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8 surprising ways that coffee is good for your health

Coffee is an antioxidant powerhouse that can help you live longer and may even improve your sex life. Even more reason to celebrate National Coffee Day!
Photo of coffee being poured
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/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Many of my patients come to their first appointment with a clear “non-negotiable:” “I’m here to lose weight, gain energy, eat better, but I won’t give up bacon.” Bacon is big, followed by ice cream and coffee.

I never understand the coffee reference. Coffee is, in fact, an antioxidant powerhouse. It’s most likely the greatest source of antioxidants consumed globally — probably because as a daily habit, more people drink coffee than eat broccoli, but also because compounds in coffee called chlorogenic acids are pretty potent! Need more convincing? Read on.

1. Coffee may help in getting rid of pesky belly fat.

Of all the challenges that my patients experience, excess belly fat is the most common complaint. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of the hardest types of fat to lose. Good news: enjoying a few cups of coffee can help. A 2020 study found that women who consumed at least three cups of coffee had lower levels of adiposity than women that did not drink coffee. Findings were consistent amongst caffeinated and non-caffeinated options, so if you enjoy decaf you can reap the benefit, too!

2. Coffee plays a role in the prevention of many cancers.

Coffee helps prevent cancer, not cause it. This was the 2016 conclusion of the World Health Organization after rigorous reviews of the data. The group indicated that it could “find no conclusive evidence of carcinogenic effects of drinking coffee.” In fact, studies show coffee may play a role in the prevention of cancers of the breast and colon and may also help to reduce the risk of recurrence in survivors of both. Additionally, coffee consumption has been linked with reduction of cancers of the oral cavity and skin.

3. Coffee can increase survival in colon cancer patients.

Not only can coffee consumption help prevent cancer, new findings indicate that it may even provide benefit once cancer has spread. A 2020 study published in the Journal JAMA Oncology found that when individuals with metastatic colon cancer consumed about 2-3 cups of coffee a day, they increased the time it took for the disease to worsen as well as the chances of living longer.

4. Coffee can increase your ability to problem solve.

A 2020 study found that when individuals were given a 200 mg caffeine pill (equivalent to a cup of coffee) their problem solving ability significantly increased. Researchers found increases in focus, accuracy and the time it took to solve problems, but no benefit was seen in creative thinking. This is similar to a 2018 study, which found that simply smelling coffee could help improve math skills.

5. Coffee can help prevent and reverse liver disease.

Your liver absolutely loves your coffee habit. Coffee may reduce the risk of liver cancer, and death from liver cirrhosis, but more remarkably, coffee may help in the prevention and reversal of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that impacts one-third of Americans and involves the deposit of fat in the liver due to poor lifestyle choices. If it’s not caught early, it can lead to more devastating health consequences.

6. Coffee can help you live longer.

The studies are strong and most of them show the more you drink, the longer you live. It doesn’t always matter if the coffee was full strength or decaf. For example, one study showed men who drank six or more cups of coffee a day had a 10 percent lower risk of death and women who drank the same amount had a 15 percent reduction. Authors noted that many other studies showed inverse associations between coffee consumption and diabetes, stroke and death due to inflammatory diseases.

7. Coffee may help in the prevention of dementia.

A study recently published in the journal Nature found compounds in caffeine help to produce an enzyme associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Other studies have shown similar results. A 2016 study of over 6,000 women aged 65 and older showed a 36 percent reduction of incident dementia, or new cases of the disease, among those who had two to three cups of coffee per day.

8. Coffee may improve your sex life.

Yes, it’s true. One study found men who drank two to three cups daily were 42 percent less likely to report erectile dysfunction. This observation was consistent in men who were overweight, obese or hypertensive. However, researchers did not see a decrease in men with diabetes. It’s believed caffeine created a pharmacological impact that resulted in increased penile blood flow.

Is coffee for everyone?

Caffeinated coffee is not always a “more is better” sip for everyone. Pregnant or breast feeding women, individuals with certain heart conditions, like high blood pressure or irregular heart beat, and individuals with acid reflux should talk to their physicians first. Additionally, coffee should not be offered to young children.

Individuals often have differences in their metabolism of caffeine based on their genetics. You are either a fast metabolizer of caffeine or a slow metabolizer. A 2019 study found that consuming excess amounts of coffee could lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease based on genetic variants of the CYP1A2 gene. You can find out how you metabolize coffee through DNA testing.

Many wonder if the health benefits of coffee are associated with the caffeine or the bean. Studies point to positive health benefits with both, so if your choice of java is decaf, you’re likely still getting major benefit.

Finally, the ingredients we tend to add to our coffee cup may ruin some of the health benefits. Non-dairy creamers can carry disease-causing trans fats and sugars, and may even reduce the total antioxidant capacity of your coffee. That means those potent chlorogenic acids diminish, and perhaps many of the benefits as well. If you are up to the challenge, try going completely black or with a no-added-sugar, non-dairy alternative. And please, no whipped cream!