Did you know Coffee is a health booster? Few of us reach for that first (or third, or fifth) cup of coffee thinking about the potential health risks or benefits. No, we’re more likely thinking, Caffeine, don’t fail me now. Still, it’d be nice to know that one of our most deep-seated rituals isn’t leading to our gradual undoing. Every report, however, that recommends coffee drinking is promptly countered by another that warns of an ominous effect. Such is the way of our ADHD, contrarian culture.
When we remove ourselves from the 15-minute news cycle, it turns out the findings on the health risks and benefits of coffee aren’t all that contradictory. In fact, research from the last decade or so is proving pretty conclusively that drinking coffee in modest amounts (three to five cups daily) puts us at lower risk for a host of systematic ailments, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Also: It won’t stunt your growth.
Coffee’s a Health Booster, After All
“When I set out to look at the research on coffee and health, I thought I’d see it being associated with some good outcomes and some bad ones, mirroring the contradictory reports you can often find in the news media,” writes Aaron E. Carroll in an article for The New York Times titled More Consensus on Coffee’s Effect On Health Than You Might Think. “This didn’t turn out to be the case.”
Instead of pitting individual studies against each other to see which would hold up better, Carroll tracked meta-analyses, or, as he put it, “a study of studies, in which data are pooled and analyzed together.” One encompassed 36 studies and more than 1,270,000 participants and found that coffee drinkers (again, moderate coffee drinkers) were at the lowest risk for cardiovascular disease. Two others showed that coffee drinkers stand less of a chance of having heart failure or a stroke than non-coffee drinkers.
“Even consumers on the very high end of the spectrum appear to have minimal, if any, ill effects,” Carroll writes.
Cancer-related studies may be the most conflicting of all the news about the health risks and benefits of coffee, to the extent that even the most devout coffee drinkers among us may be harboring a hint of doubt. Carroll admits that studies linking coffee to an increased risk of cancer aren’t hard to find. They seem to be receiving a disproportionate amount of the media’s attention, though. “In the aggregate, most of these negative outcomes disappear,” Carroll writes.
The list goes on: neurological disorders, cognitive decline, Type 2 diabetes. A meta-analysis of each concluded that drinking coffee lowers your risk, and, in the case of Type 2 diabetes, “significantly” lowers your risk. The same goes for death. Carroll cites two meta-analyses that, together, encompassed about two million people. “Both found that drinking coffee was associated with a significantly reduced chance of death,” he says. “I can’t think of any other product that has this much positive epidemiologic evidence going for it.”
Of course, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. “Too much of anything can be bad,” Carroll says. In most cases where three cups is good for you, six or seven is not necessarily better. And even three cups can shed much of their potency when they’re loaded with sugar, and cream, and caramel. The health risks and benefits of coffee may never have been more to you than white noise. Nonetheless, it should be at least a little heartening to know that all you need to do to boost your immunity is to keep doing what you’ve been doing.