Coffee - Health Benefits
by: Dr. Andrea Maxim, BSc.(Hons), ND and Author
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and Creator of the Maxim Movement
Healing Journey Naturopathic Clinic
25 Caithness St W
We hear so often “Coffee is bad! Coffee is bad!” Coffee is one of the most highly consumed beverages in North America. It’s no wonder there is literally a coffee shop on every street corner—and if it’s not classified as a coffee shop, you can bet it serves coffee! Much of the speculation for why coffee is considered harmful is typically around the side effects of caffeine. The average amount of caffeine in one cup of joe is about 95 mg. Health Canada recommends a daily consumption of caffeine to be no more than 2.5 mg/kg body weight, which for an average 150 lb person equals 170.5 mg/d—1.8 cups per day.
Well, the research that is coming out says that consumption over the recommended limit is actually beneficial! Now, that is not to say that you can go and have as many double-doubles as you want or high-fat lattés; I will preface all of the following research by saying that black coffee predominantly was what was tested.
More and more studies are showing the health benefits of coffee with overall quality of life and to help ward off some severe chronic illnesses. One study notes that people who drink up to five cups of coffee per day are less likely to die from heart disease, neurological disease, type 2 diabetes, or suicide. This is likely attributed to the health compounds of the coffee, not from the caffeine. Another study noted that drinking 4+ cups of coffee per day (about 460 mg of caffeine) also helped those with colon cancer prevent recurrence; in fact, they were 42% less likely to have the cancer return to non–coffee drinkers.
How Genetics Play a Role
Harvard researchers conducted a large-scale meta-analysis on over 120,000 regular coffee drinkers. What they found was that some people actually have genetic variants that allow them to enjoy coffee more than others. They mapped two gene variants that affect caffeine metabolism in some individuals. These genes are POR and ABCG2. Regarding the reward benefits from caffeine consumption, the genes affecting that were near genes BDNF and SLC6A4.
If you have the right genetic composition, coffee can reduce your risk of Parkinson’s disease by 87%. They tested 1,458 patients with Parkinson’s compared to 931 controls and actually scanned seven million DNA variants and found those who were heavy coffee drinkers had a 30% reduced risk for developing Parkinson’s disease. “Heavy” consumption refers to 2.5 cups of coffee or higher. The genes they honed in on were mutations to the GRIN2A and MAPK10 genes, both of which can be protective against Parkinson’s disease. They discovered that those heavy caffeine drinkers had anywhere from a 50% to an 87% reduction in risk.
Health Components of Coffee
Coffee comes predominantly from the Coffea arabica plant. These trees produce red fruits called “cherries” that contain the coffee bean, which is technically a seed. These beans offers a tremendous health benefit. The most important is their high antioxidant component. Antioxidants help the body scavenge free radicals, like little pac-men going after their ghosts. In doing so, they are incredibly protective against chronic illness. One study found that roasting the beans can actually enhance the antioxidant potential.
One antioxidant in particular, carried by the coffee bean, is called chlorogenic acid (CGA); it is the most abundant antioxidant in the bean. It is this component that some researchers have found helps to prevent diet-induced weight gain, blood sugar irregularity, and insulin resistance. This study, as well as another one by Xiao et al., also found significant evidence of coffee acting as protection against liver disease. They studied over 27,000 people 20 years of age or older and found those who drank three or more cups had lower levels of liver enzymes to those who drank none. Genetically, from the previously cited study, the near genes that may be responsible for this effect are near GCKR and MLXIPL.
Choose the Right Machine, Clean Often
How you brew your coffee will also change the health benefits it provides. Research by Muller et al. (2015) studied the effects of the chemicals from the coffee filter leaching into the coffee rendering it more toxic to the consumer. For instance, the use of eight coffee machines tested showed alarmingly high levels of lead, nickel, manganese, and zinc, significantly exceeding the recommended limit of daily intake. They tested portafilter machines, pod machines, and capsule machines. The machines that most released these toxic chemicals were the portafilter machines. How can you decrease the exposure? The authors recommend to carefully rinse these machines often, especially if you notice calcification.
Calcification refers to the calcium deposits that form over time on the metal parts of your coffee machine. This will occur depending on the hardness of you water and how often you use the coffee machine. It is best to review the recommendations of your coffee maker and see what the companies recommend for best results. If you’re not too sure, decalcifiying your machine once per month, if you’re a daily user, is a great starting point.
Decalcifying the machine requires nothing more than your run-of-the-mill white vinegar. Fill the water reserve with one-third vinegar and two-thirds water. Run the coffee maker through it’s regular brewing cycle, then repeat again with just regular water. If you still notice the vinegar smell or taste, run fresh water through the brewing cycle again until that dissipates. Repeat every month.
Choosing the Right Bean
Not all beans are grown the same, so choosing the right bean is of utmost importance. The one thing to watch out for with any coffee bean are fungal compounds called mycotoxins, such as Aspergillus or Fusarium. One university tested 103 samples of commercially available coffee and found traces—some significant—of fumonisins, aflatoxins (the toxin on peanuts as well), trichothecenes, and mycotoxins. The issue with these substances is that they can be carcinogenic or hepatotoxic, and significantly affect the immune system.
The other issue that is a growing concern is the inevitable shortage of coffee beans due to climate changes. Droughts are causing some of the largest coffee producers to have significant decreases in their outputs of coffee beans. The American Chemical Society put out a warning that, due to these shortages, some filler ingredients may be added to add bulk to the coffee supply. These fillers may include wheat, soybeans, açai seeds, brown sugar, barley, rye, or corn. Luckily, one research team at State University have developed a test that detects up to 95% of impurities. The difficulty lies in the fact that these ingredients can become even harder to detect after roasting and grinding the raw materials. This may be used in the future, but has not officially been launched to the public as far as I know.
Cautions with Coffee Consumption
Pregnant women need to be mindful of the amount of caffeine they consume. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommend no more than 300 mg of caffeine per day. There is currently no research to prove any detriment to the fetus, but high levels of caffeine can cause miscarriage or having a low-birth-weight baby. Remember: this amount of caffeine is not just from coffee consumption, but can also be found in soft drinks, sugary snacks, chocolate, and of course energy drinks.