Saturday, May 4, 2013

Coffee & Health: Pros and Cons

Ahh Coffee... such a wonderful way to wake up in the morning.  This little bean has literally transformed culture, trade and minds throughout history.  It is so powerful, in fact, that coffee is the second most traded commodity worldwide - second only to crude oil!   When it comes to the health benefits of coffee there is much to say.  The overall picture is a mix of positives and negatives, so this post will take a look at both sides so you can make an informed decision:

The Good:

  1. Coffee has a large dose of anti-oxidants.  For most Americans, coffee is the #1 source of antioxidants.  Coffee contains numerous antioxidants, and in addition, caffeine itself is an antioxidant.  The caffeine in cocoa, tea, and coffee is a powerful antioxidant that can even protect against Alzheimer’s.  Note that roasted coffee beans have a higher antioxidant content.
  2. In many lab tests it has been shown to improve cognitive ability in terms of memory recall and overall performance metrics.
  3. In some studies, coffee has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity (and therefore improves blood sugar).  Long-term coffee drinking is associated with a lower risk of type-2 diabetes.  The more coffee you drink, the lower the risk (however, coffee alone should not be relied on for this effect).
  4. Coffee has strong thermogenic properties, meaning it increases metabolic rate and stimulates movement.  It also increases fat mobilization and oxidation may promote fat loss.  

The Bad:
  1. Caffeine can cause anxiety and sleep disturbances for some people. Keep in mind that the alkaloids in coffee need 12 hours to be completely eliminated from your body.
  2. Coffee is a diuretic, causing increased urination and possibly dehydration as result.  Chronic dehydration can lead to a host of problems, including muscle aches and poor recovery after exercise.
  3. Coffee strongly stimulates the adrenals.  Over the long-term, the morning cup may deplete the adrenal reserves even to the point where the coffee no longer "works" like it used to.  This adrenal effect may also raise blood pressure, which can be a serious medical concern for some people.
  4. Many of the chemicals in coffee irritate the stomach lining.  The result may be an increase in stomach acid and eventually, chronic digestive disorders, including gastritis.
  5. Lastly, most coffee is contaminated with fungal toxins - some estimates say that 85% are contaminated.  These fungal or mold toxins are often the reason people feel jittery or have side other effects.  Good coffee should not have these side-effects.  The best approach is to buy a coffee from a single origin plantation, not a blended coffee that comes from multiple locations and suppliers.  Also, doing research on how the coffee was fermented and processed is important.

Tips for Choosing a Better Quality Coffee:
  • Avoid decaf.  The caffeine content protects the beans from mold.  In addition, the decaffeination process can add new organic toxins and increase molds. 
  • Never drink robusta (cheap, instant) beans. Robusta coffees have a higher mold content, which is why they are higher in caffeine too (as a defense against mold on the bush). Drink arabica.
  • Single estate coffees are generally the cleanest and highest quality.  Major brands often mix beans from many sources, and commonly any toxic molds are blended it into the coffee.

In summary, I encourage you to weigh the pros and cons and then go forth and enjoy whatever cup you brew!  And don't forget to drink tea.  The next post will cover the wonders of tea, which has a few more pros and cons...