Coffee – Is it good or bad?

The coffee industry in Ireland is on the rise, with 75% of the Irish population stating that they drink coffee, and 70% of them stating they have more than 1 cup of coffee a day. Every day many of us rely on coffee for a morning energy boost or an afternoon pick me up, or simply a social meet up with friends. Coffee is actually a quite complex drink and it’s health effects are controversial. We all know the active compound in coffee is caffeine, which is a stimulant and the most often consumed psychoactive substance (chemical that changes our brain function). In this post we will examine the good and the bad effects coffee may have on our system, but first what actually is caffeine?

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant that is found in coffee and other food and beverages such as tea, chocolate, soft drinks and energy drinks. It works by stimulating our central nervous system and brain by making us feel more alert.  Once caffeine is consumed it makes it’s way to our gut before it is absorbed into our bloodstream. Once in our bloodstream it then travels too our liver to be detoxified, during this process the byproducts produced then stimulate several organs, the main one being the brain.

Caffeine is also found naturally in seeds, leaves of certain plants and nuts. These natural sources are then processed  to make certain energy drinks, soft drinks etc. Caffeine content varies from product to product and an excessive daily consumption is over 400mg/day. A Starbucks Americano contains 225mg where as a Maxwell house average cup of ground coffee contains 50-100mg, a black tea contains about 50mg caffeine. Soft drinks can vary between 0-120mg where as some energy drinks can contain up to 350mg.


Health benefits of coffee

1. Coffee can boost metabolism

In past studies coffee has been shown to boost metabolism (calories burnt) by up to 11% and has even been shown to increase exercise performance by 11-12%. However these effects may be short term, like everything our body can build up a tolerance to it with metabolic effects minimised over time.

2. Coffee may enhance brain function

 During the day a neurotransmitter called Adenosine builds up which leads to tiredness and in the night – sleep. One of the main reasons caffeine is such an “awaken-er” is because it directly blocks the receptors that pick up Adenosine and therefor blocks its effects. Caffeine in coffee has also been shown to increase neuron firing in the brain with past studies showing that it can improve mood, memory and cognitive function in a short space of time.

3. May lower risk of type 2 Diabetes

Interestingly, caffeine has been shown to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, with some studies suggesting that coffee drinkers are up to 67% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

4. Coffee may lower risk of depression

Depression is the worlds most common metal disorder which seriously reducing quality of life. With the suicide rate quite high in Ireland this may be a significant one to note. In 1 particular study recorded over a 10 year period, those who drank coffee had a 20% less risk of becoming depressed!

Health detriments of coffee

1. Coffee can encourage weight gain

Caffeine increases cortisol secretion, this is known as our stress hormone because it is secreted when our body’s are put in stressful environments. Elevated levels of cortisol has been proven to increase appetite which can lead to over eating and therefor weight gain. Over time, increased levels of cortisol has been shown to have adverse health effects.

2. Caffeine can disrupt sleep

Coffee consumed late in the evening or night can reset our body clock by delaying a rise in the level of melatonin, our sleep hormone. If coffee reduces the quality of your sleep try to avoid it later in the day.

3. Caffeine can cause anxiety

It has been proven that over time high caffeine consumption can be a factor causing anxiety and heart palpitations. If you are even remotely sensitive to caffeine and tend to become over stimulated, then please stop drinking it and avoid caffeine at all costs.

4. Caffeine is addictive and can lead to withdrawal symptoms 

Caffeine is a known addictive substance and over time we can build up a tolerance so that it doesn’t have the same effect or larger doses are needed to get that “caffeine buzz”. Excessive caffeine intake will generally lead to dependence or addiction which can be dangerous and then when people try to abstain from drinking coffee withdrawal symptoms like headache, tiredness and irritability will be seen and can last a few days.

Should you be drinking coffee?

Some people should most certainly avoid coffee altogether. These would include pregnant women and those with anxiety issues, high blood pressure or insomnia. If you don’t drink coffee at the moment, any supposed health benefits are not a compelling enough reason to start drinking it. Ultimately, it’s hard to know for sure whether coffee causes any benefits at all. Doctors aren’t convinced to prescribe coffee yet. However if you do drink coffee, enjoy it, but be aware of how much your are drinking a day and never exceed 400mg/day