People love coffee. According to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 54% of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every day, and the U.S. spends over $40 billion on coffee annually. Coffee is the second-most traded commodity on the world market, outpacing natural gas, gold, wheat, cotton, sugar (respectively)…and is second only to crude oil. For a beverage so widely consumed, it is important to understand the effects coffee may have on your health.

Let’s begin with possible detrimental effects. Those who drink coffee religiously may be familiar with the infamous withdrawal side effects, like pounding headaches or fatigue. Enter the world’s most prominent psychoactive drug and coffee’s most famous compound: caffeine. Caffeine is legal and unregulated around the globe. It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Finally, it is a stimulant, reversibly blocking the action of adenosine, which prevents the onset of drowsiness. 

The daily recommended limit for caffeine consumption is 300mg, which roughly translates to three 8oz cups of coffee. Consistently exceeding this daily limit may contribute to longer-term health troubles. A meta-analysis conducted by AARP found that these troubles may include increased anxiety, increased blood pressure, disruption of sleep patterns or insomnia, or irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. Further research is being conducted into possible connections with osteoporosis in postmenopausal women as well as coronary health. To reiterate, evidence suggests that coffee’s detrimental effects may occur when abused, and are attributed to caffeine. (Note: coffee is only one common consumable containing caffeine!)

Despite any detrimental effects from overindulging, moderate consumption of coffee is shown to have certain benefits. To begin, research from the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests coffee helps in proper cognitive functionality. Specifically, coffee may be associated with a reduction in the incidence of diabetes, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other neurological disorders (2013, 2011). Coffee consumption “ameliorates oxidative stress because of its ability to induce mRNA and protein expression.” Three centuries ago Europeans went from drinking beer to sipping coffee, and so the coffee house became the center of innovation during the Age of Enlightenment.

Although research is continually ongoing, studies from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, and the National Cancer Institute suggest that caffeinated coffee reduces the risks of certain types of cancer, including brain, breast, colon, endometrial, liver, lung, oral, prostate, skin, and uterine cancers. The coffee-cancer research is not definitive, but if there is any lean on the research-to-date, it is positive.

The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published a 2012 study of over 400,000 coffee-drinking Americans, suggesting that “coffee consumption is inversely associated with total and cause-specific mortality.” Although the study does not argue for a causal relationship, it does show that people who drink coffee live longer lives.

Harvard’s School of Public Health professor Walter Willet M.D. exclaims, “Coffee is an amazingly potent collection of biologically active compounds.” True… quality coffee is also amazingly fun and tasty! In drinking the world’s favorite beverage, pace yourself and enjoy!