease in women. Gastroenterology. 2002 Dec;123(6):1823-30.

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