Coffee: Friend Or Foe?

Andrew Siegel, M.D.   Blog #90

 

I have always reasoned that a beverage that can make you more alert and focused and can help obviate fatigue and prevent car accidents is a very good thing—particularly so when it has a great aroma and taste and can warm you up when you’re chilled.  What an enjoyable social drink as well—let’s go out for coffee…no wonder the popularity of such establishments as Starbucks. Rarely a day is started in my home without the coffeemaker brewing robust coffee before the alarm goes off—what a terrific scent to awaken to.

Coffee is similar to tea in that a natural product—the coffee bean—is grown, harvested, roasted, grinded, and then its essence is obtained in liquid form by dripping boiling water through the grind.

Studies have documented a variety of medical benefits associated with coffee intake.  Coffee beans contain anti-oxidants that can help mitigate cellular damage that can cause tissue inflammation, aging, cancer, and even death.  Surprisingly, a typical serving of coffee contains more anti-oxidants than a serving of blueberries or raspberries, with coffee being the major source of anti-oxidants for many Americans!  Coffee consumption lowers the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cirrhosis of the liver.  Both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee have been shown to be of equivalent benefit, so the stimulating effect of caffeine does not appear to play a role in the major health attributes of coffee.

Coffee does confer many positive benefits due to its caffeine content.  Clearly, it is quite effective in keeping those of us who are sleep deprived more awake, alert and focused, as well as better able to perform cognitive and motor tasks.  Caffeine has been shown to improve physical performance in endurance sports.  Caffeine reduces our awareness of muscle pain and the perception of how much effort we are expending during exercise.

Caffeine is useful for headaches, because they are often on the basis of dilation of the blood vessels supplying the brain. By constricting blood vessels, caffeine can alleviate headaches.  Several studies have demonstrated that high amounts of caffeine intake reduce the risk for developing Parkinson’s disease. Caffeine use has also been associated with a decreased risk for gallstones.

The problem is that regular caffeine users build up a tolerance to caffeine.  Ultimately, it can get to the point that the positive and stimulating effect of caffeine results from the alleviation of caffeine withdrawal symptoms, including drowsiness, difficulty in concentrating, and headache.

Caffeine has numerous other negative side effects as well. Too much caffeine can promote high blood pressure, a rapid pulse and, on occasion, an abnormal heart rhythm.  It not only may contribute to insomnia, but also promotes a significant disturbance in our sleep cycle. Caffeine can have harmful effects in pregnant women in terms of the potential for issues with miscarriage and fetal growth.

Caffeine is present in coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and mocha ice cream, chocolate candy and chocolate drinks.  It is present in numerous over-the-counter pills, including both weight loss supplements and headache medications.  For example,

Starbucks Venti has 415 mg of caffeine, Grande 330 mg,

Tall 260 mg; Dunkin’ Donuts medium coffee 178 mg.; Snapple lemon tea (16 ounces) 62 mg; Mountain Dew 54 mg; Diet Coke can 47 mg; 5 hour energy drink 208 mg; a Red Bull 80 mg; and a Hershey’s Kiss has 1 mg.

The effect that caffeine has on a given individual is highly variable.  It truly has a profound stimulant effect on me.  After drinking a mug of strong black coffee in the morning I can literally feel a wave of alertness surging within.  If I am reading, I feel like my eyes sweep over the written words faster and with more comprehension and focus.  Whatever activity I am involved in, it becomes much easier to engage in the task at hand.  The downside to this is that if I ever consume caffeine after 2 PM, I can count on a night of tossing-and-turning insomnia.  It always amazes me how other people can drink coffee after dinner with minimal effects.  I have to resort to decaf.

Bottom Line: Coffee is much more our friend than our foe, as long as we exercise moderation.

Reference: Caffeine!  by David Schardt, Nutrition Action Health Letter, December 2012

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food: www.promiscuouseating.com

Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle edition

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One Response to “Coffee: Friend Or Foe?”

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