7 Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee

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In 2018, a survey commissioned by the National Coffee Association found that 64% of Americans drink coffee every single day – up from 62% in 2017, and the highest percentage since 2012. What’s more, a whopping 83% of Americans do drink coffee – just not necessarily on a daily basis – and they spend approximately $1,100 on doing so each year.

The coffee industry is booming, with global exporting valued at $20 billion. Artisan shops are popping up in small towns and large cities alike, while Starbucks continues to dominate the global market with more than 14,000 stores across America, and another 14,000 in other locations across the world. It’s clear that while the majority of us do drink coffee, we are often served up conflicting reports in the media about whether it’s healthy to consume coffee, how much of it we can drink, or even how much caffeine it contains. After all, while coffee is a source of caffeine – a big part of the reason so many of us reach for it first thing in the morning – it’s by no means the only source of caffeine available to us in 2019.

Here at keepinspiring.me, our team runs on coffee, so naturally we wanted to know the answers to all these questions. Whether your filter coffee maker wakes before you do in the morning, you wait in line for a skinny latte with two pumps of sugar-free vanilla, or you’re a straight-up espresso kind of a person, we’ve brought together all the facts you need to know about America’s favorite beverage. Keep reading to find out the health benefits of coffee – some might even surprise you!

A café cortado with a heart design in its foam sitting on an oak table
A cup of coffee with a friend is happiness tested and time well spent. – Anonymous

1. It’ll help you live longer

Yes, you read that one right. Of all the grand claims drinking coffee can make, this has to be the best! Two studies published in summer 2017 found that people who drink more coffee — and that includes decaf coffee — had a lower chance of early death than those who avoided it. Part of a huge multiethnic study in the USA, the National Cancer Institute, University of Southern California, and the University of Hawaii monitored the coffee-drinking habits of some 180,000 Americans from 1993 to 2017.

Among the participants were those of African American, Latino, Native Hawaiian and Japanese heritage, making it one of the most diverse and extensive studies on this subject around. Those who drank two or more cups of coffee per day were 18% less likely to have died in the 24 years since the start of the study than the 16% of participants who never drank coffee. Even those who drank less coffee – anywhere between one and six cups a week – had higher rates of survival than those who didn’t drink any at all.

A second, similar study of more than 500,000 Europeans in the United Kingdom, Greece, Spain and Norway corroborated these findings. Over a 16 year period, researchers were able to take into account outside factors like smoking and consider the relationship between coffee consumption and life expectancy. Like their US counterparts, they found that the men and women who drank the most coffee in each country were 12% and 7% respectively less likely to suffer an early death from heart disease, kidney disease, or stroke.

I never drink coffee at lunch. I find that it keeps me awake for the afternoon. -Ronald Reagan

2. It could boost your libido

Over time, various sources have wrongly claimed that caffeine can have a negative impact on libido. The good news is, this is a myth! Though coffee can have an impact on the blood sugar levels of those with type 2 diabetes (and consequently, the secretions of hormones from the adrenal gland), for normal, healthy adults, this just isn’t true. In fact, a study performed on female rats found that caffeine actually motivated them to have more sex.

Caffeine is, needless to say, a stimulant. If you’ve been turning in early or skipping a nighttime love-in for the sake of an extra forty winks, you might want to give coffee a go. Your relationship will thank you!

Woman sitting in a sun-lit window sill drinking a cup of coffee
Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

3. It puts a spring in your step

OK, so this one isn’t surprising — but it is an integral part of why so many of us reach for a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, or to fight off that afternoon slump. We all know that it’s the caffeine content in our coffee that puts a spring in our step, but just how much caffeine should we be consuming? Extensive research has shown that it is safe — and, if we consider the results of the studies on coffee and life expectancy, beneficial — for healthy adults to consume up to 400mg of caffeine per day. In real terms, if you drink regular filter coffee, that means you can safely consume 4 8oz cups each day. A single shot of espresso contains around 64mg, while a regular latte from your local Starbucks store contains around 77mg.

This caffeine content causes a surge in the number of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine, which leads to enhanced firing of neurons in the brain. Controlled studies have shown that caffeine has a positive impact on memory, mood, vigilance, energy levels, physical performance, reaction times and general mental function of the participants — suggesting that drinking coffee can help you concentrate for longer, and achieve better results.

The FDA suggests that, on average, Americans are consuming around 300mg of caffeine per day — which is well within the healthy range. However, it’s worth remembering that a can of soda contains around 29mg of caffeine, so it’s easy for the total quantity you consume to creep up without you realizing. While there are undoubtedly health benefits to consuming coffee, however, soda and sugar-laden beverages come with their own set of health risks. For example, a Frappuccino — delicious though they may be — can contain anywhere from 21-60g of sugar in the grande size. That’s well over the recommended amount of sugar men and women should consume each day, and could leave you with a sugar-crash that no amount of coffee can fix.

As long as you keep an eye on your caffeine consumption and avoid drinking high-sugar, high-fat options on a regular basis, coffee is a safe and delicious way to give yourself the boost you need to get through the day.

Aerial view of a café with two women drinking coffee together in the window
Coffee is a beverage that puts one to sleep when not drank. – Alphonse Allais

4. It can help you burn fat and lose weight

As well as giving you the energy to get through your day, caffeine has been used for decades as a way to burn fat and lose weight. There’s a good reason for this, because research has shown that caffeine can boost your metabolic rate by up to 11%. This is why caffeine is the number one ingredient in almost every fat-burning supplement on the market today.

Although coffee does not contain the high levels of synthetic caffeine found in this kind of fat-burning supplement, it can still be helpful to those who are looking to lose weight. A cup of coffee is a satisfying choice for many reasons, not least because it acts as an appetite suppressant. Those who practice intermittent fasting consolidate their calorie consumption to a strict 8 hour window, and consume only water and coffee in the other 16 hours. By boosting your metabolism and aiding your digestive system (see below), coffee can help you shed those unwanted pounds and give you the energy you need to live a more active, healthier life.

A full scoop rising out of a huge amount of roasted coffee beans
Never trust anyone who doesn’t drink coffee. – AJ Lee

5. It can aid digestion

Ever find yourself needing the loo after consuming your morning cup of coffee? Well, you aren’t alone. Nutritionist Daniel O’Shaughnessy explains why: “The caffeine in coffee can activate contractions in your colon and intestinal muscles and therefore make you need to go to the bathroom.” Coffee also contains chlorogenic acids and N-alkanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide (a chemical closely related to the neurotransmitter serotonin) “which stimulate stomach acid, moving food through the digestive tract at a faster rate than usual.” Finally, coffee consumption can also lead to a rise in gastrin — a hormone that makes the colon more active. If you have issues with staying regular, a cup of coffee could be just what you need to keep things moving.

Many of us have issues with abdominal discomfort after eating a large meal or rich food, and a cup of coffee could definitely help. An increase in the amount of stomach acid can, of course, help to speed up digestion. Though acid reflux, where the stomach acid moves upwards into your oesophagus, can be a concern, research presented at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in 2010 showed that certain dark roasted coffees actually contain acid-reducing substances. Choosing the right coffee could ensure that you finish a meal as happy as you were when you started it.

But that’s not all, folks. Drinking coffee can also reduce the risk of gallstones or gallbladder disease, vital for maintaining a healthy digestive system. The gallbladder is responsible for secreting bile, which help us to break down and digest fats.

6. It makes for a happy liver

A recent report in Medical News Today suggested that the health benefits of coffee go beyond the digestive system — more specifically, to the liver. Chronic liver disease is, unfortunately, on the rise, and is one of the most common disease-related causes of death in the United States today. An estimated 31,000 U.S. individuals die from cirrhosis each year, which is primarily caused by excess alcohol and fat intake. The most worrying fact about liver disease, however, is that many of those who have it don’t know that they do.

Enter — you guessed it — coffee. Research findings suggest that the risk of liver cirrhosis is anywhere between 25% and 70% less among those who drink coffee daily than those who don’t. As well as cirrhosis, other studies have claimed that coffee consumption also has a positive impact on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Analysis showed that the consumption of coffee is independently associated with a lower risk of NAFLD, which suggests that it had a potentially protective effect on the liver. Last but by no means least, drinking just one cup of coffee per day can cut your risk of hepatocellular cancer — the most common form of liver cancer — by a fifth, while drinking as many as 5 cups can cut that risk by as much as 50%.

If you needed another reason to enjoy your coffee every day, your liver is certainly a good one. Judi Rhys, chief executive of the British Liver Trust (who have been involved in many of the studies on coffee and liver disease) says: “Liver disease is a silent killer as often there are no symptoms until it’s too late. Coffee is something that is easily accessible to everyone and regularly drinking it — filtered, instant, or espresso — may make a difference in preventing and, in some cases, slowing down the progression of liver disease — it is an easy lifestyle choice to make.”

A café macchiato with cream poured into the shape of a tulip in its foam
What does best with a cup of coffee? Another cup. – Henry Rollins

7. It can prevent illness

Last but by no means least, coffee is an invaluable weapon that can help protect you from diseases of many different kinds.

Type 2 diabetes affects many millions of people worldwide, and is characterized by elevated blood sugar levels that are caused by insulin resistance — meaning that your body does not use insulin properly to break down glucose. There is no cure for type 2 diabetes, and it is largely diagnosed in adults who are overweight and inactive. The good news for coffee drinkers? The risk of adult-onset diabetes (which is another name for type 2) decreases dramatically alongside coffee consumption. Studies have observed that people who drink the most coffee have a 23–50% lower risk of getting the disease, which is an impressive statistic. However, it’s worth remembering that coffee can have an impact on blood sugar in those already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

As well as protecting against cancer of the liver (which we’ve already discussed), medical researchers have demonstrated tangible links between coffee consumption and lower rates of colorectal cancer, strokes, and heart disease among women (sorry guys).

Finally, coffee plays as important a role in maintaining brain health as it does in the rest of the body. Alzheimer’s Disease is now the most common neurodegenerative disease in the world, and the leading cause of dementia. Typically affecting those over 65, there is currently no cure. That makes prevention even more important — especially when you can lower your risk by doing something as simple as drinking coffee everyday. A study in the early 2000s suggested that coffee drinkers have as much as 65% lower risk of Alzheimer’s than those who drink no coffee at all. Likewise, coffee can have an enormously positive effect against Parkinson’s — the second most common neurodegenerative disease behind AD. Extensive studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, with a risk reduction ranging from 32–60% — however, there appears to be a link between caffeine and Parkinson’s prevention, as those who drank decaf had the same risk rate as those who drink no coffee at all.

Though many of us take our morning cup of joe for granted, I hope this article has given you some food for thought about the health benefits of coffee. Enjoyed as part of a full and healthy life of good food and moderate exercise, coffee really can help you live for longer. Got time for another cup?

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Natalie Seale

Natalie Seale is a writer, researcher, and editor for keepinspiring.me. She holds an MA, MSc, and PhD in History from the University of Edinburgh, and has started two businesses since 2011. Natalie is an avid reader, a keen traveller, and enjoys cooking and walking with her English Spaniel. Her posts focus on inspiring others to live healthy, happy, and active lives.