Our love affair with coffee seems to deepen every year, as can be attested by how much the average American spends on java — about $1,000 a year! Yet drinking coffee on a daily basis is still a bit controversial. Studies dating back to 1981 initially found links between coffee and pancreatic cancer and cardiovascular disease. But newer research has brewed up a fresh pot of evidence that contradicts these early negative findings and, in fact, shows that coffee has a number of health benefits.
Coffee is a Brain-Booster
Wake up and smell the coffee: Your morning cup has been shown to improve alertness and boost concentration. A Japanese study examining rats that had been deprived of sleep for a day showed deficits in genes important to brain function. When the rats were exposed merely to the aroma of coffee, nine genes were restored to near normal levels and two were pushed above normal, suggesting that just smelling coffee brewing may have positive effects in sleep-deprived humans.
Consuming caffeinated coffee has also been shown to improve memory and the ability to perform complex tasks in individuals who lacked adequate sleep. Those who consumed just one cup reported an improved sense of energy, alertness, sociability, and sense of well-being. So what are you waiting for? Check out our lists of the best coffeehouses in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco!
Coffee Reduces Risk of Certain Diseases
Caffeine has long been demonized as a stimulant that can provoke restlessness, anxiety, elevated blood pressure and insomnia, but in moderate amounts, it actually demonstrates protective health benefits. Those who regularly drink caffeinated coffee are 80 percent less likely to develop Parkinson's disease. Caffeine is thought to slow the degeneration of dopamine-producing cells implicated in Parkinson's, since caffeinated coffee also appears to cut the risk of Type 2 diabetes. A Harvard study found that men who drank six or more cups daily lowered their risk by 54 percent, while women who drank the same amount lowered theirs by 30 percent (the gender difference is attributed to the fact that caffeine and estrogen need the same enzymes to be metabolized).
Caffeine is the Kicker
Decaffeinated coffee also reduced diabetes risk, but only by half compared to caffeinated coffee. Caffeine accounts for coffee's benefits in controlling asthma and alleviating headaches as well. In prolonged or irregular exercise, caffeine improves performance and endurance while protecting against post-exercise muscle pain. Researchers at Rutgers University have found that caffeine can act as a "sunscreen" in mice; epidemiology studies suggest that caffeinated coffee drinkers have a lower risk of skin cancer.
Coffee is Rich in Antioxidants
Yet caffeine isn't the only substance in coffee with health advantages. Coffee is extremely rich in antioxidants, more so than even antioxidant powerhouses such as green tea and red wine. One such antioxidant formed in coffee's roasting process boosts blood enzymes widely believed to protect against colon cancer. Drinking two cups of coffee daily is, in turn, associated with a 25 percent reduced risk of colon cancer. Coffee's antioxidant compounds may also have heart protective effects; the Iowa Women's Health Study found that women who drank one to three cups of coffee daily cut their risk of cardiovascular disease by 24 percent.
Antioxidants fight free radical damage, which may explain why people who smoke and are heavy drinkers are less likely to suffer from heart disease and liver damage when they regularly consume large amounts of coffee. Consuming two cups daily is linked with an 80 percent drop in the likelihood of developing liver cirrhosis. Coffee drinkers are 50 percent less likely to develop liver cancer than non-drinkers.
Can't Beat the Taste
Of course, none of these benefits would be as appealing were it not for the pleasures of coffee's distinctive taste. Its rich, bitter flavor comes courtesy of a compound called trigonelline. Italian researchers have identified it as an antibacterial with anti-adhesive properties, which accounts for coffee's ability to help prevent cavities — that is, if you don't load up on coffee concoctions loaded with sweeteners. Brewed coffee has undoubtedly been burnished with new respect in the medical world, but, unfortunately, that doesn't mean a mocha frappucino has been elevated to the status as healthy.