It’s easy to be skeptical about the health effects of coffee drinking. Coffee retailers promote the health benefits of coffee – a lower risk of colon cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, as well as a smaller chance of cavities, treatment for headaches and possibly a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. But what are the dangers of this mysterious drug?
There appears to be very few, and minor ones at that. Drinking anything in excess creates potential problems for the body’s self-regulatory processes that naturally correct imbalances and illnesses. Coffee itself has a few specific effects that, with the proper understanding, can be balanced by a healthy diet.
Boiled and unfiltered coffee are believed to contribute to an increase in cholesterol levels, due to two cholesterol-raising compounds cafestol and kahweol. In excess, coffee is also believed to alter the tone and function of blood vessels. Like all caffeinated beverages, it can affect natural heart rhythms by creating a rapid or irregular heartbeat. Similarly, the caffeine causes a temporary rise in blood pressure that can adversely affect those who already have a high blood pressure.
As the caffeine in coffee is a mild diuretic, it is important to remember to increase fluid intake when drinking coffee to avoid dehydration, and some studies have shown that it’s possible this diuretic effect leads to the urinary excretion of calcium. Therefore, if you plan on drinking more than three cups of coffee each day (600 ml), make sure you include some calcium in your diet to avoid osteoporosis, especially if you are pregnant.
Some also blame a lack of sleep on the caffeine found in coffee for several hours after coffee consumption. However, this effect varies from person to person and can be caused by a number of other caffeine-containing beverages and snacks, too. Some also consider caffeine a dependence-causing drug, so heavy drinkers may experience headaches for several days when they suddenly quit drinking coffee altogether.
Most doctors praise coffee-drinking for the health benefits of the beverage. While some studies are not conclusive, evidence has shown that the number of health benefits far outweigh the number of possible dangers. The benefits that are currently being flouted in relation to coffee consumption include a lower risk or smaller effects from a wide array of life-threatening diseases and illnesses. But coffee also contains antioxidants, which improve the quality of life for people who are already healthy. Antioxidants help to prevent oxidation, which is a process that contributes to damaged cells and aging.
In addition, those who drink coffee regularly have a significantly smaller risk of getting Parkinson’s disease. There is also a much smaller risk of getting type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. It has also been suggested that coffee drinking protects against liver cirrhosis, gallstone formation, kidney stones and Alzheimer’s disease. It is also a fabulous asthma treatment, as caffeine opens airways and improves asthma symptoms. And another general benefit of coffee drinking is an alertness and improved mental functions.
Weigh out the pros and cons yourself and make your own decision: is too much coffee bad for you?
If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also like our Interesting Coffee Facts page.
Image Credit: flickr / people drinking coffee awkwardly