The Real Scoop on Coffee

Photo: Kanko

I’m a little short on “vices” these days. I don’t eat a lot of crap foods or sweets. I can’t drink alcohol any more. I don’t gamble. I’m not a couch potato. I don’t over-shop. I don’t smoke.

But, coffee – coffee remains. I’ve given it up a few times during pregnancy and to see if it reduced RA symptoms. But, I’ve always made a considered decision to start again, because it’s a vice that I like having. I like the ritual of coffee. I like the taste of coffee. I like the sociability of coffee.

However, I’ve always wondered if I was doing something bad to myself by drinking coffee. So, I’ve been doing some reading about coffee research. While the verdict is still somewhat mixed, there is pretty good evidence that coffee drinking in moderation is correlated with more good things than bad things.

  • Coffee drinkers have less risk of Type II Diabetes
  • Coffee has been linked to lower risk of heart arrythmia
  • Coffee drinkers have fewer strokes than non-drinkers
  • Coffee drinkers appear to have less risk for Parkinson’s Disease
  • Coffee consumption has been correlated with lower levels of adult-onset dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Coffee has been connected to decreased risk of liver cancer and liver cirrhosis.
  • Coffee drinkers appear to be less likely to develop gallstones.

It’s pretty important to pause here and say that these studies have shown correlation,  not causation. That is, we may know that there is a link between coffee consumption and lower rates of Type II Diabetes, but that doesn’t really tell us what direction the causation is in or what is behind the connection. It could be that it is the antioxidants found in coffee. It could be some other element of coffee. It could be that coffee drinkers, for some reason, are less likely to consume something else that affects the chance of developing Type II Diabetes. It’s hard to tell.

While coffee has been connected with some good things, it has to be noted that drinking coffee isn’t without problems. High levels of caffeine consumption can increase blood pressure (at least temporarily) and have been associated with low birth weight in newborns. Drinking too much coffee may cause nervousness or agitation. Coffee consumption can be a problem nutritionally if coffee begins to replace other vitamin-containing foods. And, caffeine is certainly physically addictive. Anyone who has spent a day with the dreaded caffeine withdrawal headache can testify to that.

Overall, it seems that drinking coffee in moderate levels has been connected by researchers to more good than bad. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that someone who doesn’t drink coffee take it up for the possible benefits, but it seems that those of us who do drink it can unburden ourselves of worry about whether we are harming our bodies.

In which case… is it still a vice?

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