Coffee: To Drink or Not to Drink?

There continues to be growing evidence that coffee is good for you. Great news for us doctors where the coffee counter line is often the longest in the cafeteria.  So what are the potential benefits the daily cup (or more) of joe?

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Increased mental sharpness.

The caffeine in coffee helps with mental acuity and with consolidation of learning.  It increases reaction times, attention, and alertness.  There has even been some evidence for less depression in people who drink coffee, as well as decreased likelihood for developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases. 

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Decreased risk of some cancers.

There has been fairly convincing evidence for decreased incidence of endometrial (uterine) and liver cancer among people who drink coffee.  There is some evidence that coffee drinkers will have less head and neck, breast, prostate, GI and skin cancers but this needs to be further explored.

Drinking coffee helps you live longer!  

Coffee is a very good source of antioxidants and this has been proposed as a mechanism for longevity amongst people who drink coffee.  A major study in 2012 published in the New England Journal of Medicine of thousands of people over many years found this association and it has been reproduced in several studies since.  There is good evidence for improved liver health with coffee consumption and in women there has been shown to be a lower incidence of coronary artery disease.  (

Coffee can help you lose weight.  

Studies have demonstrated that people who drink coffee or caffeinated beverages have a lower BMI and improved physical fitness.  There is also a decreased incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in people who are coffee drinkers.  However, this must be balanced how the drink is consumed as adding sugar or cream to coffee or drinking caloric caffeinated beverages will negate these potential benefits. 

Coffee Cautions. 

There are downsides to coffee consumption for some folks.  Because of its stimulating effects if consumed late in the day some may experience insomnia.  For others the caffeine may trigger symptoms of heart palpitations or anxiety.  Additionally, coffee causes increased urine output so it can cause bladder irritation.  ( For people who drink coffee and then choose to stop they can experience withdrawal symptoms such as a headache or general malaise.  Thus, you should not stop “cold turkey” but rather cut back gradually so as to minimize these symptoms.  Of course, for women who are pregnant or breast feeding caffeine intake must be limited.  Additionally, there has been an association with very hot beverage consumption (>149°F) and development of esophageal cancer.  Finally, it should be noted that for the benefits listed above, the exact amount of coffee consumption is not clear, studies have varied between 1-2 cups all the way up to 8 cups per day. 

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At this point in time, it does seem that, if you are a coffee lover and do not experience any adverse side effects and have no other contraindication,  then feel free to enjoy, and you may even find you are a healthier person for it!

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