Coffee Benefits… Or, Why That Cup of Joe May be Good For You

I love coffee.  I love the aroma that permeates the local diner on a Sunday morning.  I love the bitter, tongue scorching moment of the first sip.  I love holding a warm mug in my hand and inhaling the steam through brisk autumn air.  As a child, my grandfather would let me sip from his cup when my grandmother wasn’t looking, and then gruffly tell me that it would put hair on my chest.  At 6 or 7 years old I wasn’t completely sure if this was bluff or not but it didn’t stop the sneak sips. Unfortunately, after a cup and a half, my zero tolerance for caffeine has my husband standing well back with a safety net waiting to catch me when I finally stop moving at Mach 1.  Living near Seattle, this intolerance for the local ambrosia is tantamount to a capital offense.

Coffee, of course, is made up of much more than just the caffeine. There are over a thousand different biochemical compounds identified in coffee (Patil, 2011). Many of them, like caffeine, are formed in the roasting process and some of those compounds are responsible for the enticing aroma of coffee (Hoffmann, 2003). The combination of these compounds is the basis of a beverage that is phenomenally popular. So, we know it is a widely consumed and tasty beverage, but is it healthy for you?

A number of recent studies have concluded that there are potential benefits (aside from chest hair).  Correlations have been made between coffee consumption, both caffeinated and decaffeinated, and lowered risks of type 2 diabetes, reducing inflammation, and protective benefits against heart disease.  Coffee contains caffeine which is bound to chologenic acid and then released when the beans are roasted.  Caffeine acts as a diuretic and a stimulant and has been found to enhance analgesic effects (Hoffman, 2003).  The chlorogenic acids in coffee were suggested in at least one study to play a part in these health benefits (Montagnana, et al, 2012).

A prospective cohort study involving 40,011 participants on coffee consumption and risk for type 2 diabetes was carried out for the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.  The study found that consumption resulted in a lower risk for type 2 diabetes not explainable by any other constituents in the drink, such as magnesium, potassium, and caffeine.  The study authors determined that at least 3 cups of coffee a day may lower risk for type 2 diabetes (Van Dieren, et al, 2009).

The findings in the cohort study were substantiated by a 2012 paper that followed 1432 cases of type 2 diabetes, MI, stroke and cancer over 8.9 years. While they found no benefits to coffee drinking for the other chronic conditions, such as cancer, they did note that consumption of four or more cups of either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee appeared to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (Floegel, et al, 2012).

In a randomized parallel-arm intervention study that looked at regular coffee consumption and its impact on diabetes 2 risk, 45 healthy, overweight volunteers that were both non-smokers and regular coffee drinkers were given 5 cups per day of coffee for eight weeks.  The controls in the study were both decaf coffee and no coffee.  The results of the study found that the coffee increased adipoectin, an important protein for regulating metabolic processes.  Decaf coffee decreased fetuin-A concentrations, a glycoprotein that can inhibit insulin receptor autophosphorylation (Wedick, 2011) (Katsuhito, et al, 2006).  While no difference was found between study groups for glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity or insulin secretion, there were indications that long term coffee consumption may have positive metabolic benefits.

As protection against the risk of cardiovascular disease risk there appears to be an upper and lower limit to the amount of coffee consumed.  A 2012 epidemiological study determined that there was a lower risk for cardiovascular disease when the consumption was regular and was either less than one cup or more than four cups per day (I promise, I am not making that up).  In this study the chlorogenic acids present in coffee were identified as potentially the beneficial factor due to their ability to reduce blood pressure, systemic inflammation and platelet aggregation. This same study did note that the most pronounced benefits seem to be with those individuals who have a rapid caffeine metabolizer genotype and a low baseline cardiovascular risk.(Montagnana, et al, 2012).

The jury is still deliberating on the subject of coffee benefits, but the evidence emerging so far is as tantalizing as the smell of roasting coffee beans, and encouraging for a culture facing increasing risks from these chronic diseases.


Floegel A, Pischon T, Bergmann MM, Teucher B, Kaaks R, Boeing H.  Coffee Consumption and Risk of Chronic Disease in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-German Study.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  2012 Apr;95(4):901-8. Epub 2012 Feb 15.

Hoffmann D. (2003). Medicinal Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Katsuhito M, Masanori E, Hisayo Y, Takahiro A, Megumi T, Hidenori K, Tetsuo S, Masaaki I, Yoshiki N. Association of Serum Fetuin-A With Insulin Resistance in Type 2 Diabetec and Non-Diabetic Subjects.  Diabetes Care. February 2006 vol 29 no 2, 468.

Montagnana M, Favaloro EJ, Lippi G. Coffee Intake and Cardiovascular disease: virtue does not take center stage. Seminars in Thrombosis and Hemostasis 2012 Mar;38(2):164-77.

Patil H, Lavie CJ, O’Keefe JH. Cuppa joe: friend or foe?  Effects of chronic coffee consumption on cardiovascular and brain health. Mo Med. 2011 Nov-Dec; 108(6):431-8.

Patil H. Cuppa Joe: Friend or Foe? Effects of Chronic Coffee Consumption on Cardiovascular and Brain Health. Mo Med. November/December 2011 (OMAG Digital).

Van Dieren S, Uiterwaal, CS, van der Schouw YT, van der A DL, Boer JM, Spijkerman A, Grobbee DE, Beulens JW. Coffee and tea consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes.Diabetologia 2009 Dec;52(12):2561-9.

Wedick NM, Brennan AM, Sun Q, Hu FB, Mantzoros CS, van Dam RM. Effects of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee on biological risk factors for type 2 diabetes: a randomized controlled trial. Nutitional Journal, 2011 Sept 13;10:93.

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