Coffee and tea may often be referred to as “drugs,” but that is a misnomer. They are natural herbal elixirs, more akin to echinacea than ibuprofen. A quick search of the National Institutes of Health’s database shows 8,617 studies on coffee alone and 25,164 on caffeine. The overwhelming majority of these studies are positive. Humans have been drinking coffee for longer than recorded history, and research confirms that it has very few downsides. Soda, on the other hand, has only been around a few generations, and the first long-term studies on it have just started to appear. The appalling results link both regular and diet sodas to myriad diseases and decreased life span. So, to repeat: In no way should these beverages ever be related.
Depending on how you interpret statistics, coffee is the most consumed beverage in the world. Together with its brethren, tea, only soda measures up in a popularity contest. Because they all contain caffeine, they’re often lumped together in one group, which is a pity because they couldn’t be further apart. Both coffee and tea are natural tonics steeped in lore and tradition. Soda, on the other hand, has nothing natural about it. It’s a purely man-made concoction designed to elicit a drug-like response and cravings.
Just because coffee has tradition and science on its side doesn’t mean you should have a 64-ounce trucker’s mug permanently attached to your wrist. As with all “healthy” foods, supplements, tonics, or herbs; common sense—if not downright restraint—should be employed with use. So the question is, do he love you or love you not..?
Coffee can keep you awake.
This can be the desired effect, but if it hampers your ability to sleep when you want to, give it a miss. While coffee has all kinds of cool benefits, none of those are as beneficial as sleep. During the various stages of sleep, our body releases many powerful regenerative hormones, making it the greatest natural performance aid around. Furthermore, a 17-year-old study out of England, featuring 10,000 participants, showed those who cut their sleep from seven hours a night to five or less faced a 1.7-fold increased risk in mortality from all causes and more than double the risk of cardiovascular death. Sleep first. Then, consider a cup of java.
“Insert your favorite flavor”-accino doesn’t make it coffee.
For millennia, coffee was consumed in small cups and, perhaps, enhanced by a touch of sugar or milk. Only since the Starbucks revolution, has it been possible to order what was formerly a cup o’ Joe and have it delivered as something that was formerly a milkshake. The majority of most coffeehouse menus are filled with items that aren’t really coffee, but rather coffee-spiked dessert. Coffee and tea have zero calories. A spoonful of sugar and dash of milk contain around 40 calories. The average drink at Starbucks contains 300 empty calories or more, turning most people’s conception of coffee into something closer to soda. So before ordering your next Choco-Vanilla-accino-Frappé, consider that even one soda a day greatly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
It’s a magic elixir.
A 1988 study that followed some 84,000 women and 44,000 men concluded that coffee had a bevy of benefits. Most recently published in the May 2, 2006 issue of Circulation, the study noted drinking coffee:
* isn’t harmful to cardiovascular health, and may even be beneficial
* may reduce the risk of developing gallstones
* discourages the development of colon cancer
* reduces the risk of liver damage in people at high risk for liver disease
* and reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Coffee can reduce the pain of exercise.
An article published in the April 2009 edition of the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism shows that coffee can kill some of the pain associated with vigorous exercise. “Caffeine works on a system in the brain and spinal cord (the adenosine neuromodulatory system) that is heavily involved in pain processing,” said Robert Motl, kinesiology and community health professor at University of Illinois. These results seemed constant whether or not the subjects were habitual caffeine drinkers. So much for the knock on caffeinated pre-workout supplements!
You’re less likely to get type 2 diabetes.
A slew of studies show that the risk for type 2 diabetes is lower among regular coffee drinkers than among those who don’t drink it. It’s not all about caffeine, either. The July 6, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at compiled data from many of them and concluded their findings were, indeed, true. In one study, published shortly thereafter in the February 2006 issue of Diabetes Care, decaf was shown to lower the risk of diabetes as well, suggesting that something other than caffeine is likely responsible.
It can increase your sports performance.
Coffee has been shown to improve endurance performance in long-duration physical activities. This probably isn’t too surprising since, for many years, caffeine was on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned substance list. Coffee increases many processes in the body that can lead to better performance. Ergogenic (or performance enhancing) benefits include increased ability to use fat as fuel (sparing glycogen stores). Also, muscles can better release stored calcium, leading to greater power output. Finally, researchers continually observe better mental focus in study participants who drink coffee.
And you don’t need to fill a trucker’s mug to see results. In several studies conducted by the Australian Institute of Sport, athletes get all of these full effects with as little as 1 milligram of caffeine from coffee per kilogram of body weight, or about 1 cup of joe for an average human.
Coffee makes you smart.
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in August 2006 followed 676 healthy, older men from Finland, the Netherlands, and Italy for 10 years and measured their cognitive function. Those who drank coffee had lower rates of age-related cognitive decline than those who didn’t, with maximum protection seen in men who drank 3 cups of coffee a day.
You’re less likely to get prostate cancer.
Once they hit the not-so-ripe-old-age of 40, men march in for regular prostate cancer testing. Turns out, coffee is one of your greatest allies in the fight against prostate cancer. Especially when you drink a lot of it. A 2006 study concluded coffee drinkers were 60% less likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer. The researchers followed 50,000 men for 20 years. Six cups a day seemed like the magic number, as that’s where the risks were lowest. A follow-up in 2011 further confirmed this study.
Six is the magic number for cancer.
In 2007, almost 94,000 women participated in a study that found a link between coffee and nonmelanoma skin cancer. Those who drank at least a daily cup of caffeinated brew had a 10% lower risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Women who drank 6 or more cups daily had an almost 40% reduction in risk. This time, caffeine seems like the key, as researchers were able to uncover the mechanism by which caffeine helps lower the risk. Caffeine molecules were already known to behave as a natural sunscreen, but they also found the stimulant to have a positive effect on DNA.
Coffee reduces your chance of having a stroke.
A 2008 study of more than 26,000 male smokers in Finland found that the men who drank 8 or more cups of coffee a day had a 23 percent lower risk of having a stroke than the men who drank little or none. The obvious next question was whether the same effect would carry to nonsmokers. Other reports said yes, including analyses conducted by researchers at UCLA and USC. The two teams examined data among more than 9,000 participants in the 2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. At a 2009 conference, researchers reported their findings. People who didn’t drink coffee had the highest likelihood of having a stroke. Those who drank the most had the lowest risk: 1-2 cups/day = 5% chance of stroke; 6+ cups/day = 2.9% chance of stroke.
So much for moderation.
Turns out there’s a good reason coffee is not just popular to drink but has an almost cult-like following; it makes life better. And it seems that we knew it long before we could prove it. Just like the British and their beloved tea, coffee is a part of our culture and our history. From literature to art, music to movies, life wouldn’t be the same without a steaming hot cup of dark brew.