I have a confession to make. I love coffee!
When my alarm goes off and I don’t smell the wafting joy of auto-brewing coffee in the kitchen, there’s truly some glory missing from that morning. There’s something about that aroma that says “it’s going to be a good day.”
Interestingly, people have been having similar reactions to coffee for a long time. Coffee consumption dates back as far as the 12th century, if legend is to be believed. According to stories, a Moroccan Sufi mystic called Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili observed some birds eating coffee berries. These birds seemed to have unusual levels of energy and vitality. Al-Shadhili ate the berries and experienced the same boost of energy, so the story goes.
We know for sure that drinking coffee dates back to the 15th century, when Yemeni monks began the practice of drinking it. They believed it helped them gain concentration and created a kind of spiritual intoxication when they drank it and chanted the name of God.
From there, coffee consumption spread throughout the Middle East, through the Balkans, then into Europe and beyond. Coffee was introduced to the East Indies by Dutch settlers, with Central and South American societies taking up its’ production and consumption shortly thereafter.
While I won’t pretend to vouch for the mystic qualities of coffee, I can give you 9 science-based reasons to drink it, so let’s start there.
1. It’s delicious AND nutritious – Coffee is chock full of nutrients, especially antioxidants. Just one cup of brewed coffee contains 2% of your RDI (Reference Daily Intake) of magnesium and niacin (Vitamin B3,) 3% of your potassium and magnesium RDI, 6% of your Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) RDI and a whopping 11% of your riboflavin (Vitamin B2) RDI! (1) When it comes to antioxidants, which are important for reducing inflammation and keeping your body looking and feeling young, coffee is a powerhouse.
Studies have shown the cardiovascular benefits of polyphenols and other components of brewed coffee, including positive affect on LDL (bad cholesterol.) (2) Coffee is also a contributor of Vitamin C and E in many Western diets. (3, 4) It’s likely that, for too many people, coffee contributes more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in the diet than fruits and vegetables!
2. Coffee improves performance – Planning on putting in a tough workout? Need to knock out a lot of yard work in a short period of time? You may want to down a cup or two of coffee!
Studies have shown that caffeine can ramp up physical performance by as much as 10-12%. (5) Caffeine also drives up epinephrine (adrenaline) levels in the blood. (6) Adrenaline is the hormone released when you’re under stress and need to engage in intense physical exercise or exertion.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that signals the body to break down your own body fat into free fatty acids. Those FFA’s are available for fuel for exercise or physical activity thanks, in part, to your tasty java!
3. Coffee boosts energy and makes you smarter – It will also make you better looking and richer, too! Okay, those last two things aren’t really true, but the first part sure is.
The caffeine in coffee helps block adenosine in your brain. By blocking this inhibitory neurotransmitter, higher levels of the excitatory neurotransmitters result. Dopamine and norepinephrine flow more freely, leading to enhanced firing of your neurons. (7, 8)
There is a significant amount of well-publicized research showing that coffee improves brain functions like reaction times, memory, mood, recall of facts and ideas, alertness and energy levels.
Caffeine’s energy boosting function is a result of both the stimulant affect and the improvement of fuel availability, mainly the free fatty acids released after caffeine consumption.
4. Coffee helps burn fat – There are hundreds of supplements on the market that claim to be fat-burning aids. Among them, they contain thousands of different, often exotic-sounding ingredients. But of all the weird berries, odd fungi and other futuristic sounding compounds supplement makers come up with, one tired-and-true ingredient is the real deal.
That’s because, unlike so many other ingredients, caffeine is one of the rare natural substances that is actually proven to assist your fat burning efforts. Studies have indicated that obese people can experience a 10% increase in fat burning with caffeine. Lean folks do even better. They can expect up to 29% better fat burning with caffeine. (9) Studies have also shown that caffeine boosts overall metabolic rates by up to 11%. (10)
5. Coffee may extend your life span – According to research, coffee drinkers have a lower risk of death. Which, of course, begs the question “how much coffee do I need to drink to live forever?” I’d love to know, but lets’ get back to the real topic.
Coffee seems to have a positive impact on the immune system, lowering your risk for certain diseases (more on that in a moment.) It seems to make sense, then, that coffee drinkers would have longer lives. But assumptions are for losers, so let’s look at the science.
Some very large studies have attributed a 20% reduction in the risk of death for men and a 26% reduction for women to the habit of drinking coffee. (11) That’s a remarkable improvement in life span potential for a passive lifestyle habit.
People with Type 2 Diabetes get an even bigger boost. A 20 year study attributed a 30% lower risk of death to Type 2 Diabetics who drink coffee over those who don’t. (12)
6. Coffee may defend against Type 2 Diabetes – With 30 million Diabetics in the US and 90-95% of them Type 2, coffee may be (part of) the answer!
While the mechanism for reducing Type 2 Diabetes risk is uncertain, the evidence isn’t. A review of 18 studies totaling over 450,000 people indicated that each daily cup of joe may reduce Type 2 Diabetes risk by 7%! (13)
Studies have shown that serious coffee drinkers have reductions in the risk of acquiring Type 2 Diabetes of 23-50%, with one study indicating reductions as high as 67%! (14, 15, 16)
7. Coffee may reduce the risk of Alzheimers, Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease – Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are the #1 and #2 neurodegenerative diseases known to man. Neither has a cure (as of this writing.) However, we know there are things you can do to mitigate risk relative to these tragic illnesses. Exercise and good nutrition are tops on the list.
Coffee may help with all of these. With Parkinson’s, the benefit of consuming caffeine (decaf won’t cut it) seems to relate to the dopamine-generation structures in the brain. The disease is caused by the early death of dopamine-generating cells in the brain. Caffeine stimulates these cells.
Studies have shown a reduction in Parkinson’s risk among coffee drinkers of 32-60%. (17) With regard to Alzheimer’s, coffee drinkers also get a boost over those who don’t consume caffeine. Studies have shown up to a 65% reduction in risk of Alzheimer’s for coffee drinkers. (18, 19)
8. Coffee beats depression – Coffee has an anti-depressant quality. It also might just make you happy. Depression has become a significant health problem in America, both from the perspective of quality of life and of cost. It’s estimated that nearly 5% of the US population may meet the standards for being clinically depressed.
Coffee might be the answer! In a study of over 200,000 people, it was determined that those who drank 4 or more cups a day were 53% less likely to take their own lives. (20)
In 2011, the folks at Harvard published a study that showed that women who drank 4 or more cups of coffee a day had a 20% lower risk of falling into depression. (21)
9. Coffee might protect your liver – This might be really good news to a lot of people, and you know who you are! But seriously, the liver is an essential organ with a myriad of functions. It can also be attacked by a number of diseases, including fatty liver disease and hepatitis.
While many people laughingly regard cirrhosis as a drinkers disease, it can be spurred by other diseases of the liver. But coffee may help stave it off. Studies have shown that those who drink 4 or more cups a day have up to an 80% lower risk of developing cirrhosis. (22, 23) This included alcoholic cirrhosis. So those who like a cocktail now and again may want to include coffee in their plans, too!
I’ve always enjoyed a good cup of coffee. Now, there’s science-based reasons for me to enjoy it, too! So let’s brew up the java and brew up some better brain power, health and performance, among other things.
Keep the faith and keep after it!