As everyone who loves coffee knows, it contains caffeine. Unless, that is, it is specifically decaffeinated.
But for most of us, it’s the caffeine that counts.
The most-often used mood-altering drug in the world, caffeine is most often ingested by drinking coffee. There are some medications and some other drinks that also contain caffeine, but coffee, by far, is the most common carrier.
More than half of the people in the U.S. drink coffee on a daily basis. And the number increases every year.
There’s more to the effects of coffee than just the caffeine. And research has been on-going for a long time into its effects. Results are mixed. Sometimes, coffee is good for you. Sometimes it’s not.
You are probably familiar with some of the effects of caffeine on the body, but there may be several effects of coffee itself you don’t know about. We’ll talk about many of those in this article.
Benefits of Coffee
Pain Relief. There is some research and clinical experience that shows the caffeine in coffee can actually increase the effects of pain medications. This happens even if you’re not a regular coffee drinker. Pain medications’ effectiveness can be increased by as much as 40% with the addition of caffeine. Some of this increase is due to caffeine speeding up the body’s response to these medications.
May Help Fight Cancer. A lot of studies have shown a relationship between reduced risk of some kinds of cancer (breast, liver, prostate, esophageal, and oral/pharyngeal) and coffee drinking. This relationship, called correlation, is not very large, but it’s there. And it’s strong. For coffee drinkers, this is a benefit.
May Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 is the kind of diabetes that is acquired, usually through poor diet. Several recent studies have shown a solid relationship between drinking coffee and prevention of Type 2 diabetes. And more good news! Even drinking decaf coffee gives this effect. This benefit most likely is due to antioxidant qualities in coffee. The antioxidants in coffee are phytonutrients and polyphenols. These compounds are found in plants, like coffee plants. Another likely reason for this benefit is the mineral content of coffee. Magnesium and chromium are the two minerals in coffee that are aids in the body’s efforts to use insulin and thus balance blood sugar.
May Help Decrease Cognitive Problems. For a long time coffee has been known to lower the risk of developing cognitive disorders, particularly Alzheimer’s. One study published in 2009 showed the results of a group of people followed for 20 years. The people in this study who drank 4-5 cups of coffee every day had a 65% lower risk of developing cognitive disorders than those who drank less than two cups per day.
May Work As A Laxative. Many people feel an increased need to go to the bathroom shortly after drinking coffee. And shortly means maybe within four minutes. One reason for this is the stimulant property of coffee. It stimulates peristalsis, the contractions of the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. But this may not be the major reason coffee works as a laxative. The speed of the effect suggests that coffee acts on receptors in the lining of the stomach and small bowel. It also is known to increase the release of Gastrin, a substance that stimulates motor activity, including the activity of the muscles in the colon.
It Works Quickly. The caffeine in coffee enters your blood stream and starts working in as little as 10 minutes. One way the most notable effects of caffeine works is by shutting off receptors for adenosine in your brain. Adenosine is a chemical that depresses your nervous system, lowering arousal and increasing the need to sleep. By shutting off these receptors, caffeine stimulates your brain. This leads to more adrenaline being released into your body giving you a burst of energy and increased alertness that everyone associates with coffee.
Can Improve Your Mood. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it increases the level of dopamine in your brain. This is the “feel good” chemical that improves mood and helps you feel happier. This is the same kind of improvement in mood that people get with cocaine, just not as strong.
Helps Your Body Burn Fat. Drinking coffee not only gives you a jolt of energy, it also stimulates your metabolism, resulting in your body burning fat more effectively. A study published in 2013 showed getting caffeine into your system before physical activity stimulates your body to burn fat as a way to produce energy.
Increases Endurance. A study completed in the United Kingdom and published in 2013 showed drinking a cup of coffee before working out gave triathletes a 5% increase in performance times. Another study done in the University of Rhode Island found athletes who drank a caffeinated beverage were able to do more repetitions in strength training exercises. These findings appear to suggest drinking coffee will help you work out stronger and longer.
It May Improve Eyesight. Consuming coffee with caffeine will stimulate the release of adrenaline into your body. This pushes your body into a state in which you’re more alert. Part of this state is a dilation of the pupils of your eyes, which will give you better vision.
It Can Improve Your Memory. Another part of the alert state caffeine pushes your body into is helping your brain pay more attention, especially to details. Although this spike in energy is typically short-lived, it can last up to 24 hours. And there is some evidence that even this small increase in cognitive ability may decrease your risk of developing more serious cognitive disorders.
Harmful Effects of Coffee
Just as there are benefits of drinking this mysterious brew, there also are negative effects. Here are a few:
It Can Cause You To Hear Things. In some research in Australia, scientists told subjects who were stressed and had ingested 5 cups of caffeinated coffee that the song White Christmas might be imbedded in white noise. They were instructed to press a button if they heard it. Many of the people pressed the button even though there were no parts of the song in the white noise. This finding suggests the combination of high stress and a lot of caffeine produced this psychosis-like response.
It Increases Anxiety. High levels of caffeine can affect your brain to the point of increasing anxiety and potentially stimulating panic attacks. People who already suffer from anxiety tend to have more sensitivity to caffeine and the jitteriness that it can bring on.
Not Good If You’re Pregnant. Many studies have shown a relationship between coffee drinking while pregnant and miscarriages. This doesn’t necessarily prove coffee causes miscarriages, but the relationship is there. A study published in 2008 showed the risk of miscarriage to be twice as high if a pregnant woman consumes more than 200 mg of caffeine daily.
Increases The Risk Of Ulcers. Coffee dramatically irritates the lining of your stomach. This is the reason so many people complain of stomach pain after drinking coffee. The irritation also sets the stage for developing ulcers. In addition, drinking coffee can bring on anxiety and irritability, making stomach pains worse.
It Can Increase LDL Cholesterol. Studies at Baylor University showed the molecules cafestol and kahweol can increase levels of LDL cholesterol in humans. This is the “bad” cholesterol that so often leads to significant heart problems. These two molecules are found exclusively in coffee beans. However, using a filter will keep these molecules from getting into your coffee. But if you prefer coffee brewed without a filter, you will take in these molecules with your coffee.
What About Decaf Coffee?
For those people who can’t tolerate caffeine, there is always decaf coffee. It has the same amounts of antioxidants as regular coffee and it doesn’t have the correlation with miscarriages that regular coffee does.
At the same time, decaf coffee doesn’t bring on the alertness, the increase in memory and cognition, the burst of clarity, or the burst of energy that regular coffee does. This is because those effects in regular coffee are due to caffeine.
Decaf coffee also doesn’t give you the jitteriness, shaky hands, or headaches that regular coffee often does. It also won’t keep you awake if you drink it late in the day. The caffeine in regular coffee is a stimulant that tends to keep you awake.
On the negative side, decaf coffee still has the same acid content as regular coffee, so you will still get the burning, acid feeling in your stomach after drinking it.
Just like most everything else, there are pros and cons to drinking coffee. Both regular and decaf have some effects that are beneficial and some that aren’t. It’s up to you to decide whether the negatives outweigh the positives enough to enjoy that cup of coffee. Or two. Or three.