January 30, 2014

Coffee: Is it Good for You or Bad for You?

cartoon: natalie dee

By Research Nancy

This post is by blog contributor "Research Nancy," with very minimal editorial interference from Crabby.

Research Nancy is too humble to say anything more about herself other than: "I love researching things. I am passionate about fitness and health and love learning about new ways to achieve both."

Since I (Crabby) am someone who downs quite a bit of coffee, I asked Research Nancy to round up some studies on whether this habit will kill me or make me superhuman. Not that I plan to do anything differently if it's the former. 

Anyway, here's her report. Welcome, Research Nancy!


Health Risks and Benefits of Coffee

What is there to know, you may ask, other than “I want it, I need it, it gets me going, causes peristalsis, and I like it!”

Well lots. The Oatmeal can tell you where it comes from and how it gets you going.  But is it good for you?

There have been many studies on coffee consumption. These studies have yielded mixed results from ‘you’re gonna’ die’ to it may prevent some diseases. And you might say, well I am going to die, but I don’t think coffee is going to do it. And you would likely be correct.

Does coffee have antioxidants? Can I avoid kale and brussel sprouts?

Coffee is a great source of antioxidants. In fact a study by the University of Scranton (PA), says Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Both caffeinated and decaf versions appear to provide similar antioxidant levels of antioxidants. I’m not sure that is the best source of antioxidant and not everyone seems to be eating their kale but coffee is the most consumed source of antioxidants. I wouldn’t give up on colorful vegetables just yet however!

Antioxidants in general have been linked to a number of potential health benefits, including protection against heart disease and cancer. This study analyzed the antioxidant content of more than 100 different food items. Coffee was the top source of based on the both antioxidants per serving size and frequency of consumption.

Can coffee prevent chronic disease? Or does it CAUSE chronic disease?

A research round-up of coffee risks and benefits over at The Linus Pauling Institute found “coffee consumption may help prevent several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, Parkinson's disease and liver disease (cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma).” They also noted there is no conclusive evidence of increased cardiovascular disease risk even though it is associated with increase in blood pressure and blood sugar.  But then other studies (below) point to cardiovascular risks in certain populations.

So then can coffee help me live longer?

In a study on coffee and longevity by the National Cancer Institute and AARP, researchers found that in coffee drinkers ages 50-71, the more coffee consumed, the more a person's death risk declined.

OK so more must be better?

...But then it starts to get confusing.

Does your age affect the risks from heavy coffee drinking?

A study on coffee and mortality in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that men younger than 55 who drank more than 28 cups of coffee a week (four cups a day) were 56% more likely to have died from any cause. Women in that age range had a twofold greater risk of dying than other women. The study looked at 43,727 men and women ages 20-87 from 1971 to 2002. The reasons for the higher death risk among younger adults are not clear. The study did not take into account other important factors such as diet, marital status and other socioeconomic factors.

But if you are older than 55? The study did not find a higher death risk for adults 55 and older. However the research may not include unhealthy older people because they might have already died.

On the other hand: another study from Harvard followed 130,000 men and women for 18-24 years. They are now in their 40s and 50s. The summary of the study was that drinking up to 6 cups of coffee was not associated with increased risk of death from any cause, or death from cancer or cardiovascular disease.

And yes, these studies do seem to totally contradict each other.

How about the Mayo Clinic? What do they advise?

Filter your coffee to keep from elevating your cholesterol. They also point out that 2 or more cups a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a fairly common genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body. This means that the speed at which you metabolize coffee may affect your health risk.

The Mayo clinic also warns that if you use cream and sugar, you add fat and calories. And heavy caffeine use (4-7 cups a day) may cause problems such as restlessness, anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness, particularly in susceptible individuals.

Ok, so what does this all mean?

Well, there are very mixed results from all these coffee studies and they don’t take into account the physical or mental health of those in the study, nor does it take into account if they are happily married, drive too fast …. Well you get the gist.

Here is the summary. My practical guide to coffee:

  • Coffee may have potential health benefits and may help prevent some chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, Parkinson's disease and liver disease but more research needs to be done.
  • Coffee is a major source of antioxidants for many Americans.
  • Caffeine is a stimulant with potential adverse effects. However it seems safe to drink up to 3 cups (6-8 ounces per cup) of coffee a day
  • Pregnant women and people that need to control their blood pressure or blood sugar  may still want to consider avoiding coffee or switching to decaf (the antioxidant benefit is the same)
  • Brew coffee with a paper filter, to remove a substance that causes increases in LDL cholesterol.
  •  So what is the conclusion? How about drink a cup or two a day. Try decaf and all things in moderation…

Do you drink coffee? What's your take on whether it's good or bad for you?


  1. Amen to that....moderation is the key! Anything used the extreme can't be good...

    1. A very sensible attitude Kathy! (Though "coffee" and "moderation" rarely go together for me!)

  2. Interesting, I was just looking into this recently! That statement "Coffee is a major source of antioxidants for many Americans," is very unfortunate! At one point, I was drinking several cups a day. I can tell you that ER coffee wakes you up like no other in the world, lol! I think they clean the coffee maker once a month!

    One day I realized I was drinking it out of boredom and cut back to two then one cup a day, in the morning. When I had a period of high blood several months ago (it's a long story) I just stopped drinking it with no withdrawal effects. Amazing how we can do things when needed! Now that I am normotensive again I drink a quarter of a cup, straight black instant coffee in the AM before exercising. Bottom line. I have a feeling that we would be better off not drinking much.

  3. I don't drink coffee but not for any health reasons - I just don't like it!
    Interesting points though!!! I will have to pass this on to my husband who does drink coffee.

  4. I drink about 2 cups of coffee a day before noon generally although I often drink green tea instead. If I have any coffee after noon I find it can effect my sleep, but then almost anything can keep me from sleeping. If I drink more than 4 cups I get hyper and can't sit still. Too me it is a great drug if you have to stay awake and alert if possibly not fun to be around. I forget to drink coffee on the weekend and that always gives me a headache. I take from that that I am sensitive to it.

  5. Hmmm... I suspect the study that shows an increased risk of death may just be picking up a correlation between heavy caffeine use and other risk factors such as sleep deprivation, stress, overwork and maybe even smoking / heavy alcohol use. Puzzling why the risk disappears after 55, unless (as you hint) the susceptible ones have all died before reaching that point?

    I recently challenged myself to give up caffeine - ALL caffeine, including tea, coke and any medicines containing caffeine - for a month. I had to taper down from a minimum of six large cups a day to nothing, which took a couple of months, but once I was off the stuff I actually stayed off for more like six weeks. Interestingly, I actually found it easier to get out of bed in the mornings; makes me think that morning "Urgh, I need a coffee" feeling is more down to caffeine withdrawal than sleep inertia!

    I'm back to drinking two or three cups in the morning now, but I think the month-without-caffeine may become an annual event, if only to reset my caffeine tolerance and get the stuff to actually DO something again!

  6. Okay - here is a totally UNscientific study - of my MOM!! she will be 90 in a few... in good health (shouldn't have smoked all those years ago :))- she drinks black coffee all day long. It is her beverage of choice. Don't think it's killing her - don't know if it's helping her.... but no one else in her family has lived this long. However... I've been attributing her longevity to her attitude - not ready to cash it in. think Attitude and Genes have a lot to do with her Health!!

  7. I just read about the LDL cholesterol thing not that long ago, and it bummed me out. I love iced coffee from Starbucks, but it is EXPENSIVE. Behold Pinterest, with its DIY ways to make iced coffee, and I found a good (but kind of a pain) method that involved just soaking water and coffee grounds overnight and then filtering it through cheesecloth. Okay, now that I think of it, it was a messy process and I actually only did it once. ANYWAY, I have genetically bad cholesterol numbers that I am only BARELY keeping in check with healthy lifestyle, so I'd been looking for ways to keep cholesterol down, not ways to help spike it up.

    I have about 2 cups of coffee almost every morning. I don't know why I ever really took up the habit, but here we are.

  8. I gave up caffeine 7 years ago because I was tired of the energy roller-coaster I was riding every day. After a week of withdrawal symptoms, I was just fine. I don't get that extra pick-me-up in the morning, but my energy levels are pretty even throughout the day.

    However, I do LOVE coffee, so I've been drinking decaf ever since. I admit I get funny looks at Starbucks sometimes when I ask for extra shots of decaf in my Americano - like, if you're not drinking it for the buzz, why bother?? Now I can tell them I'm just stockpiling antioxidants :-)

  9. my take is that too many studies really are bad for our health. And wallets.

  10. Interesting to hear all these different personal experiences!

    I am a junkie, though I drink half regular/half decaf on the theory I get that many more cups that way. It totally works for me--makes me happy, more motivated, and weirdly enough does not interfere with my sleep!

    Not that I don't suffer some menopausal insomnia, but I discovered it was way WORSE when I cut out cofffee. I think maybe it's because if I get buzzed most of the day, my "crash" comes right around bedtime, which is mighty convenient.

  11. A cup a day, and mama doesn't get a headache or get out of temper. It is to be consumed as black as the swamp mud and hot as the bayou, and no sweetener. Chicory can be a nice touch once in a while.

    1. Chicory is a necessary ingredient! I quit drinking white coffee forty years ago, but when I run out of chicory, things aren't Right!

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

  12. Four cups of coffee a day counts as "heavy"? Wow. I drink between three and four every morning. I used to be able to drink it up to bedtime without interference with my sleep, but nowadays I don't have that much sleep to interfere with, and I've cut back.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

    1. Me too Mary Anne. Two to three in the morning and quite often I have one French roast in the mid afternoon. I guess if that is heavy coffee drinking we'll both go to h - e - double toothpicks together, eh? :)

    2. But our arteries will be happy with all those antioxidants.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

  13. I drink coffee. I use powdered creamer in it. I don't care if either is good or bad for me. It is my one indulgence that I will NOT feel guilty having. I have tried not having coffee. I have tried not having creamer. I have tried creamer that is real cream and not chemical cream. I have tried every tea that said it was better than coffee. In my case, I like my morning coffee with powdered creamer and I am going to drink it dammit!
    Gee…I almost sound CRABBY! hahahahahahaha

    1. The tea is lying if it says it's better than coffee. (Or very very confused. It should be trying to be the best tea possible, not to beat coffee.) (I hate tea, but I'm not prejudiced against it.)

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

    2. I'm so with you guys. Any tea that says it's better than coffee is TOTALLY lying.

  14. I usually drink tea (decaf), and occasionally enjoy a decaf coffee. Caffeine and I don't get along.

  15. I drink coffee everyday. I don't think there is any conclusive evidence that shows if its either bad or good for you. I know that it gives me energy to start my day off strong so I drink it! Life is way too short to worry about whether coffee is good or not when there is not any conclusive evidence either way.

  16. I just started drinking coffee a few months ago, so yay, more antioxidants for me! Until they find a way to make kale and brussels sprouts not taste utterly disgusting, I'll stick with the coffee. One big mug every morning with sugar-free chocolate powdered creamer and a little half and half makes me a happy camper. Before that, I just got my caffeine from iced tea or soda. Mmmmm, soda.

    Hope you're feeling better, Crabby! :-)

  17. I don't like anything bitter, so have never gotten into coffee or tea. (Yes, tea is very bitter, no matter how you make it, if you happen to have a few extra bitter taste buds like I do.) But sadly, not surprisingly, I do love coffee ice cream. And since I don't have any other sources of caffeine in my life, I can't eat it after about 2 in the afternoon or it keeps me awake!

  18. Honest - I hear & read all this stuff on coffee but I am still going to drink it! :)

  19. Good or bad I love the smell and taste of coffee. Lately I've developed some sort of intolerance for it, getting bad headaches so I just don't drink it anymore. And I don't really miss it either.

  20. I have been using coffee with a teaspoon of Xylitol. I like it sweet. Since Xylitol is low in glycemic impact and it is good for your teeth. this combination could be considered healthy. Start Xylitol slowly at first as some do have a laxative response to it at first.


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