The Great Coffee Question: Beverage Friend Or Foe?

The rich smell of fresh coffee. Is that the reassuring odor of health benefits or the uneasy scent of physiological danger? While some coffee studies show great benefits, others show potential harm. If you’re undecided about coffee, sniff out the research and decide if coffee’s health benefits — and its stimulating effects — are what you need.

I really love coffee. I mean, I don’t just drink it; I enjoy it. I savor it. I relish the moments when I allow myself to indulge in the good stuff. For me, coffee is a treat that I don’t abuse. I respect its powers to both empower and harm.

However, I have associates and clients who complain of insomnia, headache and irritable bowel syndrome, yet they refuse to stop drinking coffee. They are in denial about the role too much coffee consumption plays in poor health. I understand why.

With a handful of recent studies on the positive health benefits of coffee, you can’t blame them for being confused. The decision about whether to drink coffee has become a conundrum. Mixed studies on coffee’s effects complicate the issue.

Coffee Safe In Moderation For Women

A report published in Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch looked at the effects of drinking moderate amounts of coffee. It described research that found that those who drink coffee regularly have a lower risk for type II diabetes compared to non-coffee drinkers.

The Harvard reporters also note that “coffee may reduce the risk of developing gallstones, discourage the development of colon cancer, improve cognitive function, reduce the risk of liver damage in people at high risk for liver disease, and reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease.”

However, the Harvard publication warns of potentially negative effects of drinking too much coffee: increased heart rate, higher blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. In the end, it concludes that most of the negative effects of coffee consumption occur when you drink too much.

But a key question remains about how much coffee is enough and how much is too much.

Coffee Lowers Risk Of Lethal Prostate Cancer

According to the findings of a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, coffee reduces the risk of prostate cancer. In fact, men who drink coffee on a regular basis have a lower risk of developing the most lethal form of prostate cancer. According to this research, it doesn’t matter if the coffee is regular or decaf:

  • Men who consume six or more cups of coffee per day were shown to have almost 20 percent less risk for developing any form of prostate cancer.
  • Men who consume the most coffee overall had a 60 percent lower risk of developing the most lethal form of prostate cancer.
  • Men who drink three or fewer cups of coffee per day showed a 30 percent lower risk of developing lethal prostate cancer.
  • The results were the same whether the men drank regular or decaffeinated coffee, indicating that caffeine is not the primary factor affecting the results.

Senior author Kathryn Wilson, a research fellow in epidemiology at HSPH, said: “If our findings are validated, coffee could represent one modifiable factor that may lower the risk of developing the most harmful form of prostate cancer.”

While drinking plenty of coffee per day may prevent men from acquiring the more lethal form of prostate cancer, other research shows that coffee may harm the fetus of pregnant women.

The Dangers Of Caffeine During Pregnancy

A study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that pregnant women who consumed caffeine were at high risk for late miscarriage and stillbirth. The study, which recruited a cohort of 2,643 pregnant women, aged 18-45 years, found that caffeine can potentially affect the developing fetus.

“We used a validated tool to assess caffeine intake at different stages of pregnancy and related this to late miscarriage and stillbirth, adjusting for confounders, including salivary cotinine as a biomarker of smoking status. There was a strong association between caffeine intake in the first trimester and subsequent late miscarriage and stillbirth, adjusting for confounders.”

Many women consume caffeinated coffee. But while consumption may lead to miscarriage and stillbirth in pregnant women, coffee consumption benefits other women.

Coffee Linked to Reduction In Endometrial Cancer

A 26-year study assessing the effects of coffee consumption in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) with 67,470 female participants aged 34–59 showed it reduced the risk of endometrial cancer.

The results were intriguing. Women who drank fewer than four cups of coffee per day did not have their cancer risk reduced. However, those women who drank four or more cups daily had a 25 percent lower risk of developing endometrial cancer compared to those who drank one or no cups per day.

This benefit may be linked to the fact that coffee reduces levels of two hormones thought to impact endometrial carcinogenesis: estrogen and insulin.

Coffee Catch

So, overall, is coffee good or bad for health, friend or foe? It’s hard to say. These studies make it even harder to come to a firm conclusion since they point to both lifesaving benefits and deadly consequences.

Coffee contains thousands of compounds including important antioxidants that reduce inflammation; regulate insulin; make us more alert; and help lower the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, Type II diabetes, prostate cancer, colon cancer, endometrial cancer, liver cancer and gallstones.

However, coffee is also associated with migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, nervousness, fibromyalgia, insomnia, raised blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, miscarriage and stillbirth.

It is also hard to know how much coffee is too much and how much is enough. For someone like me, who suffered debilitating migraines daily for roughly 30 years, coffee is both friend and foe. I love the taste of the well-roasted brands, and coffee wakes me up when I’m overly tired. But if I drink more than two cups per day, I succumb to migraine.

You have to make up your own mind about coffee. I suggest reading studies like these to find the latest information and consider how coffee relates to your specific state of health and health condition. With that knowledge, you can define the right course to take.

Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.