6 Health Benefits of Coffee

Iced or hot, coffee has loads of healthy perks.

For many coffee lovers, it's more than just the smell of roasted beans and a smooth, rich taste. It's the ritual of starting the day with a steamy mug or icy glass of java.

Roasted grounds come a long way before they make it into your cup. After being harvested from the coffee tree, the raw beans go through a roasting process. Differences in temperature and roasting time result in light, medium, and dark roasts. That determines the variety of tastes coffee can take on.

What Is Caffeine?

Coffee contains caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that activates the central nervous system. This is why you may feel more awake, alert, or energetic after your morning cup.

Too much caffeine can be a bad thing. It can cause side effects like restlessness, dizziness, headaches, fast heart rate, and even anxiety. If you're experiencing any of these, you may want to cut back on caffeine or eliminate it from your diet (more on this below). But with decaf varieties, you can still have your coffee and drink it too.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends about 400 milligrams of caffeine daily. This comes to about four or five cups of coffee (or less if you plan to have other caffeinated beverages). Some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others.

Health Benefits of Coffee

However, the good news for all coffee fanatics is that this beloved beverage—about two calories per eight-ounce cup—offers several health benefits. Here are six, along with a few potential issues to be aware of and how decaf coffee fits in.

Coffee Protects Against Depression

Coffee may have a positive effect on mental health. Depression is a serious mental illness and affects more than 19 million people in the United States. Coffee may have the power to help combat this.

One study found a "significantly lower risk of depression" in people who drank at least four cups of coffee daily. These were middle-aged people who were all following a Mediterranean diet.

A review of studies came to a similar conclusion based on the results of several studies on coffee, caffeine, and tea consumption. The researchers found that coffee seemed to offer the best protection against the risk of depression. Tea and caffeine may help, too but to a lesser degree.

A third study found that coffee and caffeine consumption was associated with a decreased risk of depression. The most significant effects were seen in people consuming 68–509 milligrams of caffeine daily. Depending on its strength, an eight-ounce coffee can have 95–200 milligrams of caffeine.

Coffee Contains Antioxidants

Coffee beans are the seeds inside the small fruit of the coffee tree. Both the seeds and fruit are rich in antioxidants. One of the primary sources of antioxidants in people's daily diet is coffee. Antioxidants are essential because they can prevent or delay some types of damage to your body's cells.

The antioxidants in coffee have been linked to health protection. Chlorogenic acid, a polyphenol abundant in coffee, has been shown to reduce inflammation. It may also play a key role in protection against chronic diseases, including obesity.

And just in case you're wondering about the coffee fruit, it can be turned into compost or dried and brewed as tea. It's also being used in products like energy drinks since the fruit contains caffeine.

Coffee May Reduce the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, a condition resulting in high levels of blood glucose (blood sugar). If untreated, diabetes can cause several health complications.

The risk of type 2 diabetes has been shown to go down when coffee consumption goes up. In one study, the chance of developing the disease decreased by 6% for each cup per day increase in coffee consumption. Possible reasons for the link include coffee's antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects, ability to boost calorie burning, and impact on the content and diversity of health-protective gut microbes.

There may also be some good news for people with a history of developing diabetes during pregnancy, a condition called gestational diabetes. If this is you, you have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. But drinking caffeinated coffee may help lower that risk.

Coffee Is Tied to Lower Rates of Other Diseases

Coffee consumption may protect against certain cancers, including breast, colorectal, endometrial, and prostate cancers, heart disease, and Parkinson's disease. Lifelong coffee/caffeine consumption is also associated with preventing cognitive decline and reducing stroke risk.

In terms of brain health, caffeinated coffee ups alertness and may also improve memory for up to 24 hours after consumption.

Coffee May Give Your Workout a Boost

Several studies have shown that in moderation, caffeine enhances athletic performance. The effects include improved circulation, increases in muscular strength, endurance, and power, plus reduced pain. That may help you push harder during workouts, resulting in better muscle strength and/or endurance improvements.

One study found that consuming coffee plus milk resulted in greater muscle glycogen recovery. (Glycogen is the stored form of glucose and the body's primary energy source.) Adding coffee to a beverage with adequate amounts of carbohydrates increased muscle glycogen resynthesis during the four-hour recovery after exhaustive cycling exercise.

Coffee May Protect Against Dementia

Dementia is a general term that describes when brain function declines. In its early stages, dementia may be difficult to recognize. But it can reach the point where it interferes with a person's ability to perform daily activities.

One study found that drinking coffee may protect against Alzheimer's disease, a condition where dementia symptoms progressively worsen. Coffee may have this protective effect because it seems to slow the process responsible for mental decline.

Another study found that drinking coffee, with or without tea, was associated with a lower risk of not only dementia but also stroke. And even after a stroke, coffee (again with or without tea) was still linked to a lower risk of dementia.

Decaf Coffee Can Also Offer Benefits

Decaf offers health benefits, such as antioxidants, disease protection (including against type 2 diabetes), and even increased alertness.

So if you enjoy coffee but caffeine doesn't agree with you, you can still reap many of coffee's rewards in decaffeinated form.

Potential Downsides To Consider

While coffee offers some benefits, it may have some downsides too. As with so many other things, caffeine is best consumed in moderation. Here are the potential side effects of too much caffeine.

Potential Dehydration

Caffeine has long been criticized for contributing to dehydration due to its diuretic effect, which triggers fluid loss. However, research indicates that after about four days of consistent caffeine intake, your body adjusts, which negates the dehydrating effect.

The trick is you have to be consistent. In other words, if you sometimes have one cup of coffee in the morning, sometimes three, or if you occasionally reach for it in the afternoon, you may feel the diuretic side effects, such as headache and low energy.

Cardiovascular Effects

People who are genetically slow metabolizers of caffeine have an increased risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, and prediabetes after increasing caffeinated coffee consumption, whereas fast metabolizers do not carry these risks.

Digestive Irritation

For some people, caffeine can also trigger digestive irritation, including heartburn, as well as an upset stomach, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, and rebound fatigue. Still, coffee consumption does more good than harm.

Pregnancy Outcome

Coffee consumption can also affect pregnancy. Drinking coffee during pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight, pre-term birth, and pregnancy loss.

Best Coffee Practices

Enjoy your coffee, and keep in mind these coffee consumption best practices:

  • Aim for consistency.
  • Don't overdo it—drink no more than five eight-ounce cups a day (the amount in five short cups or 2.5 grande cups from Starbucks).
  • Avoid adding undesirable add-ins like artificial sweeteners or large amounts of added sugar.
  • If you drink regular coffee, don't combine it with other stimulants.
  • Cut off your caffeine intake at least six hours before bed to optimize sleep (even if you think it doesn't affect you).

A Quick Review

If you love coffee, you can sip happily, enjoying its many benefits. Coffee offers antioxidants, a workout boost, and benefits for some chronic diseases, among other things.

As with many things nutrition-related, the best advice is to listen to your body. Try decaf if you suspect that caffeine is triggering some unwanted effects or limiting your performance. And don't forget good old H2O, which should always remain your primary and most consumed beverage.

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22 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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