6 Reasons Why You Should Drink Coffee
In an e-mail interview, Dr Sanjiv Chopra, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and best-selling author tells us all about the benefits of java.
The claims of coffee are astounding. Countless studies have linked the world's most popular beverage (more than 400 billion cups are consumed globally every year) to a host of health benefits, including substantial protection against liver disease, several types of cancer and cognitive decline. It is also said to help us live longer.
But what of its detractors and the myths surrounding it?
Dr Chopra quotes the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Secondly, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.”
“Coffee was maligned centuries ago and thought to be the ‘devil’s drink’,” he says. “In reality, the side effects of coffee including heartburn, tremor, and insomnia for some if they have it in the evening, are manageable.”
Ahead, the hepatologist explains how coffee lowers all-cause mortality. In case you were wondering, Dr Chopra, ever the coffee evangelist, drinks four to five cups a day, sans sweetener.
1. Protects your liver
There is a significant inverse relationship between drinking coffee and liver cirrhosis (severe scarring of the liver and poor liver function). Coffee has been shown to lower the levels of liver enzymes in the blood, which means less liver fibrosis (scarring) and a substantially lower risk of developing primary liver cancer.
One study found that people who drank a cup of coffee each day had a 20 per cent reduction in their risk of developing alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver and increasing their consumption to two cups per day reduced their risk by 40 per cent. Not to say that it’s a license to drink heavily!
2. Improves the body’s response to insulin
“It is insulin sensitising; hence it should lower the incidence of type 2 diabetes which is characterised by insulin resistance,” says Dr Chopra. “It does!”
Here's why: Coffee contains large amounts of antioxidants such as chlorogenic acid and tocopherols, and minerals such as magnesium; components which have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and affect glucose metabolism. It’s worth noting that one has to drink six cups of coffee – regular or decaf – a day, to see a 40% reduction in risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
3. Coffee drinkers have a lower risk of certain cancers
Numerous studies have shown that drinking coffee regularly decreases the risk of being diagnosed with several common cancers: primary liver cancer, colon cancer, skin cancer, endometrial cancer and metastatic prostate cancer.
The exact processes aren’t clear yet, but coffee is full of biologically-active compounds, which have been found to reduce inflammation, inhibit cellular damage and serve as a potential anti-cancer mechanism.
4. Positive effect on cognitive function
Evidence indicates that coffee may be good for one’s mental health. The beverage appears to stimulate mood and various brain functions by blocking an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Numerous trials have shown that it lowers the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and early cognitive decline.
5. Better bone health
“There was a concern that excessive coffee drinking could lead to significant loss of calcium in the urine," says Dr Chopra. "A recent study has shown that coffee drinkers have better bone health compared with non-coffee drinkers.”
The study, which looked at data on 564 people, found that people who habitually drank coffee had higher bone mass density, a marker of strong bones, than non-coffee drinkers.
6. You may live longer
Dr Chopra adds that “there are mechanistic explanations: regular coffee drinkers have lower levels of CRP and longer telomeres.”
What this means:
CRP (C-Reactive protein) is produced by the liver. Its level rises when there is inflammation in the body, and it is nearly always a sign of an underlying medication condition. It is also linked to a risk of heart disease.
Telomeres – caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes – are biomarkers of ageing. Unhealthy lifestyle factors such as smoking, eating junk food, inactivity and chronic stress contribute to shorter telomeres. Shorter telomeres may indicate a lower life expectancy, and is associated with cardiovascular disease.
A final note on how to drink your coffee
“Organic, filtered coffee is likely healthier,” says Dr Chopra. “It’s okay to add a little bit of milk and sugar but do not add artificial sweeteners as it increases blood sugar by altering the gut microbiome.”
Why filtered? Coffee contains a substance called cafestol, which is a potent stimulator of LDL cholesterol. Paper filters used to brew coffee will absorb almost of cafestol, whereas boiled or French press coffee contains all of it.
One last thing, caffeine alone does not explain the effects of coffee. Its benefits are seen even with decaffeinated coffee; what matters is that you drink a fair amount of it.
This article was supplemented with content from Dr Chopra's book, The Big Five: Five Simple Things You Can Do to Live a Longer, Healthier Life.
Dr Sanjiv Chopra, MD, is Professor of Medicine and former faculty dean for Continuing Medical Education at Harvard Medical School. He is also the Marshall Wolf Master Clinician Educator at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston.
He is a bestselling author and sought after motivational speaker. Find his latest book,
The Two Most Important Days: How to Find Your Purpose -and Live a Happier and Healthier Life by Sanjiv Chopra and Gina Vild here.