Coffee: Is it Bad for You?

Coffee: Is it Bad for You?

Coffee is one of the most widely consumed and researched drinks, but we can't seem to agree, is it good for us or not?

Short read

In 2004 a study established that Americans have been getting more antioxidants from coffee than any other food source. There are multitudes of powerful polyphenols found in coffee. Still, this surprising statistic concerns the sheer volume of coffee Americans (and Canadians) love to drink.

So what's the deal? Is all this coffee consumption conducive to health, happiness, and longevity? According to the science: yes, it sure seems that way. With all things natural or otherwise, everyone is unique, and blanket statements about whether or not something is good or bad will only get us so far.


Coffee Chemistry

As with all time-honoured natural foods and beverages consumed across cultures, histories and geographies, coffee is not the source of any isolated chemical compound but a whole family of synergistic micronutrients working together. On some level, the chemistry of coffee demands respect: featuring a thousand aromatic compounds, an entire fleet of antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory chlorogenic acids, there is nothing short of a chemical ballet in every cup. Caffeine is only the most famous dancer! Naturally, this sophisticated chemical choreography varies across genetic varietals such as arabica and robusta and throughout the roasting and brewing processes. It is not an exaggeration to say that no two cups are quite the same.

All this molecular science being as complicated as it is, the good news is we don't have to know what every individual element is contributing to the milieu. To assess coffee's overall effects on health, we can zoom out and look at the huge-scale studies on the health of millions of coffee drinkers compared to millions of non-coffee drinkers, as well as subsequent meta-analyses that compile multiple huge-scale studies.


Coffee's Effects on the Body

Since so much research has been conducted, we can confidently say that coffee is anti-inflammatory, rich in anti-aging cell-protecting antioxidants, and protective against the cognitive decline into old age. Coffee drinkers are less likely to get a variety of cancers and less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases. They enjoy reduced stroke risk and a smaller chance of developing Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Coffee protects against kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, gout, gallstones, and tooth decay!

Some of the science is indeed more mixed and less glowing, but beyond any research paper, good reasons not to drink coffee will mainly be individual. Clinically, my observation is that anyone struggling with chronic stress or sleep issues should consider spending some time abstaining from or limiting their intake to monitor if their symptoms improve. For those with auto-immune conditions, the selective immunostimulation of caffeine may be either helpful or harmful.

There are many other things to consider regarding the net impact coffee might have on an individual, such as the consumption of milk or sugar in combination with coffee. But regarding what's in the cup, it looks like we can generally feel guiltless about our daily black coffee habit. If you like it and it makes you feel good, the science says: do it!

Damien ZielinskiA cloud-based functional medicine practitioner with a focus on mental health and insomnia
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