The Coffee Connoisseur’s Question

By Lori Drummond, RD, LD
President of Good Health Consulting LLC

I’m often asked if coffee is harmful or good for you. From my recent survey of some the latest research, coffee isn’t as harmful as once thought and can actually have some healthful benefits.

I’ve been a coffee drinker since my early 20s. I’ve typically enjoyed one or two cups a day with an occasional cup in the afternoon or evening for a pick-me-up. You coffee connoisseurs know what I’m talking about.

There have also been seasons where I stopped drinking coffee and decided to drink only herbal teas in order to reap their benefit. The point was to give my body a break from the caffeine. I have not discerned any noticeable difference in my level alertness or general health, however. I’m sure some would beg to differ.

Coffee has been found to have the B-vitamin niacin, magnesium, and is a rich source of antioxidants. (Manach, et al 2004) It is well known that antioxidants fight the harmful effects of free radicals and the cell damage they cause.

In a study by Dogasaki et al (2002), they found that brewed coffee possessed antibacterial activities exhibited by certain acids such as caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid. In a recent meta-analysis regarding coffee consumption and risk of coronary heart disease, the researchers concluded that their findings did not support the hypothesis that drinking coffee increases the long-term risk of heart disease.

They also found that coffee consumption in moderation was associated with lower risk of coronary heart disease in women. (Jiang-nan, et al 2009).

You might be asking yourself, “How much caffeine is in the coffee I drink?” Caffeine content ranges widely (see Caffeine Content pdf file below). In one study, caffeine content of one cup ranged from 58 – 259 mg depending on the plant species, the quality of the coffee, the method of bean roasting and preparation of drinks.

They even found a variety of caffeine content when studying the same drink at the same facility on six consecutive days ranging from 259 mg – 564 mg in one serving. (McCuster, et al 2003) (Bell, et al 1996)

But there are opposing arguments as to if coffee is completely safe to consume and in what quantities. It is known that increased caffeine consumption can lead to increased heart rate. Some studies do show that caffeine intake raises blood pressure by small amounts and also raises adrenaline, as reported in a study by James D. Lane, PhD. in the 2002 July/August issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

Also, for pregnant women, it is advised to abstain from caffeinated drinks including coffee during this time. It’s not completely understood what effect caffeine has on the baby. Lower birth weight and an increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth is believed to be linked to caffeine intake, although according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, this has not been proven and research continues.

There is a question of how our genes react or are effected by different nutrients, Nutrigenomics is an the examination of molecular connection involving nutrition of the foods we consume and the reaction of our genes. Studies are underway involving how our genes are affected by coffee or caffeine. It will be fascinating to learn more about this cutting edge science as it unfolds.

According to a recent review article (Jose’ G. 2005), many studies support the idea that coffee drinking has health benefits and it could be considered a functional food. Balance is the golden rule. Caution should be taken if one has hypertension or a heart condition. If pregnant, go for the herbal teas to get that antioxidant boost rather than resorting to coffee.

Finally, it’s always best to seek the advice of your physician. Be smart. Enjoy your coffee in moderation. Moderation is defined as 2 -3 cups per day.

Healthy Regards,



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