Whether you call it java, joe, mud, or a cuppa, one hundred million of us drink coffee every day. Sixty percent of us say we have difficulty starting our day without coffee. It’s a $30 billion business here in the United States, and for good reason: Coffee drinkers love its taste (whether black or “light and sweet”), swear by its mind-sharpening attributes, and can attest to its addictive nature as well.
It’s this last feature—coffee’s addictiveness—perhaps, that causes people to try quitting the habit, switching to tea or some other substitute. But a growing body of health research suggests that we shouldn’t be cutting back on our coffee intake, but instead might consider adding a cup or two to our daily routine for added health benefits. (Really!)
“Coffee drinking has been associated with some positive health benefits, and we have not been able to find much wrong with drinking moderate amounts,” nutritionist Lisa R. Young, author of The Portion Teller Plan, tells TakePart.com.
Something to always keep in mind, of course, is the origin of the coffee you’re drinking and the farming practices used in growing the beans. Look for labels indicating the coffee growers were given a fair price for their beans (this is not always the case) and that the beans were grown without the use of pesticides and herbicides.
Without further ado, here are some of the health benefits of coffee.
Health Benefit #1: Coffee Drinkers May Live Longer
Last year, researchers primarily at the National Cancer Institute studied health information from more than 400,000 volunteers, ages 50-71, who were free of major diseases when the study began in 1995. By 2008, more than 50,000 of the participants had died. But here’s the crazy part: Men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee a day were a full 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee, while women drinking the same amount were 13 percent less likely to have died during the study.
Health Benefit #2: Coffee Drinkers Are Less Likely to Develop Diabetes
More than 15 published studies have linked coffee drinking to the prevention of type 2 diabetes, and in the scientific world, that makes the data pretty solid. In 2005, Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, a nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, and his team reviewed nine of these studies, finding that people who drink six or seven cups of coffee daily were 35 percent less likely to have type 2 diabetes than those who drank fewer than two cups a day.
Health Benefit #3: Coffee May Fight Cancer
Coffee drinkers may be less susceptible to certain kinds of cancer as well. While there isn’t a cause-and-effect association, coffee consumption has been linked to lower occurrences of prostate cancer, oral cancer and breast cancer recurrence, and liver cirrhosis and cancer as well. While scientists aren’t certain how the likelihood of these cancers are lessened by drinking coffee, the connection is interesting indeed. And with cancer afflicting millions more humans every year, we’ll use every advantage we can get.
Health Benefit #4: Coffee May Fight Parkinson’s Disease
Not only does coffee help lessen the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, but it also may lessen a person’s likelihood of developing it in the first place. It appears that caffeine is to thank for that. As early as 1968, studies were showing an inverse association between risk factors associated with Parkinson’s disease and coffee consumption. A 2010 review of all the available data showed that regularly drinking coffee, around two to three cups a day, cut the risk by as much as a quarter.
Health Benefit #5: Coffee May Fight Dementia and Alzheimer’s
We know coffee sharpens our minds in the short-term, but what if it had a similar effect in the long-term as well? Apparently, it does. It may even prevent coffee drinkers from developing dementia, which affects 36 million people worldwide. In a 2012 experiment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, researchers studied mice who had lost the ability to form new memories after being temporarily starved of oxygen. Scientists gave half the mice a dose of caffeine that was the equivalent of several cups of coffee. These mice, the caffeinated ones, regained their ability to form new memories 33 percent faster than the uncaffeinated ones.
Health Benefit #6: Coffee May Counter Heart Disease and Stroke
Coffee has been linked to a lower risk of heart rhythm disturbances—which have been shown to cause heart attacks and strokes—as well as strokes in women. In a Kaiser Permanente study, health plan members who reported drinking one to three cups of coffee per day were 20 percent less likely to be hospitalized for abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias, than nondrinkers—regardless of other risk factors. A 2009 study of 83,700 nurses enrolled in the long-term Nurses’ Health Study showed a 20 percent lower risk of stroke in those who reported drinking two or more cups of coffee daily compared to women who drank less coffee or none at all.
Health Benefit #7: Coffee Is Rich in Antioxidants
Researchers know that drinking coffee (especially freshly brewed coffee) leads to an increase in antioxidants in the body. When present in the bloodstream, antioxidants tend to build up the immune system and fight off sickness. However, it remains to be determined whether antioxidants from coffee enter the bloodstream when it is consumed and have this healing effect.