Is coffee good or bad for you? Scientists may never be able to say, judging by contradictory research results so far
For every study finding that coffee is good for you, there is a probably another study saying it is bad for you. Where does that leave the consumer unsure of the pros and cons of a cup of Joe? Make up your own mind
Around 1.4 billion cups of coffee are poured each day around the world, according to the International Coffee Organisation, supporting a coffee growing industry valued at US$100 billion – second only to crude oil among commodities.
If you follow the news, chances are you’ll have seen any number of stories about the pros and cons of drinking coffee: is it good for your health, or is it bad for mind and body and likely to shorten your life? The debate has hit fever pitch.
We all know why people drink coffee; scientific studies have shown that consuming the bean, roasted, in liquid can increase mental alertness, memory, stamina and concentration. It’s also been known to heighten anxiety, stress levels and cause stomach problems in some people. Then there are the numerous reports that people can exhibit withdrawal symptoms when they give up coffee, including headaches, stomach cramps and fatigue.
So what’s the verdict? Here is the gist of some recent studies to help you make an informed decision as to whether you should be drinking coffee or not, and how much a day you should drink.
The most recent large-scale study, published this year in JAMA Internal Medicine, had some interesting results. The UK-based study, which looked at half a million people, “found inverse associations for coffee drinking with mortality” for those who consumed between one and eight cups a day”.
The researchers concluded that coffee can be a part of a healthy lifestyle, and regular consumers saw a decrease in incidence of cardiovascular disease and even some types of cancer.
On the other hand, a 2014 study published in the United States by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information found “that coffee consumption may worsen psychopathological conditions in mood disorders”. In other words, people prone to ailments such as depression and anxiety may find an increase in caffeine consumption leads to nervousness and even panic attacks.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer released a study a few years ago that made a bold claim, one that scared many who drink coffee regularly – the agency deemed coffee “possibly carcinogenic”. However, it has since backtracked on this finding and offered some clarification, to wit: there was “no conclusive evidence for a carcinogenic effect” produced by drinking coffee, but the consumption of“hot beverages” in general could be seen as carcinogenic.
Does that mean switching to iced coffee? Who knows?
If, having weighed such contradictory evidence, you decide still to drink coffee, how many cups a day can you safely down? Here’s the bad news: the correct amount is still up for debate.
Studies have shown anywhere from one to eight cups a day can be part of a healthy diet. But wait a minute – if you’re drinking eight cups of coffee a day, don’t you have a caffeine addiction?
Finally, multiple studies have shown that drinking coffee is probably the best way to ingest caffeine, which is a psychoactive drug that stimulates the central nervous system.
Too much caffeine can be detrimental to the nervous and circulatory systems – an argument for avoiding energy drinks. According to research, the two market-leading energy drinks contain stimulants including taurine and sugar which accentuate the effects of caffeine on the human body.
So where does that leave us? You can probably have your coffee, maybe with some milk (lactose tolerance permitting). As the Harvard Medical School’s Health Blog recently said: if you don’t drink coffee already, the best bet is to forgo picking up a tall one at your local Starbucks any time soon. If you do drink it already, try not to consume more than a few cups a day.
As with the debate over the pros and cons of moderate alcohol consumption, the scientific jury may be out forever on coffee.
One complicating factor is that pretty much every study on coffee consumption is what scientists call observational. This means they watched coffee drinkers, and non-coffee drinkers, and tabulated everything from mortality and weight gain to cancer diagnosis and heart attacks. But their incidence is determined by multiple factors, including lifestyle choices, diet, level of exercise, genetics and even geography.
Because of that, no cautious scientist is going to stick their neck out and say that drinking coffee is, on its own, going to make you live longer, or that it will shave years off your life.
So here’s to that morning cup of Joe, or not. Drink up, in moderation, or keep abstaining from the magical bean many simply cannot live without.