For many, coffee is more than a beverage - it is a way of life. As we struggle to get out of bed and face the day, the seductive aroma of fresh brewed coffee awakens our senses and encourages us to power forward, anticipating the recharge that comes from that first cup of coffee. A mid-morning or mid-afternoon coffee shop run alerts all of our senses as we inhale a scent more fragrant than the memories of our mother’s kitchen, and then sip our way to nirvana by way of a flavorful triple-shot latte or cappuccino.
You may be surprised to learn that coffee has significant benefits beyond its ability to invigorate our body and spirit, thanks, in part, to antioxidants.
The Benefits of Antioxidants
In addition to fighting heart disease and cancer, antioxidants help to rid the body of free radicals. Oxidants, also known as free radicals, are molecules that have unpaired electrons that can damage cells structures and DNA. Antioxidants, such as those found in coffee, give electrons to free radicals, neutralizing their potential damage. According to independent research, coffee drinking has also been linked with a reduced risk of type two diabetes, colon and liver cancer, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Antioxidants contained in coffee include hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols, among others. Hydrocinnamic acids are highly effective at neutralizing free radicals and preventing oxidative stress, while polyphenols help prevent conditions such as heart disease, cancer and adult onset (type two) diabetes.
Coffee is the Leading Source of Antioxidants in Our Diet
According to Professor Joe Vinson of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania Americans receive more antioxidants from coffee than any other nutrition source, including established sources of antioxidants such as cranberries, apples, or tomatoes. While other foods such as berries may be higher in antioxidants the fact is most people will simply not consume a large amounts of berries daily. However, consuming several cups of coffee per day is far more normal for many. Norwegian and Finnish studies show coffee to be responsible for providing about 64% of people’s intake of antioxidants, with consumption of 2-4 cups of coffee per day. Studies in Spain, Japan, Poland and France also drew the same conclusion – coffee is the largest source of antioxidants in people’s diets.
On the other hand, professor Vinson pointed out, that the study did not prove that coffee was good for you as high levels of antioxidants in food do not necessarily translate into higher levels absorbed by the body. Mr. Vinson
Bear in mind that different foods provide different antioxidants, all healthy and vital in maintaining wellbeing. It is important to have a varied diet that includes other foods rich in antioxidants, in addition to coffee.
Other Health Benefits of Coffee
Much of the western world enjoys 1-2 cups of coffee per day, with the Brits consuming nearly 70 million cups per day, and nearly half of all Americans identify themselves as daily coffee drinkers. Research by the American Cocoa Research Institute indicates that drinking 4-5 cups of coffee per day is not only safe, but it may confer a variety of health benefits. Some benefits include increased alertness and better short-term memory recall, a lowered risk of cirrhosis among heavy alcohol drinkers, postponement of muscle fatigue and alleviation of asthma symptoms, in some cases.
In fairness, there are certain risks associated with extremely excessive caffeine intake, including risk of increased blood pressure among those with high blood pressure, insomnia, worsening of PMS symptoms, and possible heartburn and indigestion.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the effects of coffee on the body and how it has proven to be beneficial.
Good for the Brain
One of the best-known effects of coffee is the increase in alertness that most coffee drinkers experience. The caffeine in coffee suppresses a neurotransmitter in the brain known as adenosine. Adenosine has a profound effect on attention, alertness and sleep. Adenosine builds up in the brain during the day and once it reaches a certain level, people have trouble concentrating and staying awake.
Caffeine prevents adenosine from binding in the brain, so you can avoid that tired, sluggish feeling by consuming caffeine. As adenosine is blocked from doing its job, brain chemicals glutamate and dopamine increase, which improve energy levels, mental performance, and age related mental decline.
Coffee can also help alleviate depression by increasing serotonin. Caffeine also increases by 10% your ability to learn, and can relieve headaches and migraines, thanks to its ability to constrict blood vessels in the brain. Therefore, the takeaway here is that one of the greatest life hacks ever is the simple act of consuming a little coffee.
Good for the Heart
Researchers at Harvard University tracked a group of more than 128,000 coffee drinkers and determined that coffee did not increase the risk of heart disease, even when more than 6 cups a day were consumed.
Scientists at Brooklyn College determined those who drank 4 cups of caffeinated coffee per day had a 53% lower risk of death from heart disease compared to those who do not drink coffee.
Those who were non-hypertensive experienced no ill effects from the temporary blood pressure increase caused by coffee, according to Dr. Matthew Sorrentino, a cardiologist at University of Chicago. Over time, any impact on blood pressure is reduced in those who drink coffee regularly as their bodies develop a tolerance to caffeine. Dr. John Kassotis, a cardiac electrophysiologist at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn suggests that if caffeine makes your heart race of skip beats, you may be highly sensitive to caffeine, but notes these symptoms are considered innocuous unless you’ve recently had a heart attack. Dr. Kassotis recommends checking with your doctor to determine if you should limit your intake of coffee if you are caffeine sensitive.
Good for the Muscles
That annoying adenosine rears its head again when it comes to your workouts, meaning caffeine can have a direct effect on your muscles. Calcium is released within a muscle fiber to allow the muscle to contract. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors from attaching to those muscle fibers, triggering increased electrical activity that allows for bigger bursts of calcium, creating a stronger muscle contraction.
Consuming 140-400 mg of caffeine 30-60 minutes prior to a workout improves both speed and endurance, making your workout seem easier.
Good for the Liver
When your central nervous system is activated, your body releases stress hormones in response, creating a “fight-or-flight” response. This will result in your liver pumping additional sugar into your bloodstream for extra energy. In reality, it’s the last thing most people need now that we’re not being routinely chased by wild animals or engaging in spear fights.
The extra sugar released in the bloodstream, but not burned, leads to you storing more fat, thus increasing your risk for diabetes. Providing you leave out the sugar, five cups of coffee per day can cut your risk of developing diabetes by half, according to a 2005 Harvard University study. Researchers are unable to pinpoint exactly how coffee lowers the risk for diabetes, but are able to establish a clear pattern of effectiveness.
If you’re looking to stay sharper, boost your workout potential, reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, coffee may be as valuable as liquid gold. Whether its neutralizing free radicals, suppressing adenosine, encouraging boosts of calcium in the muscles or working whatever magic it works to reduce the risk of diabetes, coffee has not only earned its way out of the doghouse, it’s worked its way into the science books as a bit of a medical marvel. The next time you’re passing by a coffee house and debating with yourself if you should have that extra cup of coffee, the answer is a resounding yes!