Coffee: A Detailed Perspective

11 Jul

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At some point or another, you have likely come across negative health claims about coffee consumption such as, “coffee causes cancer” or “coffee stunts your growth.”

Disregard old wives’ tales. Acquire science.

Coffee has been consumed for ages and is one of the most commonly consumed beverages worldwide to this date. People consume coffee for various reasons, but it is fairly safe to assume that most of us drink coffee for that daily jolt first thing in the morning.

Are there other benefits to drinking coffee other than to help us get going in the morning?

The answer seems to be yes.

  • Research is now suggesting coffee consumption may slash our risk for developing chronic diseases such as Type II Diabetes (1) and Parkinson’s disease (2).
  • From an anecdotal and scientific standpoint, coffee consumption can improve cognitive function, mood, and energy levels (3)
  • For the athlete or trained individual, coffee consumption has been shown to increase athletic performance and fight fatigue (4).

Overall, recent research seems to indicate that there are more potential benefits than risks in drinking coffee.

I would like to share some of this research (in layman’s terms) with you explaining some of the proposed risks of drinking coffee as well as the many benefits of coffee consumption.

By doing so, we can take a deeper look into the benefits of consuming coffee and provide insight on evidence-based health benefits of one of the most popular beverages in the world.

Completing the Equation

Lifestyle and behavioral changes influence our current state of health, but they can also influence the aging process and our future health.

Aside from uncontrollable risk factors for developing chronic diseases, such as your genetic makeup, there are numerous variables we can control such as nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle characteristics.

In fact, we should maximize these controllable risk factors to the fullest as a means of preventative measures.

1) Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, depression, some cancers, and improving cognitive function.

2) Epidemiological studies suggest diets high in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources promote health and longevity.

We all know that regular physical activity and diets high in fruits and vegetables are good for us but why are they good for us?  Why does fruit and vegetable consumption contribute to our health and longevity?

I think many of us would answer with; fruits and vegetables are good for us because they provide us with vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.  That is true, but I want to take you beyond the basics of vitamins and minerals.

I want to tell you about something that I have recently learned more about and that is functional foods and phytochemicals.

Beyond The Basics: Bioactive Food Substances

Phytochemicals can be defined as chemical compounds found in certain foods that may possess biological significance in the prevention of developing some chronic diseases.

Examples of phytochemicals include beta-carotene (found in orange pigmented fruits and vegetables) and lycopene (found in red pigmented fruits and vegetables). Research suggests these two compounds may play a role in chronic disease prevention.

Although there are far too many examples of functional foods and phytochemicals to better understand the effects of phytochemicals, let’s take a look at a commonly consumed breakfast item — oatmeal. A phytochemical called beta-glucan is a powerful compound found in oats that has many health benefits ranging from improvements in blood lipid chemistry, insulin sensitivity, and carbohydrate metabolism.

In addition to these positive metabolic impacts, have you ever wondered why eating oatmeal promotes satiety? The fiber content of oatmeal is rather significant, (4 grams per serving) which can promote feelings of “fullness.”

But there is more than just fiber at play here.

Beta-glucan also plays a significant role in promoting appetite suppression and control — as indicated by its ability to generate increases in peptide Y-Y, which is a significant gut hormone responsible for regulating appetite.

Healthy eating involves more than just fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  We’re learning more and more about the powerful impact that phytochemicals play.

The Cocoa Bean (another example)

Antioxidants have been shown to aid in the prevention of oxidative stress at the cellular level by scavenging free radicals. Think of free radicals as threats to the cell’s health. Antioxidants fight off free radicals and also promote immune function.

The cocoa bean contains an abundance of powerful antioxidants such as polyphenols and flavonoids.

Chocolate, a product of the cocoa bean, has oscillated between being “good” for you and “bad” for you.  For the longest time, chocolate was linked with obesity and dental carries.  However, more recent clinical and experimental studies have suggested chocolate may have a protective role against cardiovascular disease (5).




Coffee: The Bigger Picture

Similar to chocolate, coffee has progressively gained positive recognition in epidemiological and observational studies.  Coffee contains a plethora of phenols, flavonoids, and lignans, which have shown to carry extremely powerful antioxidant capabilities. (6).

An understanding of coffee’s physiological effect on the body is not as clear-cut as once thought – due to the multifaceted components included in the brewed product and its effect on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.

Coffee and Cardiovascular Health

In the past, coffee has received an unflattering appraisal as coffee has been shown to cause an elevation in heart rate and acute responses in blood pressure. Unfiltered coffee contains cholesterol-raising compounds known as diterpenes, which some studies have shown that a high consumption of these compounds may raise both total and low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C), also known as the “bad” cholesterol (7).

However, it should be noted that these lipid changes were only noted in non-habitual coffee drinkers – who abstained from consuming coffee for an entire month. And one other thing to consider is the coffee was unfiltered.  So if you use a paper filter, the diterpenes typically do not make their way to your brew.

Most folks typically drink filtered coffee, so keep this in mind moving forward.

It should also be noted that although there was a significant increase in total cholesterol and LDL-C, the ratio of LDL-C to high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C) was favorably protective.

Coffee has been associated with acute increases in plasma homocysteine levels, an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease (8).  A cross-sectional study also found a correlation between coffee consumption and increased C-reactive protein, a biomarker for cardiovascular disease (9). However, this is controversial as a second cross-sectional study showed a decrease in plasma concentrations of C-reactive protein in diabetic women (10).

The association between coffee and cardiovascular disease is very complex. Results from cohort and case-control studies tend to differ.

Coffee consumption appears to have significant acute and long-term effects on physiological processes and overall cardiovascular health, some positive and some negative.

There is little association between long-term coffee consumption and cardiovascular disease. Short-term biomarkers and indicators reflective of cardiovascular disease may increase with acute consumption of coffee, but it does not appear these short-term changes translate directly into long-term mortality risk.

More data and research is warranted regarding coffee consumption and cardiovascular health.

Coffee and Insulin Resistance

Compared to the body of research regarding cardiovascular disease and coffee consumption, the data shows a strong protective effect of coffee consumption on Type II Diabetes. Caffeine, found in coffee, acutely elevates insulin secretion; however, long-term coffee consumption (both decaffeinated and caffeinated) appears to improve insulin sensitivity.

This opens the door for further examining the protective components of coffee that stretch beyond the basic composition of the world’s favorite caffeinated beverage.

Coffee is abundant in chlorogenic acid, a powerful antioxidant, which can actually blunt the rate of glucose absorption in the intestine (11).  Furthermore, quinidines (a component of chlorogenic acid) can decrease insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity.

Acutely, coffee consumption may illicit an increased insulin response.  However, data compiled in epidemiological research and meta-analysis studies suggests chronic coffee consumption has a protective role on blood glucose control (12).

Coffee and Neurological Diseases

The majority of research suggests coffee consumption may have a protective effect against Parkinson’s disease (13). The exact protective mechanism is not yet known, but the protective element of coffee consumption could very well be linked to the powerful bioactive substances found in coffee.

There is a school of thought that the caffeine content of coffee can also play a role in the protective mechanism of Parkinson’s disease – as shown in the National Institutes of Health– AARP Diet and Health Study (14). The precise amount of coffee needed to reap the benefits of cognitive protection is unclear; however, it is thought that habitual coffee drinkers may have an increased protective benefit.

Likewise, experimental research has suggested caffeine and chlorogenic acid may also have a protective role against the impairment of cognitive function related to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (15). However, more research is needed in this area largely due to the complexity of coffee’s make-up.

For example, it is well established in the scientific literature that cigarette smokers do not develop Parkinson’s disease. Although smoking cigarettes and the chronic exposure to hundreds of carcinogens will likely kill you in a variety of ways, cigarette smoking does not directly correlate or cause Parkinson’s disease. It is tough to say what specifically in coffee (perhaps the abundance of antioxidants) protects against these diseases – opening the door for further research and questions to be answered.

Mood Enhancement Mental Alertness

There is a substantial amount of evidence to support coffee consumption can improve your mood and feeling of well-being. Coffee consumption may reduce stress by keeping cortisol, a stress hormone, levels at bay.

Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant – meaning it stimulates the brain to facilitate and improve overall cognitive function and mental alertness.

Every coffee drinker has experienced this phenomenon at some point or another. Let’s say you take on a new task at work and are experiencing mental fatigue and the inability to think clearly. You brew a cup of coffee and suddenly you gain mental acuity and become invigorated with concentration.


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With that being said, coffee consumption can improve cerebral blood flow – making it a powerful thought stimulator and cognitive enhancer.

Athletic Performance

Caffeine has been used as an ergogenic aid by athletes for quite some time. An ergogenic aid is essentially an external influence that can enhance high-intensity performance.

Research suggests that a dose of caffeine may improve strength performance via reducing the user’s rate of perceived pain, thus increasing energy and power output.

The mechanism of improving performance is that caffeine increases the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream, which in turn stimulates the release of free fatty acids from adipose (fat) tissue and skeletal muscle stores.

This phenomenon results in a “glycogen sparing” effect – meaning the body will turn to the released free fatty acids for immediate energy while reducing the need to use glycogen, the carbohydrate stored in the muscle typically used for energy.

Caffeine is a very dose dependent stimulant – meaning the amount to take pre-workout will vary between individuals. Individuals clearly have different tolerances and sensitivities to caffeine. Obviously those who are not avid coffee drinkers will have a lower dose dependent response, where as those with a more habitual consumption of coffee may have a higher dose dependent response. With that being said, more research is needed on an effective dosage of caffeine for performance improvement.


The overall view on coffee’s health implications has now transitioned from a once negative profile to a seemingly beneficial profile. The data supporting coffee consumption decreasing Type II Diabetes and Parkinson’s risk reduction and increasing cognitive and athletic performance is strong.

Coffee’s impact on cardiovascular disease remains inconclusive; however, the arrival and anticipation of concrete clinical data in combination with improvements in researcher’s knowledge base regarding the phenolic acids and multifaceted bioactive substances found in coffee is promising.

In conclusion, coffee should not be used as a substitute or standalone for improving health. Diet and exercise continue to be invaluable and unmatched for optimizing health. With that being said, if you are not an avid coffee drinker – no worries. You’re most likely not “missing out” on an anti-aging phytochemical combination. However, if you are a habitual coffee drinker, drink up.




  1. Johnston KL, Clifford MN, Morgan LM. Coffee acutely modifies gastrointestinal hormone secretion and glucose tolerance in humans: glycemic effects of chlorogenic acid and caffeine American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003; 78:728-733
  2. Noyce AJ , Bestwick JP, Sliveria-Moriyama L, et al. Meta-analysis of early non-motor features and risk factors for Parkinson disease. Annals of Neurology 2012; 72-893-901
  3. Davis JK, Green JM. Caffeine and anaerobic performance: ergogenic value and mechanisms of action. Sports Med. (2009).
  4. Fernández-Murga L, Tarín JJ, García-Perez MA, Cano A. The impact of chocolate on cardiovascular health. Maturitas 2011; 69:312-321.
  5. Childs E, de Wit H. Subjective, behavioral, and physiological effects if acute caffeine in light, nondependent caffeine users.  Psychopharmacology (Berl). (2006)
  6. Wang Y, Ho CT. Polyphenolic chemistry of tea and coffee: a century of progress. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2009; 57:8109-14.
  7. Cai L, Ma D, Zhang Y, Liu Z, Wang P. The effect of coffee consumption on serum lipids: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012; 66:872-7.
  8. Nygard O, Refsum H, Ueland PM, et al. Coffee consumption and plasma total homocysteine. The Hordaland Homocysteine Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 1997; 65:136-143.
  9. Zampelas A, Panagiotakos DB, Pitsavos C, Chrysohoou C, Stefanadis C. Associations between coffee consumption and inflammatory markers in healthy persons: the ATTICA study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004; 80:862-867.
  10. Lopez-Garcia E, van Darn RM, Qi L, Hu FB. Coffee consumption and markers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction in healthy and diabetic women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006: 84:888-893.
  11. Johnston KL, Clifford MN, Morgan LM. Coffee acutely modifies gastrointestinal hormone secretion and glucose tolerance in humans: glycemic effects of chlorogenic acid and caffeine. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003; 78:728-733.
  12. Huxley R, Lee CM, Barzi F, et al. Coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea consumption in relation to incident type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Archives of Internal Medicine 2009; 169-2053-63.
  13. Noyce AJ , Bestwick JP, Sliveria-Moriyama L, et al. Meta-analysis of early non-motor features and risk factors for Parkinson disease. Annals of Neurology 2012; 72-893-901.
  14. Liu R. Guo X, Park Y et al. Caffeine intake, smoking, and risk of Parkinson disease in men and women. American Journal of Epidemiology 2004; 160:977-84.
  15. Eseklinen MH, Kivipelto M. Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2010. Suppl. 1:5167-74.




One Response to “Coffee: A Detailed Perspective”

  1. jessieneutrongirlgenius July 11, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    Reblogged this on JessieNeutronGirlGenius.

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