Coffee is such a heady concoction – antioxidants, caffeine, and the molecules that give it its wondrous flavor – that it’s almost tragic to think that it might be bad for us. But over the last decade or so, the research has accumulated to suggest that in many ways, coffee – in moderation, at least – is not so bad, and may actually be quite good for certain aspects of health. What often skews the research is that many not-so-healthy behaviors are often linked to coffee consumption, like smoking, eating poorly, and not exercising. But if you strip these away, the research suggests that coffee may offer some very concrete benefits. And this appears to be true for both body and brain.
Coffee benefits the brain over the long-term.
It may wire you up in the short term, but over the long term, coffee also appears to offer some brain-protective benefits. While some studies, like this one in Neurology last year, found no benefit in consuming its antioxidants on the risk of developing dementia, other studies have linked higher caffeine consumption to a reduced risk of developing dementia. This may be because caffeine appears to have a protective effect on one of the brain processes that can cascade into dementia. Coffee has also long been linked to a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Coffee is not so bad for the heart. Actually, it’s pretty good.
Coffee will likely jack your heart rate up a bit while you’re actively consuming it, but over the long term moderate consumption doesn’t appear to be linked with any higher likelihood of heart disease. A recent Harvard study showed that 2 cups per day was actually linked to reduced the risk of heart disease (but beware: 5-6 cups increased the risk). Additionally, coffee appears to help blood vessels function better and improve blood flow, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s 2013 meeting. So, despite what most of us have been taught for a long time, coffee may actually help, rather than harm, the heart, at least in low doses.
Coffee does not dehydrate you!
This is another myth that many have believed for ages. But a study just out yesterday in the journalPLOS ONE finds that although caffeine itself can act as a diuretic, the amount in coffee is not enough to dehydrate you. “We found that consumption of a moderate intake of coffee, four cups per day, in regular coffee drinking males, caused no significant differences across a wide range of hydration indicators compared to the consumption of equal amounts of water,” said study author Sophie Killer.
Coffee will not lead to an early death
Coffee benefits appears to cut the risk of some serious health issues like liver cancer,endometrial (uterine) cancer, prostate cancer, and type 2 diabetes. It’s also been linked to a reduced risk of death: A large study in the New England Journal of Medicine found mortality from any cause and all causes was associated with greater coffee consumption. Though some studies have suggested that excess consumption has some mortality risk associated with it (particularly for younger people), common sense would suggest that moderate coffee intake, along with a healthy lifestyle overall, might actually be a good thing.
Coffee is good for your happiness level.
True. A study last year found that coffee benefits are actually linked to lower risk of depression, although the difference was small. Other research found that it’s linked to a significantly reduced risk of suicide. Researchers say it may be because of the mild boost caffeine gives to neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which both play roles in mood. Keep in mind that a recent study found that drinking coffee within 6 hours of bedtime was linked to significantly worse sleep at night, which could impact your mood and well-being over time. (Some people seem to be able to drink coffee right up till bedtime without an effect, but for most of us, cutting off coffee mid-afternoon is probably wise.)
Who said anything about addiction?
This part is still up for debate. Some argue that caffeine is not in-and-of itself an addictive substance, and that no doctor would really consider it a problem drug (the DSM-5 won’t, although withdrawal symptoms are very real, they concede). Others say caffeine can be considered addictive given its mechanism — it blocks adenosine receptors and therefore enables the brain’s natural stimulants to stay more active. This action can certainly mimic addiction, complete with tolerance and withdrawal – but symptoms don’t last long, and whether caffeine makes for a true addiction is still not clear.
So, carry on. To be safe, sticking to less than four cups per day is probably smart. But as addictions go, this one seems relatively harmless. And in many ways, the research shows, it may even be healthy.
As originally publish on Forbes.