The Bottom Line on Drinking Coffee – Is it Healthy or Not?

January 28th, 2012

Literally dozens of scientific papers studying the pros and cons of both coffee and caffeine have been published over the last decade. Some are positive and some are negative. Therefore, it is understandable that many coffee drinkers are confused about the safety of their coffee consumption.

This article will address the pros and cons of caffeinated coffee. Coffee has other compounds, (i.e. antioxidants like chlorogenic acid and melanoidins) besides caffeine that may contribute to its effects.

 

Pros:

• Significant amounts of antioxidants as much as some fruits

• May reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. van Dam RM, Willett WC, Manson JE, Hu FB. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study in younger and middle-aged U.S. women. Diabetes Care. 2006 Feb;29(2):398-403. PubMed

• May reduce risk of Parkinsons’s Disease: Saaksjarvi K, Knekt P, Rissanen H, Laaksonen MA, Reunanen A, Mannisto S. Prospective study of coffee consumption and risk of Parkinson’s disease. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 May 16. PubMed

• May reduce risk of gallstones in women. Leitzmann MF, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Spiegelman D, Colditz GA, Giovannucci EL. Coffee intake is associated with lower risk of symptomatic gallstone disease in women. Gastroenterology. 2002 Dec;123(6):1823-30. PubMed

• May reduce risk of kidney stones in women.   Curhan GC, Willett WC, Speizer FE, Stampfer MJ. Beverage use and risk for kidney stones in women. Ann Intern Med. 1998 Apr 1;128(7):534-40. PubMed

• May reduce risk of gout in men. Choi HK, Willett W, Curhan G. Coffee consumption and risk of incident gout in men: a prospective study. Arthritis Rheum. 2007 Jun;56(6):2049-55. PubMed

• May decrease risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  Barranco Quintana JL, Allam MF, Serrano Del Castillo A, Ferna’ndez-Crehuet Navajas R. Alzheimer’s disease and coffee: a quantitative review. Neurol Res. 2007 Jan;29(1):91-5. PubMed

• May decrease risk of endometrial cancer.  Nutrients. 2011 Nov;3(11):937-50. Epub 2011 Nov 2.

 

Cons:

May increase risk of coronary heart disease. Lopez-Garcia E, van Dam RM, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Rexrode KM, Hu FB. Coffee consumption and coronary heart disease in men and women: a prospective cohort study. Circulation. 2006 May 2;113(17):2045-53. Epub 2006 Apr 24. PubMed

• May raise cholesterol.  van Tol A, Urgert R, de Jong-Caesar R, van Gent T, Scheek LM, de Roos B, Katan MB. The cholesterol-raising diterpenes from coffee beans increase serum lipid transfer protein activity levels in humans. Atherosclerosis. 1997 Jul 25;132(2):251-4. PubMed

• May increase homocysteine levels.  P, Pasman WJ, Van Vliet T, Urgert R, Katan MB. Contribution of caffeine to the homocysteine-raising effect of coffee: a randomized controlled trial in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Dec;76(6):1244-8. PubMed

• May contribute to hypertension.  Klag MJ, Wang NY, Meoni LA, Brancati FL, Cooper LA, Liang KY, Young JH, Ford DE. Coffee intake and risk of hypertension: the Johns Hopkins precursors study. Arch Intern Med. 2002 Mar 25;162(6):657-62. PubMed

• May increase risk of bone fracture.  Hallstrom H, Wolk A, Glynn A, Michaelsson K. Coffee, tea and caffeine consumption in relation to osteoporotic fracture risk in a cohort of Swedish women. Osteoporos Int. 2006;17(7):1055-64. Epub 2006 May 4. PubMed

• May increase risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis if unfiltered coffee is consumed. Heliovaara M, Aho K, Knekt P, Impivaara O, Reunanen A, Aromaa A. Coffee consumption, rheumatoid factor, and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Rheum Dis. 2000 Aug;59(8):631-5. PubMed

The pro health benefits that are listed for coffee consumption do not need a lot of conversation. If it turns out these positive studies apply to most of the coffee consuming population, in general, they are clearly, desirable.

Let’s discuss the seriousness (or lack thereof) of the listed Cons against coffee consumption:

1- Does it really increase the risk of coronary heart disease? The data is very contradictory and if it turns out it does, the magnitude of such an effect seems to be small. An analysis of the studies reported that if could find NO correlation between coffee consumption and coronary heart disease.

2- Does it really raise cholesterol? Closer examination of the studies indicates if it does the effect is small.

3- If it does raise homocysteine… (which is a controversial marker for heart disease) a B-complex vitamin reduces that risk significantly.

4- Does it really raise blood pressure very much? The studies show that it does but again the effect is small and probably transient.

5- Does it increase risk of bone fractures in any significant way? Probably nothing that 2000 IU a day of vitamin D and 100 mcg of vitamin K-2 couldn’t deal with.

6- Studies are contradictory. One study showed no risk of rheumatoid arthritis and coffee in women. Diets of fish and vegetables decrease risk of RA.

 

The Bottom Line: In Moderation, Coffee is safe!

To get the health benefits of caffeinated coffee and minimize whatever health risks (if any), limit consumption to 2-4 cups a day. In addition, it is possible that drinking roasted, organic, filtered coffee products is a good way to go to eliminate the cons.*

*People with gastritis should be careful consuming coffee and discuss it with their physicians

**Though caffeine can be stimulating to a fetus, and therefore if possible, you may want to stop coffee consumption during pregnancy. But if you just can’t quit, rest assured that NO study we could find, has shown any harm in consuming 1-2 cups a day of caffeinated coffee during pregnancy.

 

Curt Hendrix, M.S., C.C.N., C.N.S.