Coffee: A Healthy Addiction?

With more research being published on the health benefits of coffee, many believe that their addiction is justified.  After all, with each sip their risk of disease fades away, right?  Let’s look at the benefits (and risks) of coffee and caffeine.


Coffee: A Healthy Addiction? – Podcast Transcript

Hi and welcome to Nutritionally Speaking.  I’m your host Michaela Ballmann.  On today’s episode, we’re going to be discussing the ever-popular coffee and its possible health benefits.

Coffee is prepared from coffee beans, which are the roasted seeds of the coffee plant.  As of 2009, the largest producer of coffee is Brazil followed by Vietnam, Colombia, and Indonesia.  Due more to its caffeine content than its taste, coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world.  Some like to have a cup with their breakfast; others require it to wake up; and others still consume cups and cups throughout the day.  So, is your coffee addiction good?


 The Caffeine Factor

Let’s start with the caffeine factor.  The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee first depends on what you call a cup.  Some use a mega-mug for their coffee (which probably starts at around 11 ounces and goes on up), some use a traditional tea cup which hold 6 ounces.  The amount of caffeine also depends on the type of coffee.  8 oz (which is an exact cup) of brewed coffee can range from about 100-200 mg of caffeine.  Compare this to tea.  Other than herbal tea and other caffeine-free teas, the caffeine content can range from about 20-100mg per 8 oz.  Sodas hover around 30-50mg per 12 ounce soda can.  As you can see, coffee has much more caffeine than other common beverages.

So what does caffeine do?  Caffeine falls under the category of central nervous system stimulants.  That is why people feel more alert and awake after having a cup of joe.

Above 4 cups a day, though, and some unpleasant side effects kick in.  These include anxiety, headaches, restlessness, insomnia, and a fast or irregular heartbeat, among others.  What’s worse is when people get into a cycle of losing sleep, using caffeine to stay awake, and then getting further sleep disturbances and disruptions of the deep REM sleep.


Caffeine can also increase your blood pressure

Caffeine can also increase your blood pressure (both the systolic and the diastolic), through several purported mechanisms. This varies according to how each person’s body handles it, the level of tolerance built up, and how sensitive the person is to the effects of caffeine.  If you have a blood pressure monitor, go ahead and check your blood pressure before you drink your coffee and then shortly after you finish a cup.  This can help determine whether you need to keep your caffeine intake below 200mg to prevent a rise in blood pressure.

Now to the effects of coffee.  Note that there are two main ways of brewing coffee—with or without a filter OR basically using a coffee machine with a paper filter or a French press.  The French press and others that do not use paper filters do NOT remove the diterpenes which have been associated with slightly higher LDL cholesterol levels and therefore the use of paper filters is recommended.  Depending on how and how fast your body metabolizes coffee, there also may be an increased risk for heart disease, though the risk is not as high as we once thought.


Good aspects to coffee

There are some good aspects to coffee, though.  Coffee is a major source of anti-oxidants and research is showing that it reduces the risk of Parkinson’s, colon cancer, gallstones, liver cirrhosis, and even type 2 diabetes!  Interestingly, though some of this protective effect is inherent in the coffee itself, some of it is due to the caffeine!

We don’t yet know the exact mechanisms for why all this occurs so more research is sure to come on this topic.

So, what can we take from today’s episode?  We know that coffee is a major source of anti-oxidants and is protective against several diseases.  We also know that coffee contains caffeine, which at lower doses can have some benefit, but at large doses can cause gastrointestinal problems, anxiety and other issues.  Harvard, Mayo Clinic and others recommend that coffee drinkers drink in moderation.  That usually means less than 4-6 cups a day.  This is enough to provide health benefits but not too much to cause all the negative effects we mentioned earlier.  Of course, you should listen to your body as we each react differently.  Some studies show that decaffeinated coffee can have some of the benefits since not all is derived from the caffeine, so you can mix decaf into your regular cup of joe or swap decaf for regular every other cup to reduce your daily caffeine content.  As always, consider what coffee is replacing in your diet.  Are you drinking enough water?  Do you drink enough milk or fortified milk-substitute to get enough calcium and other vitamins and minerals?  Coffee can be a healthy beverage if taken in moderation.

Hope that gives you some direction on this issue.  Enjoy your coffee!  If you have any comments or questions feel free to go my website or email me.

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