Coffee is a bit of a Marmite drink - most either love it or hate it. And it's not just the taste to consider, there's also how it makes you feel. Not to mention the frequent headlines that say coffee is great, followed the next day by "avoid coffee it's bad for you!"
There is actual science behind why different people react differently to coffee and it comes down to your genetics and how much coffee you're used to drinking.
It's worth pointing out here the difference between coffee and caffeine. Coffee contains between 50-400 mg of caffeine/cup, averaging around 100 mg/cup. Coffee is one of the most popular ways to consume this stimulant. But… a cup of coffee contains a lot of things over and above the caffeine. Not just water, but antioxidants, and hundreds of other compounds. These are the reasons drinking a cup of coffee is not the same as taking a caffeine pill.
Also, you should know that decaffeinated coffee has a lot less caffeine; but, it still contains some.
Let's look at caffeine metabolism, its effects on the mind and body, and whether coffee drinkers have higher or lower risks of disease. Then we'll give you some things to consider when deciding if coffee is for you or not.
About half of us are “slow” metabolizers of caffeine. We can get jitters, heart palpitations, and feel "wired" for up to 9 hours after having a coffee. The other half are "fast" metabolizers of caffeine. They get energy and increased alertness and are back to normal a few hours later.
This is part of the reason those headlines contradict each other so much - because we’re all different!
The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body
NOTE: Most studies look at caffeinated coffee, not decaf.
The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body also differ between people; this is partly from the metabolism I mentioned. But it also has to do with your body’s amazing ability to adapt (read: become more tolerant) to long-term caffeine use. Many people who start drinking coffee feel the effects a lot more than people who have coffee every day.
Here’s a list of these effects (that usually decrease with long-term use):
- Stimulates the brain
- Boosts metabolism
- Boosts energy and exercise performance
- Increases your stress hormone cortisol
So, while some of these effects are good and some aren’t, you need to see how they affect you and decide if it’s worth it or not.
Coffee and health risks
There are a ton of studies on the health effects of coffee, and whether coffee drinkers are more or less likely to get certain conditions.
Here’s a quick summary of what coffee can lead to:
- Caffeine addiction and withdrawal symptoms (e.g. a headache, fatigue, irritability)
- Increased sleep disruption
- Lower risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
- Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Lower risk of certain liver diseases
- Lower risk of death (“all cause mortality")
- Mixed reviews on whether it lowers risks of cancer and heart disease
Many of the health benefits exist even for decaf coffee (except the caffeine addiction and sleep issues).
NOTE: What’s super-important to note here is that coffee intake is just one of many, many factors that can affect your risks for these diseases. Please never think regular coffee intake is the one thing that can help you overcome these risks. You are health-conscious and know that eating a nutrient-rich whole foods diet, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep and exercise are all critical things to consider for your disease risk. It’s not just about the coffee.
Should you drink coffee or not?
There are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should drink coffee. No one food or drink will make or break your long-term health.
Caffeinated coffee is not recommended for:
- People with arrhythmias (e.g. irregular heartbeat)
- People who often feel anxious
- People who have trouble sleeping
- People who are pregnant
- Children and
If none of these apply, then monitor how your body reacts when you have coffee. Does it:
- Give you the jitters?
- Increase anxious feelings?
- Affect your sleep?
- Give you heart palpitations?
- Affect your digestion (e.g. heartburn, etc.)?
- Give you a reason to drink a lot of sugar and cream?
Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether these reactions are worth it to you. If you’re not sure, why not try eliminating it for a while and see if there's a positive difference.