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 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Coffee may help in the prevention of dementia.
A study just 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.
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5. 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?
Not everyone should enjoy endless mugs of coffee and this has a lot to do with our genes. For example, individuals who possess certain variants of the CYP1A2 gene should not go crazy with coffee as it can increase the risk of heart attack.
Many wonder if the benefits are associated with the caffeine or the bean. Studies point to positive health benefits with both, so if your choice of joe 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!
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, R.D., is the manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, and the author of "Skinny Liver." Follow her on Twitter @KristinKirkpat. For more diet and fitness advice, sign up for our One Small Thing newsletter.