Coffee: The Good, the Bad & the Confusing

What's going on with coffee? For the past year there have been numerous reports on both the negative and positive effects of java. The information has been so confusing that it's virtually impossible to decide whether or not it's detrimental to include a cup (or two) in your morning routine. While there are legitimate coffee alternatives — like tea and yerba mate — it's still important to understand what exactly that grande latte's doing to your body.

Berkeley Wellness has sifted out the hype in a study that reveals that coffee itself is ultimately not so bad, but that the lifestyle of a coffee drinker may contribute to poor health.

Here's the scoop:

THE GOOD

Coffee stimulates the central nervous system improving reaction time, mental acuity, alertness, and mood while zapping drowsiness. Coffee is packed with antioxidants, substances that play a key role in warding off cell-damaging free radicals. Coffee has also been linked to a reduced risk of several diseases including:

- Type 2 diabetes The Nurses' Health Study at Harvard found that those who drank at least two cups of coffee a day — regular or decaf — have a lower risk of diabetes. Several previous studies of men and women have had similar findings, though in men it may take at least four cups a day to have this effect.

- Parkinson's disease In a well-designed study from Honolulu, men who drank no coffee were two to three times more likely to develop the disease than those who drank one to four cups a day. Decaf was not included in the study.

- Symptomatic gallstone disease In 2002 another part of the Nurses' Health Study suggested there's a protective effect, but it seemed to take four cups a day. Caffeine is thought to be the primary protective ingredient. Three years earlier the same researchers found a reduced risk in men.

- Liver damage Regular coffee and tea may help prevent liver disease in people at high risk (due to alcoholism, obesity, or diabetes, for instance), according to a recent study in Gastroenterology.

THE CONFUSING

- Coffee is a target for concern because its primary ingredient, caffeine, is a stimulant that can cause jitters, insomnia, increased heart rate, stomach upset, and heartburn.

- Does habitual coffee drinking leads to hypertension? So far, the answer is no, according to most research, including a recent study of 155,000 women.

- A few studies have found that large quantities of unfiltered, European-style coffee (regular or decaf) can boost blood cholesterol slightly. However, paper filters seem to trap whatever culprits may be in the grounds.

- While caffeine was a suspected risk factor for weak bones, that may be because people who drink lots of coffee tend not to consume milk, thus missing out on calcium and vitamin D.

- Overall, people who drink lots of coffee are more likely to smoke, eat poorly, and drink too much alcohol.

[via: Berkeley Wellness]

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