Coffee is a drink enjoyed by millions. And the latest research suggests that it might provide a range of health benefits.
These benefits are varied and likely stem from the vitamins and minerals within the bean itself. During brewing, these nutrients seep into the dark liquid.
Let’s dig into the research and look at the potential health benefits of coffee.
1. Improves microbiome diversity
Your gut microbiome contains trillions of microorganisms. And having a diverse gut microbiome is associated with good health.
ZOE’s PREDICT studies found that coffee drinkers tended to have more diversity in their microbiomes. One possible explanation has to do with the soluble fiber and prebiotic properties in coffee that feed beneficial gut bugs.
In a ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast on coffee, Prof. Tim Spector, ZOE's scientific co-founder and an expert on the gut microbiome, explained:
"It's probably the drink you have regularly that contains the most fiber. There's more fiber in it than a glass of orange juice."
There's a long list of ways to improve your gut health, and it seems that coffee might be on that list.
2. Improves cognitive function
Some research suggests that coffee may be good for long-term cognitive health, including better memory and improved attention. However, other scientists haven't found this benefit.
Coffee may also slow cognitive decline and lower your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Interestingly, caffeine alone may not be responsible. Studies in mice show that other compounds in coffee may contribute to these effects.
A study comparing decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee didn't find any cognitive benefits linked to decaffeinated coffee.
Still, a wide range of factors influence brain health, and scientists need to carry out much more research to understand the precise links between coffee and thinking ability.
3. Reduces the risk of gallstone diseases
Drinking coffee may reduce your risk of developing gallstones later in life.
A recent study determined that drinking at least 6 cups a day was associated with a 23% reduced risk of developing symptomatic gallstone disease, compared with drinking no coffee.
But if you currently have gallstones, you may want to avoid coffee, due to the stimulating effect it has on the gallbladder.
4. Decreases cancer risk
Coffee has dozens of compounds that may contribute to your health.
For instance, researchers recently showed that two compounds — kahweol and cafestol — stopped the growth of prostate and kidney cancer cells in a laboratory study.
However, what happens in a test tube doesn't always match what happens in your body.
With that said, there is mounting evidence that coffee consumption is linked to a lower risk of certain cancers, such as liver, prostate, breast, colorectal, and potentially endometrial cancer.
5. Heals damaged cells
Antioxidants help prevent and repair damage to cells and genetic material around your body.
Research has shown that coffee is a significant source of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant, in many people's diets. Polyphenols also help fuel your "good" gut bacteria.
One polyphenol in coffee is called chlorogenic acid. Some researchers have linked this antioxidant to metaboilic benefits. They believe that chlorogenic acid might reduce the risk of a range of conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
Other dietary sources of polyphenols include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, though many people don’t eat enough of these.
Take a quiz to find out how personalized food recommendations can improve your health.
6. Lowers the risk of Parkinson's disease
Coffee may have neuroprotective properties and could lower the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disease (after Alzheimer’s).
A number of studies have investigated and suggest that people who drink 5 or more cups of coffee a day may have a reduced risk.
There's also some evidence that drinking coffee might slow the progression of Parkinson's in people who already have it.
However, scientists need to carry out more research in larger populations to confirm these findings.
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7. Protects against diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common chronic conditions. It affects nearly 10% of people in the U.S.
The risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include having a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, and being 45 or older.
A review concluded that people who drink 4 or more cups of coffee a day had less risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who drank fewer than 2 cups a day.
However, as the review's authors explain, scientists need to explore this connection further.
A more recent review, published in 2018, found that the risk of diabetes dropped by 6% for each cup of coffee consumed daily.
8. Improves bowel regularity
We’re sure you saw this one coming. Coffee's laxative effect is well-known. Nearly a third of coffee drinkers report needing to use the bathroom within 30 minutes post-brew.
If you struggle to have regular bowel movements, coffee might be a healthy way to get things moving.
9. Increases physical activity levels
Many of us rely on coffee to give us a jolt of energy. So, it makes sense that this energy boost results in more exercise throughout the day.
Middle-aged female participants in a public health study were 17% more likely to reach their physical activity goals if they drank 1–2 cups of coffee each day, compared with participants who drank less coffee or none.
10. Decreases stroke risk
The Nurses’ Health Study, which evaluated 83,076 nurses’ diets, found that moderate coffee consumption was modestly associated with decreased stroke risk.
Recent research echoes this and suggests that people who drink between half a cup and 3 cups of coffee a day have a 21% lower risk of stroke than those who don’t drink coffee.
Similarly, a review and meta-analysis using data from more than 2.4 million people also concluded that coffee was associated with a reduced risk of stroke.
11. Helps maintain weight loss
As long as you don’t load up your coffee with sweeteners, you might find that your morning caffeine habit contributes to weight loss.
One study found that coffee drinkers were more likely to keep weight off over time, compared with non-coffee drinkers.
Although the evidence isn't super strong, a review and meta-analysis concluded that increased caffeine intake was linked to reduced body mass index, weight, and fat mass.
These effects might stem from caffeine’s role as an appetite suppressant and its effect on metabolic activity.
12. Protects liver health
Coffee consumption is associated with a protective effect against chronic liver disease.
For instance, a systematic review and meta-analysis found that coffee protects against liver fibrosis in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease — the most common cause of chronic liver disease.
Similarly, a large study with almost half a million participants found that 3–4 cups of coffee reduced the risk of all types of chronic liver disease. These conditions include cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, and hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer.
13. Decreases inflammation markers
Inflammation is a healthy response to injury or infection. However, if it continues for long periods when there's no injury or infection, it can cause health problems. This is called chronic inflammation.
Scientists have found links between chronic inflammation and conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Diet, physical activity, and stress levels all contribute to how much chronic inflammation is present in your body.
According to some scientists, coffee might help reduce inflammation. However, the relationship between inflammation and coffee is likely complex, and scientists need to do more work.
14. Decreases the risk of heart disease
Evidence is mounting that coffee may protect heart health. For instance, one large study concluded that coffee consumption was associated with a long-term lower risk of developing heart failure.
And according to a review, drinking 3–5 cups a day is linked to a 15% reduction in cardiovascular disease, compared with drinking none.
However, the authors note that people with high blood pressure or poorly controlled blood pressure shouldn't consume large amounts of caffeine.
In the ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast on coffee, Prof. Spector explains, "It's only really the last 5 years that the evidence has accumulated so much that it's incontrovertible that coffee drinkers have less heart disease than non-coffee drinkers."
15. Possibly lowers depression risk
Scientists have found that people who drink at least 4 cups of coffee a day have a significantly lower risk of developing depression than those who drink less than 1 cup a day.
But so far, studies have only been observational. This means that it's not possible to tease apart cause and effect.
For instance, it might be that people who don't have depression are more likely to drink more coffee, rather than coffee directly reducing depression risk.
For more information on the overall health benefits of coffee, watch the video of the ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast in which Prof. Tim Spector and James Hoffman spill the beans.
Coffee and health considerations
With coffee, dosage really matters, and some people can tolerate more than others.
As Prof. Spector, explains, “Caffeine tolerance is highly personal, and there are some factors that you can’t control — such as your genes.”
“Our latest PREDICT study showed that coffee drinkers have very different gut microbiomes, and this could also play a part in tolerance levels.”
People who metabolize coffee slowly tend to have jitters, anxiety, and sleep disruptions. Those who metabolize coffee quickly, however, often have very few side effects.
Experimenting can help you recognize how much, if any, is right for you. If you drink coffee and notice anxiety, negative mood changes, sleep problems, or headaches, you might want to reduce your intake.
Pregnant women should be extra cautious. The recommended limit during pregnancy is 12 ounces — or 1.5 cups — per day.
As always, listening to your body is key.
If you love coffee's ability to get you going in the morning, rest easy. You’re probably receiving health benefits along with your caffeine fix.
From diversifying your gut microbiome to lowering the risk of some conditions — coffee is a beloved beverage with plenty of perks.
If you want to learn more about the composition of your gut microbiome and your individual responses to food, check out ZOE’s at-home test kit, and learn why there's no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition.
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