The Health Benefits and Risks of Coffee

doctor holding red stethoscope

Coffee as a Stimulant, Drug, Health and Beauty Aid

Coffee is drunk by millions of people throughout the world; in the U.S. alone, it is estimated that four out of five Americans drink coffee daily. Many of these people are, in fact, “addicted” to coffee, like chocolate, because coffee is a drug, based on its ingredients. However, although coffee carries some health risks, scientists are discovering that coffee carries some health benefits too; in addition, coffee is also now used as a beauty aid.

Properties of Coffee

Coffee is made from coffee beans extracted from the Coffea plant species which is grown on many coffee farms throughout the world. Coffee is a valuable trade commodity. Coffee beans contain caffeine, an ingredient which contains antioxidants; antioxidants are important to the body because they are capable of fighting free radicals which cause cell destruction in the body. However, because coffee is also a stimulant, it dilutes the blood vessels and pumps blood faster through the body, making both the brain and the heart work faster.

The Addiction of Coffee

The amount of coffee consumed in a day will determine the possible health benefits and risks to a particular person. Although the exact figure on the “right” number of cups of coffee to drink in a day varies, it is widely believed that, like any drug, abuse of a substance will cause greater problems and risks.

The Mayo Clinic defines “heavy caffeine use” as between four and seven cups of coffee a day which may lead to health risks; however, opinion varies. For regular coffee drinkers, caffeine withdrawal can occur from missing just one cup of coffee a day; caffeine withdrawal symptoms include irritability, headaches, restlessness, lethargy, nervousness and inability to function effectively.

Health Benefits of Coffee

Coffee in the past has been blamed for increasing the risk of cancer and heart disease; however, new studies, as cited by the Mayo Clinic, are now indicating that coffee may not solely be to blame (although it could still be a cause) because a lot of coffee drinkers are also smokers and take less physical activity, two factors which might have influenced previous coffee studies. Some possible health benefits of coffee include:

  • protection against Parkinson’s disease
  • protection against liver cancer
  • protection against type 2 diabetes
  • reduced risk of developing gallstones
  • reduced risk of colon cancer
  • improved cognitive function
  • improved endurance levels in physical activities
  • increased alertness.

Health Risks of Coffee

Coffee does carry some health risks too; these include:

  • raised blood pressure
  • possible increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • increased heart rate
  • irregular heart beat
  • increased anxiety
  • increased insomnia
  • increased irritability
  • increases the build up of toxins in the body
  • affects fertility in women
  • causes indigestion
  • causes heart burn
  • PMS symptoms may be worse for some women
  • possible increased risk of osteoporosis in post-menopause women.

Coffee as a Beauty Aid

Coffee is now being promoted as a beauty aid in the battle against cellulite in women; many cellulite creams contain caffeine as it is said to stimulate circulation and release stored water retention, two factors which increase the risk of cellulite. Hollywood stars and fashion models reportedly use coffee to fight cellulite.

However, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has carried out numerous studies on the effects of coffee and have yet to determine the long term effectiveness of using coffee to treat cellulite. In the short term, using coffee to treat cellulite might be beneficial because of the antioxidants coffee contains; antioxidants reduce inflammation, dilute blood vessels and temporarily tone the skin, reducing the appearance of cellulite.

Coffee as a Benefit or Risk

Scientists carry out many studies trying to determine the health benefits and risks of coffee; one of the most prominent studies into coffee is carried out by researchers at Harvard Medical School, which includes, in particular, coffee’s effects on women’s health issues such as osteoporosis and cancer. No conclusive evidence has been found on these issues as yet. Research continues into the other effects of coffee too in the search for answers about the health benefits and risks of coffee.

References:

  • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition web site
  • Web MD web site, Coffee: The New Health Food?, Sid Kirchheimer
  • Mayo Clinic web site, Coffee and Health: What Does the Research Say?, Donald Hensrud, M.D.
  • Harvard Medical School web site, Coffee Health Risks
  • Amazing Discoveries web site, America’s Number One Drug Problem – Coffee, Katy Chamberlin.
  • Body Cellulite web site, Cellulite and Coffee Do They Really Mix?

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