It’s Monday morning, barely light outside, and you’re not exactly firing on all cylinders. The only hope of whipping your drowsy mind into productive mode is the sweet smell of coffee. At first sip, you feel alive.
Yet, we talk about coffee like it’s a vice. Some feed into the addiction, others try to keep themselves away in the name of “health”—only to surrender to its warmth and comfort yet again.
Is it actually bad for you? A random polarizing headline in your daily scroll might lead you to think so. Thankfully, current science is in favor of coffee drinkers. Here are the pros and cons to drinking coffee, according to science.
Pros of Drinking Coffee
Drinking coffee in moderation—about 3-4 cups per day—is associated with several health benefits and is generally considered safe for most adults.(1) So long as it sits well with you, here are the benefits you can expect with each tasty sip.
1. Boost energy
Caffeine can fight fatigue and increase energy levels.(2) According to a 2020 study, caffeine blocks the receptors of a neurotransmitter called adenosine—which increases levels of other neurotransmitters in your brain that regulate your energy levels, including dopamine.(3)
2. Reduce risk of type 2 diabetes
Coffee is also associated with a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes long term. One review found that each cup of coffee per day was linked to a 6% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.(4)
Scientists believe this effect might be due to coffee’s ability to preserve the function of beta cells in your pancreas—which are responsible for producing insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels.(5)
Plus, coffee is rich in antioxidants, which are known to positively affect insulin sensitivity, inflammation, and metabolism—all of which are involved in the development of type 2 diabetes.(6)
3. Support brain health
Although studies have produced mixed results, some research suggests that coffee may help protect against certain neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
A 2020 study published in Nutrients suggests people who drink coffee have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s, and coffee slows the progression of Parkinson’s overtime.(7) Another found the more coffee people consume, the lower their risk of Alzheimer’s.(8) Plus, coffee is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline.(9, 10)
4. Promote weight loss
If you’ve ever felt like coffee could help tide you over until your next meal, a review published in the International Journal of Food and Nutrition Science confirmed that it can. It concluded that coffee can help lower hunger and suppress appetite—which might help you lose or maintain weight.(11)
Other studies have linked coffee consumption directly to body fat. A 2021 study found that higher coffee and tea consumption was associated with decreased body fat, especially in men.(12)
5. Decrease risk of depression
Feeling down? Try drinking, you guessed it, more coffee. One review suggests that each cup of coffee people consumed per day is linked to an 8% lower risk of depression.(13) What's more, another study found that drinking at least four cups of coffee per day was associated with a lower risk of depression when compared to drinking only one cup per day.(14)
6. Could protect against liver disease
Protect yourself against liver disease by giving yourself a little top off. One study found that drinking more than two cups of coffee per day was linked to lower rates of liver scarring and cancer in people with liver disease.(15)
Plus, another study published in the World Journal of Hepatology suggests the more coffee people drink, the lower their risk of death from chronic liver disease. Drinking one cup per day was linked to a 15% lower risk, while drinking four cups per day was linked to a whopping 71% lower risk.(16) Even more reason to drink up.
7. Improve heart health
Even though coffee can increase blood pressure, one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that this typically dissipates with regular use.(17)
If heart health is your main concern, you’re in luck. One review found that drinking three to five cups of coffee per day was associated with a 15% reduced risk of heart disease.(18) Plus, it’s associated with a significantly decreased risk of heart failure.(19)
8. Increase longevity
If you haven’t already guessed, drinking coffee is associated with a better health span and a longer lifespan. Thanks to research published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, we now know two to four cups of coffee is linked to lower risk of death—regardless of age, weight, and alcohol consumption.(20)
9. Enhance athletic performance
Coffee is nature's pre workout. Drinking coffee before exercise improves your endurance and decreases your rate of perceived exertion.(21) It can also boost performance and speed.(22) One study even found that consuming caffeine significantly reduced fatigue—extending time to exhaustion during a cycling workout by 12%.(23)
10. Reduce inflammation
Chronic inflammation is the root of many diseases from metabolic disease to heart disease. Coffee is packed with antioxidants which work to neutralize oxidative stress-inducing and disease-promoting free radicals in the body, a process that lowers systemic inflammation.(24, 25)
11. Improve metabolic health
Looking to rev your metabolism? Look no further than coffee, baby. Higher coffee intake is associated with a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome(26, 27)—an inflammatory condition characterized by excess body fat, high cholesterol, and elevated blood sugar levels.
Cons of Drinking Coffee
Not to cramp your style, but it’s not all good. We’ve listed the major cons to drinking coffee, below.
1. Caffeine can cause anxiety
If you’ve had the coffee jitters, it wasn’t just your imagination. A study published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment suggests that drinking too much caffeine can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations, and exacerbated panic attacks.(28)
If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, learn your coffee threshold and cut back if needed. If any amount of coffee is contributing to your anxiety, consider cutting it out entirely.
2. Can disrupt sleep
If you’re a bad sleeper, you may want to consider giving your coffee habit the boot. One study concluded coffee can indeed disrupt your sleep.(29)
Plus, if it does, it might be decreasing your physical and cognitive performance. To avoid these issues, try drinking your coffee early in the day, and avoid drinking it in the evening before sleep.
3. Can be addictive
We’ll be the first to admit cutting coffee isn’t too fun. According to one review, when people abstain from coffee they get withdrawal symptoms like headaches, exhaustion, brain fog, and irritability.(30) While unpleasant, these symptoms only last for a few days, so if you’re experiencing other side effects it’s probably best to stick it out.
4. Heightens cortisol response
There is some thought that drinking coffee first thing out of bed may interfere with your body’s ability to regulate cortisol balance. Your cortisol levels are typically highest in the morning, due to the cortisol awakening response—which peaks 30 minutes after waking up.(31)
It’s possible that combining coffee with this cortisol spike may promote longer periods of elevated cortisol, which could increase stress. Therefore, it may be optimal to let your cortisol spike naturally when you wake up. Then add in the caffeine for an additional boost of energy about two to three hours later.
5. Can contribute to GI distress
And finally, for the elephant in the room: drinking coffee before breakfast is more likely to trigger peristalsis—helping you go number two faster. Some may see this as a pro and others a con, to each their own.
However, for those who are more sensitive to caffeine, coffee can also trigger nausea and acid reflux.(32) To settle unpleasant symptoms try a splash of milk which can help to neutralize the acid in the coffee, or try decaf coffee or tea which have less caffeine. If nothing helps, it may be best to give it a rest.
So Should You Drink Coffee?
It depends. If you don’t like drinking coffee, there’s no pressing reason to start. While there are tons of benefits to drinking coffee, you can get all the nutrients and antioxidants provided by coffee from a whole foods diet. However, if a hot cup of joe is the perfect start to your day, there’s no reason to quit now.
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