Guest article by Sam Hadadi,
There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly-brewed coffee first thing in the morning, is there?
You see, we all know that coffee can pick us up and leave us feeling fresh, energised and ready to face the day. Yet for years, there’s been endless debate about whether our caffeine addiction does us more harm than good. Is it a magic elixir, a cure for obesity and diabetes among others, or is it damaging for our body?
Happily, the latest research suggests that, yes, we should be drinking up! Yep, put the kettle on – here, we’ll be sifting through the beans and showing you why coffee has just been proven to be a life-saver. Literally…
Those clever science folk at Harvard may just have propelled our caffeine addiction even further! In a study published in the American Heart Association journal, a team of researchers from the University revealed that drinking a second or third cup of coffee may do more than get you through a long day - it may also reduce your risk of death from heart disease and other illnesses.
The study suggested that those who regularly drank moderate amounts of coffee daily (that’s less than five cups per day, not an excuse to be connected to a caffeinated IV drip!) experienced a lower risk of deaths from cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases, Type 2 diabetes and suicide.
In fact, the impressive benefits were the same whether knocking back caffeinated coffee or decaf, which suggests it's not just the caffeine providing the perks, but the coffee beans themselves.
Author of the study Ming Ding praised the natural compounds found in coffee, saying that they could even save lives: "Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin resistance and systematic inflammation.
"They might be responsible for the inverse association between coffee and mortality. However, more studies are needed to investigate the biological mechanisms producing these effects."
So, how did the researchers reach this conclusion? Well, the findings were based on data from three large ongoing studies, tracking 74,890 women in the Nurses' Health Study, 93,054 women in the Nurses' Health Study 2, and 40,557 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
During these studies, researchers assessed coffee drinking every four years using food questionnaires, following participants for up to 30 years. Throughout this period, 19,524 women and 12,432 men died from a range of causes.
Generally, caffeine addicts were more likely to smoke and drink alcohol. Yet to separate the effects of coffee from smoking, the researchers repeated their analysis among non-smokers, finding that the protective benefits of coffee on deaths became even more obvious.
As senior author Frank Hu said: "Regular consumption of coffee can be included as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
"However, certain populations such as pregnant women and children should be cautious about high caffeine intake from coffee or other beverages."
Of course, we should take these findings with a sprinkling of sugar (and cinnamon) - the study wasn’t designed to show a direct cause and effect relationship between coffee consumption and dying from illness.
Previous studies have also found an inconsistent relationship between coffee drinking and risk of death, which would suggest more research is needed before we starting reaching for a mug of coffee for a health boost…
Over the last few months, there have been mugs and mugs full of research into why coffee may actually be good for us. Here are some of our favourites:
Prevent Heart Disease
Those clever Koreans published a study1 in the journal Heart last month, which suggested that our favourite hot drink could help to protect us from heart disease. The study found that a moderate consumption of coffee (3-5 mugs a day) could prevent calcium build-up in the arteries. However, before you jump for joy, it’s worth remembering that coffee has also been linked to other heart problems, including high blood pressure and cholesterol…
Type 2 Diabetes
Just last year, the American Diabetes Association reviewed a slew of coffee research2 to conclude that drinking six cups of coffee each day could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by a third. Pretty impressive, right?
Although it’s not quite an elixir for immortality, those Harvard guys have also found that drinking up to six mugs of coffee per day3 is not only safe, but it also won’t increase our risk of dying from any particular cause. Of course, add whipped cream and sugary pumpkin syrup to each coffee, and you might find the results are slightly different…
Want to pre-empt those festive pounds? Drinking up your favourite beverage could well be the answer. A 22-week study4 tracking overweight adults found that those given green coffee extract saw a huge weight loss, with more than 37 per cent of them seeing their weight plummet to a normal weight range.
If you’ve been slogging it out over your desk all day, then an aching back and stiff limbs may well be all too common. Yet, taking a coffee break could help you feel refreshed and pain-free. Norwegian researchers5 followed 48 office workers and found that those who consumed coffee only had a pain-intensity level of 41, whereas those who drank none at all had a score of 55.
Hold on before you reach for that (tenth) coffee! As you probably know, this caffeinated favourite isn’t great for sleep patterns. In fact, endless studies6 have shown that, for a decent night of sleep, you should avoid coffee six hours before your bedtime.
Pregnant women should also be wary of drinking too much coffee, since scientists believe that caffeine could pass through the placenta to the baby. Meanwhile, other studies7 have found that two or more cups a day could increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific (yet worryingly common) genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body.
While there still needs to be more research into the health benefits of coffee to provide any sure-fire evidence, it’s worth remembering that not all coffee is made equal.
Your regular jar of shop-bought instant may not contain the same body-loving compounds found in freshly-ground beans, while those watching their cholesterol levels may need to plump for filtered – the Harvard School of Public Health, found that coffee’s cafestol (a stimulator of cholesterol levels) will be lost in filtered coffee.
Of course, we’re also always shouting from the rooftops about Lucy Bee Bullet Proof Coffees – have you tried it yet?
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.