4 Health Benefits and Hazards of Drinking Coffee


I’ve recently talked a lot about coffee with respect to hunger control and use before exercising. While these are two key and interesting topics, I felt like they only touched on a small portion of a large body of information regarding coffee.  I won’t re-cap those pieces as you can watch the video on coffee and hunger control (finally, a use for decaf!) and read my Ask The Diet Doctor column at Shape.com to learn about properly using coffee pre-workout. Instead, today we’ll look at four other health benefits and hazards of drinking coffee.

Remember that ‘coffee’ can mean a lot of things. So know that I’m talking about black coffee or coffee with a small amount of cream or sugar, not a 600 calorie frappa-sugar bomb. I always think its funny when I meet with fat loss clients and they tell me that they don’t want to, but are so committed, they will stop drinking their morning coffee with cream. I can’t remember the last time (if ever) a morning cup of coffee with a little cream or sugar was the rate limiting step for fat loss.

1. Coffee Is Great For Your Liver – Coffee is sometimes used as a synonym for caffeine, but this is a mistake as it sells the overall nutrient package of coffee short. While coffee does contain caffeine, it also contains a variety of bioactive compounds and antioxidants that are really good for you, such as cafestol, kahweol, and chlorogenic acids.

Coffee is an amazingly potent collection of biologically active compounds. – Walter Willet, Head of Harvard School of Public Health

One of the areas in which this amalgamation of bioactives comes together for your benefit, is to fight liver cancer. A meta-analysis of 16 studies found that heavy coffee drinkers had a ~50% reduction in odds of getting liver cancer. It may help with oral cancers as well.


2. Chlorogenic Acid Can Help Shuttle Sugar Into Your Muscles – As mentioned above, cholorgenic acid is an antioxidant found in coffee. A 2012 study found that cholorgenic acid might be able to boost the number of glucose transporters on your muscle cell surfaces, (just like exercise does, but I’m assuming to a lesser extent), thus aiding in the preferential shuttling of sugar to your muscles. This is a cool finding for this coffee bioactive, as previous research has also shown that it can slow the absorption of carbohydrates in your intestines.

3. Coffee Produces Catecholamines – Catecholamines can be both good and bad. As your fight or flight hormones, they are good, as they helped the neanderthal version of you whoop a bear’s butt and they help the modern day you crank out more reps than you thought you could in the weight room. Catecholamines are also known as stress hormones. This is their dark side, as over production (i.e. too much stress) can lead to perturbations in cortisol which has lots of negative long term metabolic effects. This is another situation that proves the old adage

the dose makes the poison

true. Where do you draw the line? Practically speaking, it is a pretty easy tipping point to notice. If you find that you rely on coffee to function, and that you need it to get through your day and do what you need to do, then you’ve gone too far and your caffeine intake is probably on the unhealthy side of things. I personally think that the biggest danger of coffee (or any other stimulant) comes from what it allows you to do to your body – skipping meals, staying up late, working too long, etc. You don’t realize how depleted you have become until your come out of your coffee-induced stupor.

4. Getting Hooked on Coffee Leads to Headaches – Any serious coffee drinker knows that their AM cup of java can be mandatory to ensure they don’t spend the day with a nasty headache. Why? Caffeine stimulates the release of your fight or flight hormones. These compounds cause your blood vessels to constrict (e.g. get smaller). When you don’t have your morning java, your blood vessels dilate (e.g. get bigger). This causes an increase in blood flow to your brain which manifests in your life as a headache. Caffeine withdrawal headaches don’t cause any harm to your health, they just make you feel miserable.

Coffee, and all of its components, can provide you with great benefits when used correctly. Just monitor your use, don’t allow its stimulant properties to push your body into unhealthy situations, and you’ll reap only the positive effects of my favorite beverage.

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