Coffee is the magic elixer that helps us get through the stress of exams. However it is always assumed to be bad for you. Sci & Tech writer Nikita Sall reports on the truth about coffee consumption: is it good or bad?
As the new term starts and the late nights and early mornings return, many students tend to rely on coffee consumption to keep them going. In fact, according to the BBC, the UK population alone is estimated to drink 70 million cups of coffee per day. Despite its immense popularity, however, coffee drinkers are often inundated with health reports claiming that coffee is bad for you.
For years it has been suggested that coffee consumption increases your risk of heart disease, damages the digestive tract and even stunts growth. However, these claims emerged from studies carried out decades ago, in which variables were not adequately matched. This makes the results somewhat unreliable as other factors, such as age, were not accounted for. In fact, the most recent research reveals that, once proper adjustments are made for confounding factors, coffee drinkers do not appear to have a higher risk for heart problems or cancer than people who do not drink coffee.
So is coffee actually good for you?
Seemingly so! Coffee is packed full of vitamins and minerals like Pantothenic Acid, Riboflavin, Thiamine and Manganese. It also contains a significant amount of antioxidants – in fact, coffee is the biggest source of antioxidants in the western diet! Antioxidants are known to fight the oxidative damage caused by free radicals that can contribute to cancer. This may explain why some studies have found a lower risk of liver cancer among coffee drinkers.
Regular coffee consumption may even help you live longer. A recent study involving more than 208,000 participants found that those who drank coffee regularly were less likely to die prematurely than those who did not. This is down to the fact that the chemicals in coffee may help reduce inflammation, which have been found to play a role in a number of age-related diseases, including dementia and alzheimer’s.
A large study into the effect of coffee on the heart, involving of tens of thousands of participants, found that people who drank two to four cups a day had a reduced risk of stroke. Researchers believe this is because coffee contains an abundance of compounds known as polyphenols, which are also found in many fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols decrease blood pressure and this helps to maintain the health and flexibility of the blood vessels, reducing the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
However, let’s not forget the major pitfall of coffee – it contains caffeine, a stimulant which increases alertness by binding to receptors in the brain to prevent feelings of tiredness. Side effects of caffeine include slight tremors and increased levels of adrenaline. Coffee drinkers can become dependent on the effects of caffeine and taking a break from coffee can lead to withdrawal symptoms. However doctors do not consider this common dependence to be of concern as the unpleasant symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are tolerable and tend to cease after a couple of days.
So how much coffee is safe?
Like with most food and drink, balance and moderation is key. It is recommended that that your intake of caffeinated coffee is limited to no more than a couple of cups in an hour. Sticking to this recommendation means you can reap the health benefits of coffee and fuel late-night study sessions without experiencing the unpleasant side-effects of consuming too much caffeine.