Regular Coffee Drinkers Have Cause To Rejoice!
Regular coffee drinkers, of whom there are about 165 million in this country alone, undoubtedly wonder from time to time, “How many cups can I safely drink each day?” This worry is a conditioned response, because coffee has been blamed over the years for everything from heart disease to cancer. The possibility that it actually is good for us rarely, if ever, crosses our minds.
More Good Than Harm
Over the decades, there have been more than 19,000 studies looking into the dangers and benefits of coffee. Some of them are open to interpretation, but here’s my take on the research: For most people, drinking no more than three cups of coffee a day does more good than harm.
Remember, however, that one’s tolerance to coffee can vary, so even a small amount can make you nervous and irritable if you happen to be sensitive to it. This is especially true if you’re unwittingly consuming additional caffeine present in certain energy drinks, colas, tea, chocolate, and various cold and headache remedies.
But there’s much more to coffee than the caffeine. Coffee has antioxidants-the substances also present in tea, fruits and vegetables that enhance overall health. It also contains a host of antibacterial compounds that protect against infection (one of them even helps prevent dental cavities). Other ingredients may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (although you should reduce your coffee intake if you do develop the disease).
Coffee’s benefits affect the entire body-from preventing gallstones to reducing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (by allowing the release of dopamine into the brain) and even preserving cognitive function. Recently, a 10-year study in Europe of nearly 700 healthy elderly men revealed that those who drank at least three cups of coffee per day maintained better brain function.
Coffee and Cholesterol
Does coffee raise cholesterol levels? Only when it is boiled or prepared using a French press, as is widely done in Europe. In the United States, where coffee is usually filtered and percolated, it has not been shown to increase cholesterol levels.
Also, if your blood pressure is normal, coffee is not likely to elevate it. Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital found that even five cups of coffee a day do not significantly increase pressure in healthy men, although just one cup may do so if you have hypertension.
Most doctors, including me, do not believe that moderate coffee drinking over a lifetime is bad for your heart or vascular system. (A recent report, however, did suggest that it could lead to a heart attack in persons with a particular gene-a rare finding.)
On the positive side, coffee may:
• relieve headaches.
• reduce the risk of colorectal and breast cancer.
• enhance physical endurance.
• protect against cirrhosis of the liver.
• improve performance of tasks.
So here’s the bottom line for you coffee lovers. Most side effects occur at high doses (see box). Still, patients with heart disease and cardiac-rhythm problems, high blood pressure, active gout or stomach ulcers should reduce or eliminate their intake. The rest of us who look forward to our morning cup of coffee should have no qualms about drinking it. Moderation is the key.
Some Reasons to Cut Back
The most serious problems from coffee-especially of excessive intake-are caffeine dependence and cardiac-rhythm disturbances (in those predisposed to such irregularities). Too much coffee also may produce these negative effects:
• a decrease in the absorption of B vitamins.
• an increase in uric acid, which can cause kidney stones and gout.
• an increase in the excretion of calcium, potassium, magnesium and trace minerals, which can worsen osteoporosis.
• the production of excess adrenaline, causing a “high,” then fatigue and irritability.
• heartburn (reflux) or aggravation of an existing ulcer.