I look forward to my morning cup of java and my afternoon cappuccino. Living in Ashland, Oregon, I am fortunate to have high-quality coffee and espresso available—fair trade, organic, locally roasted, and freshly ground. Delicious coffee is such an integral part of our daily lives that a beautiful and very old Pavoni Italian cappuccino/espresso machine occupies a prominent place in our kitchen at home.
Many people think that it simply provides a caffeine boost, but in truth coffee beans contain hundreds of complex natural chemicals, including dozens of unique phytocompounds that have potent health-promoting benefits, including redox-antioxidant and insulin-trophic effects. Coffee is a natural, traditional herbal beverage—and nothing like the plethora of caffeine-spiked artificial energy drinks and soft drinks that lure people with their claims of quick energy. Those kinds of drinks are terrible for your health, and I strongly advise staying away from them. Pure refined caffeine is a toxin, whereas the caffeine in coffee is natural and tempered by the many beneficial complimentary compounds found in coffee beans. I recommend drinking only high-quality, organic coffee in moderation—which means one to three 8-ounce cups (not mugs) per day.
Coffee provides more than just a morning lift; it is also the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet, according to a study by researchers at the University of Scranton (Pa.). Their study was described at the 230th national meeting of the American Chemical Society (2005), the world’s largest scientific society.
The health benefits of coffee keep pouring in. For example, a recent study links higher coffee consumption to a reduced risk of breast cancer in women. Among other research, recent studies also show that regular coffee drinkers are less likely to acquire high blood pressure and are less likely to develop liver cancer; it has also been shown to reduce the development of type-2 diabetes. Other studies suggest that coffee contributes to better short-term memory and may increase sex drive in women. In general, research shows that coffee drinkers appear to have a slight edge over non-coffee drinkers in terms of longevity.
However, for some constitutional types (those prone to anxiety or who have adrenal fatigue) and for those who are caffeine sensitive, even the smallest amount can cause adverse effects. Some women also have problems metabolizing caffeine, which contributes to PMS irritability and fibrocystic liver disease. This is generally the result of liver stagnation, which interferes with the breakdown of caffeine and thus hinders the normal metabolism of estrogen.
Dozens of studies are revealing that moderate coffee drinking provides a surprising array of health benefits. Consider the following:
• Type 2 diabetes: A number of large studies show that moderate coffee consumption reduces the risk of type 2-diabetes. Researchers theorize that the beneficial effect may be because coffee stimulates metabolism, positively influences glucose balance, and improves insulin sensitivity through a variety of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.
• Stroke: A 2011 Swedish study of almost 35,000 women over a period of 10 years found that those who consumed more than one cup of coffee daily had almost a 25 percent lower risk of stroke than those who consumed less. According to the researchers, the findings were not modified by smoking, body mass index, history of diabetes or hypertension, or alcohol consumption.
• Parkinson’s disease: Coffee shows significant promise as a preventative against Parkinson’s disease. Researchers in Hawaii studied more than 8,000 men for three decades, and noted that those who drank one cup of coffee daily had less than half the incidence of Parkinson’s disease as those who drank less. The reason may be that caffeine stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter essential for muscle movement that is typically low in those with Parkinson’s disease.
• Alzheimer’s disease: A number of studies suggest that caffeine provides protection against Alzheimer’s disease; recent research indicates that additional compounds in coffee interact with caffeine to provide even greater benefits. In a 2011 paper, researchers at the University of Florida reported that caffeinated coffee increases blood levels of granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF), a growth factor that that inhibits the production of beta amyloid plaques. According to the researchers, “We conclude that coffee may be the best source of caffeine to protect against AD because of a component in coffee that synergizes with caffeine to enhance plasma GCSF levels, resulting in multiple therapeutic actions against AD.”
• Prostate cancer: A 2011 prospective analysis of almost 48,000 men found that those who drank 3 cups of coffee daily had a 30 percent lower risk of aggressive prostate cancer, and those who drank 6 cups per day had a 60 percent lower risk. The researchers note that powerful antioxidants in coffee affect glucose metabolism and sex hormone levels, which may be associated with the reduced risk of prostate cancer.
• Liver health: Regular coffee consumption appears to maintain liver health; coffee is associated with lower levels of fat in the liver, decreased progression of hepatitis-C, and a 50 percent reduction in hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer.
Obviously, too much of a good thing can be too much. It’s important to remember that caffeine is a powerful drug. Caffeinated coffee provides a significant energy boost (both physical and mental) by triggering the production of adrenaline and blocking the action of adenosine, a compound that slows brain activity and is important for deep sleep. Relying on caffeine for energy and alertness instead of getting sufficient rest, sleep, and downtime will eventually lead to physical and mental depletion.
An excessive amount of caffeine can also trigger anxiety and sleeplessness, particularly to people prone to those problems. The half-life of caffeine is approximately six hours, which means if you drink a cup of coffee in the afternoon, half of the caffeine will still be in your body at bedtime. If you are sensitive to caffeine, drink coffee only in the morning.
Caffeine levels in coffee vary according to the type of bean, roast, grind, and method of brewing. Darker roasts generally contain less caffeine than lighter roasts, because longer roasting time breaks down caffeine. Fortunately, darker roast coffees also contain more beneficial antioxidant compounds. The finer the grind, the more caffeine is released into a cup of coffee. In addition, the longer the brewing time, the more caffeine (espresso contains less caffeine than drip coffee).
For most people, between one and three cups of coffee daily can be a beneficial addition to a healthy lifestyle. However, avoid the heavily sweetened varieties that crowd the menu at most coffee shops. Enjoy your coffee black, or with a splash of organic dairy (or organic milk alternative). And be sure to choose organic coffee—conventionally grown crops are heavily sprayed with pesticides.
Cao C. et al. Caffeine synergizes with another coffee component to increase plasma GCSF: linkage to cognitive benefits in Alzheimer’s mice. J Alzheimers Dis. 2011; 25(2):323-35.
Larsson S. et al. Coffee Consumption and Risk of Stroke in Women. Stroke. 2011; 42: 908-912.
Larsson S.C. et al. Coffee consumption and liver cancer: a meta-analysis. Gastroenterology. 2007; 132, 1740-1745.
Lopez-Garcia, E. Annals of Internal Medicine, June 17, 2008; vol 48:pp 904-915.
Lopez-Garcia, E. Coffee consumption and risk of chronic diseases: changing our views. Am J Clin Nutr. April 2012; vol. 95 no. 4:787-788.
Ross, G, et al. Association of Coffee and Caffeine Intake With the Risk of Parkinson Disease. JAMA. 2000;283(20):2674-2679.
Wilson, K, et al. Coffee Consumption and Prostate Cancer Risk and Progression in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. J Natl Cancer Inst. Vol. 103; (11):876-884.
A Special Note On Green Coffee Bean (GCE) Extract
Green coffee bean (GCE) extract also contains an array of polyphenols, which appear to have some unique health protective actions. The antihypertensive effects of GCE have recently been extensively studied, and GCE has demonstrated a remarkable ability to lower blood pressure in animal and human studies. GCE’s mechanism of antihypertensive action is the result of chlorogenic acid (CGA) concentration. CGA is a precursor to the formation of ferulic acid, which acts on nitric oxide (NO) derived from the vascular endothelium and induces vaso-relaxation.1,2
In one study, researchers studied the effects of GCE on blood vessels in healthy males. After ingestion for 4 months, the test drink group showed a significant decrease in homocysteine levels. In another study, the blood pressure-lowering effect and safety of CGA in patients with mild hypertension was studied through a placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. The study revealed that CGA from GCE is effective in decreasing blood pressure and safe for patients with mild hypertension.3 The effects of GCE on blood pressure were also investigated using spontaneously hypertensive rats. There was a dose-dependent reduction in blood pressure after a single ingestion (180 to 720 mg/kg, p.o.) or long-term ingestion (0.25 to 1% diet for 6 weeks) of GCE.4
The high concentration of chlorogenic acids in GCE are also known to influence glucose and fat metabolism. A 22-week crossover study was conducted to examine the efficacy and safety of GCA at reducing weight and body mass in 16 overweight adults.
Subjects received high-dose GCA (1050 mg), low-dose GCA (700 mg), or placebo. Primary measurements were body weight, body mass index, and percent body fat. Although there were no significant changes in diet during the study, the participants experienced significant reductions in body weight, body mass, and percent of body fat. According to researchers, GCA may be an effective nutraceutical in reducing weight in preobese adults, as well as an inexpensive means of preventing obesity in overweight adults.5
1 Saito I, Tsuchida T, Watanabe T, et al: Effect of coffee bean extract in essential hypertension. Jpn J Med Pharm Sci 2002; 47: 67–74.
2 Suzuki A, Kagawa D, Ochiai R, Tokimitsu I, Saito I: Green coffee bean extract and its metabolites have a hypotensive in spontaneously hypertensive rats. Hypertens Res 2002; 25: 99–107.
3 Ochiai R, Jokura H, Suzuki A, Tokimitsu I, Ohishi M, Komai N, Rakugi H, Ogihara T. Green coffee bean extract improves human vasoreactivity. Hypertens Res. 2004 Oct;27(10):731-7.
3 Watanabe T, Arai Y, Mitsui Y, Kusaura T, Okawa W, Kajihara Y, Saito I. The blood pressure-lowering effect and safety of chlorogenic acid from green coffee bean extract in essential hypertension. Clin Exp Hypertens. 2006 Jul;28(5):439-49.
5. Vinson JA, Burnham BR, Nagendran MV. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, linear dose, crossover study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a green coffee bean extract in overweight subjects. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2012;5:21-7. Epub 2012 Jan 18.