By Anchan Vegetarian
The pluses and minuses of drinking coffee
The history of coffee goes as far back as thirteenth century
Ethiopia, from where it spread into Egypt, with the earliest credible evidence
of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree in the middle of the
fifteenth century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. It then further spread into
Persia, the Balkan, onwards to Europe, North Africa and the SE Asian region.
It has turned into a major cash crop worldwide, with an annual production of
nearly 8 million tons. There are 2 main varieties, the “arabica” and the
“robusta”, with 75% of the world’s production being the more highly valued
“arabica”. Robusta is mainly used as a cheap replacement for “arabica” in
commercial mixes, as well as being used in Italian high quality espresso to add
body and “crema” or foam collar to the finalized brew.
The primary psychoactive chemical in coffee is caffeine that is known for its
stimulant effects. In a healthy liver, caffeine is mostly broken down.
Extensive scientific research has been conducted to examine the relationship
between coffee consumption and an array of medical conditions. The general
consensus in the medical community is that moderate regular coffee drinking in
healthy individuals is either essentially benign or mildly beneficial. In 2012,
the National Institutes of Health analyzed the relationship between coffee
drinking and mortality. They found that the amount of coffee consumed correlated
negatively with risk of death, and that those who drank any coffee lived longer
than those who did not.
Some studies suggest coffee consumption reduces the risk of prostate cancer,
Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, diabetes
mellitus type 2, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and gout. It may increase the
risk of acid reflux and associated diseases.
The fact that decaffeinated coffee also exhibits preventative effects against
diseases such as prostate cancer and type-2 diabetes suggests that coffee’s
health benefits are not solely a product of its caffeine content. Specifically,
the anti-diabetic effect of caffeine has been attributed to other nutrients
The presence of antioxidants in coffee has been shown to prevent free radicals
from causing cell damage. Evidence suggests that roasted coffee has a stronger
antioxidant effect than green coffee.
Coffee is no longer thought to be a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
Caffeine acts as an acute antidepressant. A review published in 2004 indicated a
negative correlation between suicide rates and coffee consumption. It was
suggested that the action of caffeine in the brain reduced feelings of
But drinking too much is never good, 2 to 4 cups a day is the maximum. Excessive
amounts of coffee can cause very unpleasant and even life-threatening adverse
effects. Many of coffee’s health risks are due to its caffeine content and can
therefore be avoided by drinking decaffeinated coffee.
Oily components are present in unfiltered coffee and coffee brewed using metal
filters, but not in coffee brewed using paper filters. These have been
associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease via elevation of LDL
levels in blood.
Elderly individuals are more likely to not tolerate coffee with caffeine well.
They may also react poorly to decaffeinated coffee because it can cause
Coffee consumption can lead to iron deficiency anemia by interfering with iron
absorption, especially in mothers and infants. However, excess iron is
carcinogenic to the liver. Therefore, coffee consumption’s negative correlation
with the development of liver cancer is visible in non-pregnant women and men.
Although some chemicals in coffee are carcinogens in rodents at very high doses,
research suggests that they are not dangerous at the levels consumed by humans.
Coffee may aggravate pre-existing conditions such as reflux, migraines,
arrhythmias and cause sleep disturbances.
Caffeine can cause anxiety, especially in high doses and in those with
pre-existing anxiety disorders. Some research suggests that a minority of
moderate regular caffeine consumers experience some amount of depression,
anxiety, low vigor, or fatigue when discontinuing their caffeine use. Withdrawal
effects are more common in heavy caffeine users.
Caffeine alleviates headaches acutely and is used medically for this purpose,
generally in combination with a painkiller such as ibuprofen. However, chronic
caffeine use and withdrawal can cause headaches. Research has consistently
linked caffeine withdrawal to headaches, even in those who drink coffee in
moderation. Additionally, studies have suggested that those that drink four or
more cups of coffee a day experience headaches more often than others, even
without discontinuing their coffee consumption.
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