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I keep reading about the health effects of coffee, yet I have been taught all my life to stay away from this beverage. Seems there are articles and opinions on both sides. It gives me confidence to know that there are actually loads of science about coffee’s health benefits and potential adverse effects…so I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about coffee and caffeine — including that you can safely enjoy this natural drink.
A word of caution when reading about coffee’s effects
Let’s face it, advertising and hype is everywhere. You have to be smart and look at the data behind claims. As I followed further into claims about coffee’s potential adverse health effects, I met with some familiar pitfalls by naysayers. They generalize their claims about coffee, but later refer to heavy coffee consumption or to heavy caffeine consumption from any source.
For example, the claim  that coffee lowers men’s sperm counts by 30% turned out to be deceptive and actually not even true. Quoting researchers at a Copenhagen, Denmark University on a study of high caffeine consumption and its effects on sperm count, it was the 800 mg of daily caffeine consumed in the form of mainly Cola that caused the lower sperm count, while the men who primarily consumed coffee and tea had no change in their sperm count.
Moreover, the same article made the claim that coffee reduces a woman’s chances of getting pregnant by 27%. However, if you read the entire article you find that the study was done on mice that were given high amounts of caffeine, which appeared to slow fallopian tube muscular contraction, resulting in the observed decreased fertility effect. They did not study women who drank coffee. Remember that coffee is much more than just caffeine—and more than 30 years of research has revealed coffee’s many antioxidants and cell-protective compounds.
Finally, when reading about adverse claims, differentiate between heavy (more than 4 cups per day everyday) versus moderate (1-3 cups or less per day). There really is a big difference here. Also know that heavy coffee drinkers are more likely to smoke, eat junk food routinely, have high uncontrolled stress, and lack consistent exercise—and study data must control for these factors but usually do not.
The adverse claims about coffee
Here are the predominant adverse effects of coffee consumption:
- Slows iron or other mineral absorption: Coffee inhibits iron absorption from meat by 39%, but no decreased iron absorption is found when coffee is consumed one hour before a meal.  I suggest you simply don’t drink coffee with your meal. Also, recognize that other foods block iron and mineral absorption too—food such as grains, certain seeds, nuts and beans (high in phytic acid); spinach and other leafy greens (high in oxalates); berries and apples (high in polyphenols); eggs (contain phosuitin); and dairy such as milk, yogurt and cheese (high in calcium). The claim that coffee promotes the urinary loss of calcium, zinc, magnesium and other important minerals relates to the diuretic effect (increase urination) that can occur in heavy coffee consumption.
- Bone density loss: Unfortunately, it has been shown in one study (but not in four other meta-analyses, except in elderly women) that high coffee consumption showed a slight worsening of bone density, but no significantly worsened facture rates.
- Acrylamide in coffee: it is known that acrylamide is a potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substance and that it can be produced when foods (including coffee beans) are roasted at a high temperature,  as it is occurs when browning toast and crispy French fries. When laboratory mice were fed huge doses throughout their lives, acrylamide caused tumors. However, the amounts of acrylamide in foods are thousands of times lower for humans. Forty studies have shown little to no risk of cancer in humans. Plus, it is essentially nonexistent in brewed coffee and only a fraction is found in roast and ground coffee beans.
- Ages your skin: A study  in 2014 showed that caffeine (not coffee) slowed an enzyme responsible for collagen biosynthesis in cultured skin cells—but this certainly does not prove coffee accelerates skin aging because it contains antioxidants and cell-protective compounds; caffeine does not.
- Gout flare-up: A study showed those who binge on caffeinated drinks (not specific to coffee) increase their risk for a gouty arthritis pain.
- Urinary incontinence: Women who consume high amounts of caffeine (more than 329 mg daily) are more likely to experience incontinence. A cup of coffee contains from 65-275 mg of caffeine depending on the coffee blend, amount of ground coffee, and brewing technique. If incontinence occurs, stop drinking it.
- Other symptoms: Coffee consumption has been known to worsen anxiety, insomnia, indigestion/heartburn, headaches, allergies, and menopausal symptoms. If any of these symptoms occur, stop drinking coffee.
How coffee promotes health
Rest assured, the health benefits of coffee dwarf its few and easily avoidable adverse effects, especially when four or less cups per day are consumed. Beyond drinking coffee for its taste and feel good effects, it has additionally been shown in plenty of scientific studies to:
- Delay and/or prevent Alzheimer’s dementia and Parkinson’s disease due to its improvement of cognitive function (alertness, concentration, learning, memory and mood). < 
- Lower heart disease risk (or at least does not increase it    at modest consumption); reduces heart failure  but there is a trend to worsen heart failure at higher coffee consumption (more than 4 cups per day).  There is a protective relationship between caffeinated coffee consumption and the onset of heart valve disease. 
- Lower the risk of stroke. 
- Lower blood pressure: Green coffee  (but not black coffee) consumption.
- Improve type 2 diabetes     
- Reduce many cancers: Including skin,  colo-rectal,  mouth and throat,   prostate,  liver,   endometrial,   and breast   cancers.
- Liver health: Improves liver function. 
- Treat obesity: Green coffee consumption is shown to reduce abdominal fat. 
- Reduce tooth loss from periodontal disease. 
- Reduce spontaneous DNA strand breaks in the white blood cells of men. 
A clear distinction: coffee versus sodas/energy drinks
You know by now that not all caffeinated drinks have similar effects on your health. Sodas and energy drinks contain artificial colorings, flavorings, preservatives, excess refined sugar (or artificial sweeteners), excess phosphorus and a very acidic pH effect.
These “soft” drinks can also be so loaded with stimulants that they are essentially drug uppers. If you search the peer-reviewed literature it will not take long to discover there are no health benefits of caffeinated sodas and energy drinks. Yet their adverse effects are many, including:
- Weight gain
- Potassium depletion
- Blood vessel problems
- Seizure disorders
- Heart attack and stroke risk
- Tooth decay
- Chronic kidney disease
- Kidney stones
To feeling good for better health,
Michael Cutler, M.D.
Easy Health Options
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