Roughly half of the U.S. population drinks at least two cups of coffee per day (Cynthia Kuhn et al, 62). Whether it affects us or not, coffee is everywhere! Everywhere we look, everywhere that we go, on shops attached to bookstores, and plenty of other places that sell anything. Our parents drink it, our co-workers drink it, our friends drink it, we go on dates with it, and you probably get the picture now. Unlike most things that we put into our bodies however, coffee doesn’t fit neatly into a healthy or unhealthy category. Its effects have been debated and questioned for years. In the past, there was mainly just concern about coffee and what was thought to be its negative health effects (Karen Collins). Now, new studies have shown that coffee is quite misunderstood. It turns out that one of the world’s most profitable commodities has actually plenty of positive affects on the human body and that they outweigh the few negative ones.
Most of us know that it isn’t actually coffee that gets us going in the morning, but the caffeine found naturally in coffee beans. This makes it an excellent beverage to wake up with. Caffeine is usually thought of as the bad guy though. Probably because it is associated with soft drinks and energy drinks, which an intelligent person would tell you, aren’t that great for you. In reality, caffeine in moderation can actually promote good actions within the body. In low doses, around 200 milligrams (about two cups of coffee), it inhibits the binding of a neurotransmitter in the brain. This causes the brain to become stimulated and aroused, which is where we get the caffeine buzz (Kuhn et al 63-64). It may be surprising to hear that although caffeine stimulates the brain, it actually decreases blood flow within the grey and white matter (Kuhn et al, 63). There aren’t any negative health effects though because of this, just the usual morning jolt. It probably would benefit to drink coffee before class or an important exam too. Scientific evidence by the Radiological Society of North America shows that short-term memory and attention is aided after consuming the hot, bitter beverage (Rich Maloof). Add that to the list of reasons to keep drinking coffee!
Caffeine doesn’t just affect the brain though. It is a drug, and it is distributed throughout the whole body. The heart is affected in two different ways by caffeine: it acts on the brain centers that control the heart, and also directly on the heart itself (Kuhn et al, 64-65). Moderate doses in a healthy coffee drinker don’t appear to cause any harmful effects on the heart, but if around 500 milligrams or more is taken the heart can beat faster and irregularly (Kuhn et al, 64). This doesn’t last dangerously long though and the everyday drinker shouldn’t be too worried about their heart beating out of step.
There has long been an inconsistency of whether coffee promotes heart disease and heart problems later in life. One study found that there was no relationship between men who drank around five cups of coffee a day and them having heart disease (Kuhn et al, 64). In these studies though, other health factors weren’t included such as smoking, genetics, and weight or obesity. A different study found the results a little different. Healthy people 65 or over who drank four or more cups of java a day had almost a 53% lower risk for heart disease, compared to folks who had no coffee in their diet (Joyce Hendley). It’s quite surprising that this has been shown because the effects of drinking coffee right away go in the opposite direction, raising heart rate and blood pressure.
So far, so good, and there is more. One thing that is quite interesting is that researchers believe that the caffeine in coffee helps keep headaches at bay because of the constriction of blood vessels within the brain (Kuhn et al, 68). This can explain why there are small amounts of caffeine in over-the-counter pain medication (Kuhn et al, 68). Ergotamine tartrate is a medication that is used to treat migraines and it has also been shown that caffeine increases the effectiveness of its goal (Kuhn et al, 68). It seems that in this modern time, people are taking pills for just about everything. So next time a migraine or headache strikes, put down the pill bottle and fire up the coffee maker.
One of the most surprising findings in some studies is that coffee is where Americans get the most of their antioxidant intake. Antioxidants are found abundantly in fruits and vegetables, as one would expect, but coffee has some that even outweigh some fruits (Coffee a top…). These essential nutrients provide abundant health benefits and are believed to help fight many types of cancer. Liver cancer is the star here. In Japan there was a study with coffee consumers and liver cancer. In people who rarely or never drank coffee, there were 547 cases out of 100,000 (Coffee may…). Not bad, but for people who drank one to two cups of coffee a day there were only 214 cases out of 100,000 (Coffee may…). It seems as if the more you drank, the more likely that liver cancer will stay away too. That should lift everyone’s spirits, because cancer is a very serious issue in our modern society.
Diabetes is on the list too of diseases that coffee fights off. These are some of the most promising studies and findings. Harvard did nine studies with well over 193,000 people. It might not be surprising anymore to find out that the coffee drinkers had quite significantly lower cases of diabetes than the people who kept away from coffee. Again, the more they drank, the less likely diabetes was going to creep into their lives (Hendley). In another Iowa Women’s Health study, for 11 years around 28,000 women were monitored and those who drank four or more cups of coffee daily had a 20% less likely chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Decaf hasn’t really been into play here, however for this study the number jumped to between 30% and 40% for women who got their fix with decaf (Collins). One of the reasons it might help against diabetes is because the antioxidants help lower inflammation, which explains why heart disease risks may be lowered also (Hendley).
A very positive biological response to caffeine happens in the lungs. Caffeine opens up the bronchia in the lungs helping oxygen get in much easier (Maloof). Xanthine is a chemical that is in caffeine that causes this, and is a very effective treatment for asthma (Kuhn et al, 66). Theophylline comes from is another substance and can be used to treat breathing problems in premature infants that suffer from breathing problems. It is even used sometimes today for treating asthma because of its awesome chemical properties (Kuhn et al, 66).
For all the good things that have been stated already about coffee and caffeine, there still are some drawbacks. Caffeine hasn’t really been proven to be addictive, but it is habit forming, and has very real withdrawal symptoms (Collins). Mild symptoms are typical like a headache, the jitters, and even drowsiness (Collins). If you rely on coffee everyday, you could possibly have more serious issues such as vomiting, blurred-vision, and even a very low case of depression (Collins). Coffee also raises normal stress levels because it releases more adrenaline than is normally present in the body (Kuhn et al, 66). So if someone were under stressful conditions a lot, it probably would be best not to drink to much coffee, if any at all. Cholesterol is one of the main negative affects also. If coffee is drank unfiltered, then the much more likely your cholesterol is to rise (Collins). That isn’t much of a case though for much Americans because we mainly use filter paper for our brewing method. If you’re adding cream and sugar, there’s also a better chance that bad cholesterol will affect you that much more, even if you use filter papers.
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world. It’s kind of relieving to see that of all the misunderstanding of it, it actually is quite good for us. None of us should substitute coffee for other normal everyday healthy eats though such as fruits and vegetables though. So it turns out that coffee can enrich our everyday lives not only by waking us up, but helping us battle disease, cancer, asthma, and a loot of other nasty things. We must not forget though that caffeine is a drug and it can have some mild to rotten side effects. So it seems that there is no reason to not keep our mugs full, and let us drink up to java!
“Coffee a top source of healthy antioxidants – Fitness – msnbc.com.” msnbc. 12 Sep 2005. Web. 28 Feb 2010.
Collins, Karen. “A cup of confusion: Is coffee healthy or not? – Diet and nutrition – msnbc.com.” msnbc. 17 Jan 2007. Web. 22 Feb 2010.
Kuhn, Cynthia, Scott Swartzwelder, and Wilson Wilkie. Buzzed: The straight facts about the most used and abused drugs from alcohol to ecstasy. 2nd. New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2003. Print.
Maloof, Rich. “Coffee and Caffeine – MSN Health and Fitness.” MSN. 2010. Web. 22 Feb 2010.
Hendley, Joyce. “Good News About Coffee | Eating Well.” EatingWell. 2009. Web. 23 Feb 2010.
“Coffee may help protect against liver cancer – Cancer – msnbc.” msnbc. 16 Feb 2005. Associated Press, Web. 1 Mar 2010.