Amongst sugar, nicotine and alcohol, Caffeine is likely our societies most common addiction. Caffeine is present in many processed food items, along with hot and cold drinks, most notably Coffee. Over the past several years, we have learned that coffee carries a number of health benefits. So begs the questions, does it make us healthier and if so, in what quantities?
Coffee and longevity
Before we get into the details of what coffee can do for specific aspects of your life or certain conditions, let’s look at the big picture. There are studies out there that suggest that coffee can give you a longer life.
One such study that looked at this was designed by the MEC (Multiethnic Cohort) between 1993 and 1996. The study was population-based and features 185,855 individuals that were African American, Native Hawaiian, Japanese American, Latino, and white located in either Hawaii or Los Angeles, California. At the time the study started, all participants fell within the age range of 45 to 75.
The study found that among participants that drank coffee and those who didn’t, the coffee drinkers lived longer. In addition, it was found that the coffee’s effects were present whether or not the individual consumed regular coffee or decaf.
This wasn’t a one-off either. Another such study was presented by the European Society of Cardiology. The study started in 1999 with nearly 20,000 participants, all falling within the bracket of middle-aged Mediterranean individuals.
The study found that a shocking 64% of individuals who had at least 4 cups of coffee a day were at a lower risk for all-cause mortality than those individuals who never consumed coffee. In those 45 and older, specifically, it was found that drinking 2 additional cups of coffee a day was in line with a 30% lower risk of mortality during the follow-up. It should be noted, though, that this trend was not found in the younger population.
Coffee's Effect on Neurodegenerative Conditions
In a literature review by Regina Wierzejska, the effects of coffee or, more specifically, its caffeine content) on neurodegenerative conditions in the elderly were considered. These neurodegenerative conditions include conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.
Dementia - First, let’s take a look at dementia and the effect of coffee. The literature review notes that a large multicenter cohort that took place in Holland, Finland, and Italy found that elderly men who drank coffee regularly had a slower progression of dementia which was measured over the course of 10 years.
The Finnish arm of the study also noted that moderate (3-5 cups) intake of coffee by the middle-aged population saw about a 65% decrease of dementia risk in the elderly in comparison to low consumption.
Another French study found that in women older than 65 who consumed more than 3 cups of coffee a day had a notably lower deterioration of speech memory function. This was in comparison to women of the same age who drank no or only 1 cup of coffee per day.
Alzheimer’s Disease - In 2007, a quantitative review of observational studies took a look at the positive effects of coffee consumption on preventing Alzheimer’s Disease. By their observations, the consumption of coffee lowered the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease by 30% rather than drinking no coffee at all.
The idea was revisited in a 2010 review of longitudinal epidemiological studies. This review noted that drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee daily could lower the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 64% compared to not drinking coffee at all or drinking it only in low quantities.
Parkinson’s Disease - The earliest studies - reported by a researcher named Ascherio, among others - of Parkinson’s Disease and coffee reported that one cup a day could reduce Parkinson’s mortality in men. However, interestingly enough, the same results weren’t shown in women, probably, it was hypothesized, due to the result of hormone replacement therapy inhibiting caffeine intake. Later studies, though, showed the same results with 1-3 cups of coffee but with the results affecting both men and women.
Even more recent studies showed more conclusive and specific results. A study held between 1966 and 2002, for example, showed that coffee drinkers were 30% less likely to end up with Parkinson’s than those who didn’t drink coffee. This statistic was later enforced by a 2014 study that showed that coffee drinkers were 28% less likely to get Parkinson’s than their non-coffee drinking counterparts.
Coffee and Mental Performance
We all know that a cup of coffee can help make us feel more awake but its effects might go far beyond just that. In fact, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), there is a link between drinking a cup of coffee - about 75 mg of caffeine - can increase concentration as well as alertness.
This may not seem important at first glance but it has been shown to help people with safety in night driving and performance during night shifts.
In addition, caffeine and coffee in low doses have been shown to improve mood. In one study, results showed that a cup of coffee - again, about 75 mg of caffeine - every 4 hours kept elevated moods in individuals. Adversely, though, more than that tended to cause anxiety and stress.
As we have looked at here, coffee can do wonders for your health when implemented properly. However, it should be noted that there are certain conditions in which coffee should not be consumed frequently or in large quantities, for example, those with severe heart conditions, infants, pregnant or lactating women.