Health Effects of Coffee – Is Caffeine Harmful?

If you find yourself looking forward to that hot cup of coffee each morning, but feeling guilty because you think it is time to kick the habit to become a healthy individual, relax! After hundreds of studies, researchers have concluded that for the majority of coffee drinkers, health risks from coffee consumption are minimal, if present at all. The biggest health effect of coffee may be on your financial health; that $4.00 latte every morning can seriously impact your budget, so remember…moderation is critical!

Though not harmful, coffee is not entirely innocent either; as a stimulant coffee can be addictive and could cause jitters and anxiety when consumed in large amounts. Coffee can also stain teeth, giving daily users a yellowed smile. Burns from hot coffee are quite common as well, so coffee drinkers must be careful when handling hot pots or downing a freshly made cappuccino or latte. In people with frequent heartburn, coffee, even decaffeinated, will stimulate the secretion of stomach acid, possibly initiating a bout of indigestion; in some cases, this can be avoided by drinking coffee very early in the day, or consuming small amounts at a time.

What coffee will not do, as research over the past few decades has suggested, is cause cancer, stomach ulcers, breast disease, or gallbladder disease. As it turns out, one study linking coffee consumption with pancreatic cancer is now used as a model for flawed study design. Apparently, researchers in that study examined a number of factors besides coffee intake as causes of pancreatic cancer, which lead to misguided results that have since been discredited. When the results of earlier coffee studies are analyzed, they do not provide sufficient evidence that moderate coffee consumption causes a significant health risk even among patients with cardiovascular problems.

Today, scientists have shifted their focus on coffee from studies of negative health effects to studies of positive health benefits of coffee consumption. New therapeutic uses of caffeine and coffee are being introduced to health care practices. Premature babies and newborns that have undergone surgery are given caffeine to stimulate breathing, and it is thought that caffeine can be used to help asthma patients because it works to dilate airways. Coffee also may be used as a treatment for constipation, and may protect against the pain of gallstones. A study done in 1999 showed a decreased risk of colon cancer in coffee drinkers compared with non-drinkers, but no specific recommendations have been given for consumption to prevent colon cancer as of today. Although coffee does not seem to combat the effects of Parkinson’s once the disease has taken hold, very recent studies have shown a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease development in coffee drinkers.

Beyond those therapeutic effects of coffee, it also increases endurance in long distance running and biking, and improves cognitive function in people who consume it (probably why many people drink it in the morning). For those that are using coffee due to sleep deprivation, it is best to consume 2-3 ounces of coffee every hour instead of drinking it all at once. Because coffee consumption is spread throughout the day, the alertness is kept up for a longer period.

Although coffee is relatively safe and will have no adverse health effects on the majority of the population, there are probably rare cases of people who should avoid caffeine because of its stimulating effects. Fortunately, these people already know who they are (people with irregular heartbeat or other heart conditions), and know what to avoid. Also, pregnant women may want to avoid coffee because caffeine will be passed through the placenta to an unborn fetus. While research has shown moderate coffee consumption to be safe, high levels of caffeine of over 300 mg per day may cause increased risk for miscarriage and low birth weight.

To combat the financial health risks of coffee, consider brewing coffee at home instead of getting a cup from a local chain each morning. Or, if you just cannot make the same quality of coffee, try trading off by brewing every other morning at home so that you can still enjoy the taste of your favorite drink order, but save a little money as well. Try visiting different coffee shops to see whether a local mom-and-pop store has better prices than a coffeehouse chain.

Go ahead and enjoy your coffee! Do not let old wives tales and ancient flawed studies discourage your enjoyment each morning. New therapeutic uses of coffee have been discovered quite recently, and the quest for proof of more health benefits continues. You can rest assured knowing that the health effects of coffee are actually quite positive in many cases. If you want to become healthier, focus on increasing exercise or decreasing fat intake; coffee is not your enemy!



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