Coffee’s Health Benefits
It’s surprising when something that was once considered questionable for your health turns out to have
health benefits, usually with the proviso to use it “in moderation.” That happened with chocolate and
alcohol, and now it is coffee’s turn. Study findings from 2004 and 2005 suggest coffee might actually be
good for us. However, coffee hasn’t been completely exonerated.
Coffee contains antioxidants that may offer some cardiovascular protection, and research is showing
that it reduces the likelihood of developing diabetes, which is itself a major heart disease risk factor. But
it also increases homocysteine levels and may have negative effects on the aorta. In general, when a risk
factor has been carefully studied and the results flip back and forth like this, it often means that if there
is any harm or benefit, it’s pretty minor.
Here’s some of the mostly good news about coffee:
Blood pressure. True, a cup of coffee can temporarily kick up your blood pressure. But results from long-
term studies are showing that coffee may not increase the risk for high blood pressure over time, as
previously thought. It’s possible that people develop a tolerance to coffee’s hypertensive effects after a
Caf. vs./ decaf.
Increases blood lipids that raise risk of heart disease X
Protects against diabetes X X†
Decreases C-peptide levels* X X
Low-birthweight babies, preterm delivery X
*A substance in the blood that is an indicator of insulin resistance and risk for diabetes
† Less than caffeinated
Cancer. Coffee might have anti-cancer properties. Researchers found that coffee drinkers were 50% less
likely to get liver cancer than nondrinkers. A few studies have found ties to lower rates of colon, breast,
and rectal cancers. Several studies have shown that caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee have different
health effects (see chart).
Cholesterol. Two substances in coffee — kahweol and cafestol — raise cholesterol levels. Paper filters
capture these substances, but that doesn’t help the many people who now drink non-filtered coffee
drinks, such as lattes. Researchers have also found a link between cholesterol increases and
decaffeinated coffee, possibly because of the type of bean used to make certain decaffeinated coffees.
Diabetes. Heavy coffee drinkers may be half as likely to get diabetes as light drinkers or nondrinkers.
Coffee may contain ingredients that lower blood sugar. A coffee habit may also increase your resting
metabolism rate, which could help keep diabetes at bay.
Gallstones. Coffee drinkers are less likely to suffer symptomatic gallstone disease, possibly because
coffee alters the cholesterol content of the bile produced by the liver.
Parkinson’s disease. Coffee seems to protect men but not women against Parkinson’s disease. One
possible explanation for the sex difference may be that estrogen and caffeine need the same enzymes to
be metabolized, and estrogen captures those enzymes.