7 Health Benefits of Coffee: From Antioxidants to Cognitive Skills

There’s nothing quite like drinking an early morning cup of coffee:

The subtle aroma, the bitter bite that pops sleepy eyelids awake. But there is so much more in coffee than just the ability to turn you into an alert and functioning human. 

While coffee’s health benefits have been somewhat controversial, the case for coffee is stronger than ever according to research.

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Here are a few perks of why it’s a healthy idea to drink coffee:

1. A rich source of antioxidants

There have been more than 1000 antioxidants identified in unprocessed coffee beans along with hundreds more that develop during the roasting process. In fact, coffee outshines three other antioxidant-rich beverages – green tea, cocoa, and red wine – as having more antioxidant activity.

One of these antioxidants includes chlorogenic acid, abundant in both green and roasted coffee. This compound has been shown in studies to be a core player in antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory activity in the body. Another key antioxidant found in coffee is quinine, the compound that’s a key contributor to coffee’s characteristic bitter flavor. Even caffeine, the most well-known substance in coffee, is an antioxidant.  For some people, caffeine can help with headaches, assist with weight loss, and reduce the incidence of diabetes.

2. May improve cognitive skills

Another good reason to have that second cup of coffee is to possibly lower your risk for cognitive decline.  

There have been several studies demonstrating how coffee consumption appears to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.  Thanks to a substance found in coffee called quercetin, data is indicating it’s the major neuroprotective component providing protection against these medical conditions. 

A 2016 meta-analysis looked at eleven studies including 29155 participants and found that higher coffee consumption is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s but that further studies were necessary to determine the association between coffee consumption and cognitive decline or dementia. The theory is caffeine prevents the buildup of beta-amyloid plaque that may contribute to the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s.

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3. May improve liver health

Besides lowering the risk of liver cancer, coffee consumption has been linked to lower incidences of cirrhosis by up to 20 percent for each cup of coffee consumer (only up to four cups daily).

4. Enhances exercise performance

Drink coffee to enhance athletic performance. Yes, according to research suggesting that moderate coffee consumption – up to about 500 milligrams of five cups per day – can help fight fatigue enabling a person to exercise longer. Caffeine in coffee increases fatty acids in the blood increasing endurance while it also strengthens muscle contractions reducing the perception of pain

5. May help reduce diabetes

If you have a history of type 2 diabetes in your family, you may want to increase your coffee intake.  A large-scale cohort study found that the risk of diabetes progression from a prediabetic state was lowest in participants who drank black coffee (without sugar or creamer) three to four times each day. 

It is believed to be due to the presence of chlorogenic acids and caffeine present in coffee.  Chlorogenic acid may slow down intestinal glucose absorption and support insulin sensitivity in the body.  Other studies have suggested that it’s antioxidants and that the brewing of coffee plays a role. 

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6. May reduce the risk of cancer

For many years, coffee consumption was believed to have a negative effect on overall health.  Now, current research has shown that coffee drinking is not harmful but may be a very healthy beverage to be consumed regularly. 

One area appears to benefit from coffee consumption in reducing the risk of certain cancers.  A review of research data showed that coffee appears to have beneficial effects on possibly reducing liver, bladder, breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer. It is believed the link between coffee and cancer has to do with the polyphenols found in coffee which have strong antioxidant properties inhibiting oxidative stress and oxidative DNA damage.  Coffee is also a source of diterpenes – cafestol and kahweol, which can modulate multiple enzymes involved in carcinogenic detoxification. 

It was also found that the composition of coffee is determined by the strength of the brew and brewing methods.  Stronger brews have higher levels of caffeine and also lots of beneficial polyphenols.

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7. May protect against cardiovascular disease

A Harvard study showed drinking two or more cups of coffee each day could protect against heart failure.  Individuals who drank up to four cups each day had an 11 percent reduced risk. 

Another study found drinking coffee and green tea appears to help lower the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.  Evidence shows that coffee seems to support heart health by protecting against arterial damage caused by inflammation.

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Drink coffee wisely

Coffee does indeed appear to be more of a healthy beverage than how it was viewed years ago.  But, like with any food or beverage, moderation is always the key when it comes to consumption.  Drinking sugar and fat-laden coffees will not provide the same benefits as simply enjoying a cup of coffee without all the frills.  Also, anyone who is sensitive to caffeine should avoid downing too many cups as it could result in increased anxiety, nausea, and headaches.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommendation for coffee consumption is most people can safely drink up to three to five 8-oz cups/day or provide up to 400 mg/day of caffeine.

Bottom line, coffee can be a part of a healthy lifestyle just as eating a balanced diet, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight should be too. So, go ahead, pour yourself another cup of coffee keeping it plain and simple, and enjoy it in moderation as you savor all it has to offer. 

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