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I need a Coffee

Coffee is great. It’s warm and comforting, especially effective on those rainy Autumn mornings and those frosty, chilly Winter mornings. It gives us that little morning or midday pick-me-up that we all feel we need at times. When it comes to a caffeine fix, coffee is most definitely the most popular choice. It has in fact been proven that there is a connection between caffeine and a significant increase in alertness and improved performance, so that boost we feel isn’t just a psychological thing.

Many people swear by their habitual coffees. It is often recommended for night time workers, especially over-night drivers. One of the suggested methods of dealing with fatigue while driving is to pull over, have a 15 minute nap, and then have a coffee. This is because coffee has been proven to be connected to reducing the risk of failures among workers during night-time shifts, and also to reducing the risk of an accident occurring during long distance driving. Caffeine consumption may also help to address the problem of sleep inertia (a feeling of tiredness after an abrupt awakening) and this may explain how we’ve come to favour the choice of caffeinated beverages on wakening.

But do we really need it? Or has our “I need a coffee” pick-me-up’s just come to be necessity out of pure habit and expectation, after all it’s the usual go-to thing when taking a break from work or having gaps between lectures: “let’s go for a coffee” has developed into a routine, a habit. Although historically coffee has been associated with and been blamed for causing adverse health effects, more recent research into its effect has shown that there are in fact benefits to drinking coffee. So, is coffee good or bad for us? Well, it depends.

It seems as though most negative findings about the effects of coffee are counteracted with a positive argument in favour of coffee. Dr. Donald D. Hensrud, chair of the Division of Preventive, Occupational and Aerospace Medicine with a joint appointment in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, Metabolism, & Nutrition at Mayo Clinic, addresses how coffee has for a long time been blamed for stunting growth and causing heart disease. However, Hensrud points out that “some studies have found an association between coffee consumption and decreased overall mortality and possibly cardiovascular mortality, although this may not be true in younger people who drink large amounts of coffee.” These studies have had their downfalls, Hensrud goes on to admit, as unfiltered coffees such as just plain boiled coffee or an espresso, if consumed in high amounts, have been linked to elevations in cholesterol levels.

The risk of causing heart disease isn’t entirely false either. However this risk usually applies to those with pre-existing conditions that cause difficulty and/or complications with regards to the breakdown of caffeine within the body. People who are at risk of being affected by coffee in terms of heart disease are those who already have a pre-existing, and fairly common, genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body, and thus for these people drinking coffee may lead to health risks, depending on the amount of coffee or other caffeine products that person consumes.

Coffee has proven to have a range of health benefits. It has been discovered that coffee can protect a person from developing Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and type-two diabetes, and has also been shown to have a favourable effect on liver function. As coffee helps to increase metabolism, it can therefore be an aid in weight loss. A connection has also been found to exist between coffee consumption and mortality; people who consume about two to four cups of coffee a day are among the lowest risk individuals.

Like most things though, too much coffee isn’t good. Among healthy adults a moderate daily caffeine intake of ≤400 mg is not associated with adverse effects, but excessive consumption has been found to have some negative effects. Heavy coffee drinkers have been found to suffer bone loss, lower bone density and are more prone to fractures. This is because coffee has been suggested to interfere with the bodies absorption of calcium. Excessive consumption of coffee has also been associated with headaches, nausea, anxiety, hypertension and restlessness.  

It appears that coffee can also have a positive effect on us mentally, being shown to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression. A moderate caffeine intake (no more than 6 cups of coffee a day), as well as lessening depressive symptoms, has also been connected to lowering the risk of suicide. However, the claims made about its effects on depression and other psychiatric conditions, such as the likes of ADHD, are somewhat presumptive, based on these little connections found between coffee consumption on the effects, and have not been sufficiently studied to be considered anywhere near a sure fact.

What about caffeine withdrawal? Is that really a thing or just a psychologically induced reaction that you are only hyper aware of because you want a coffee that you haven’t been able to get? Well, according to the surely independent unbiased people at coffeeandhealth.org,  “brain mapping technology suggests that the physiological effects of caffeine do not lead to a cycle of dependence. Whilst some individuals may experience symptoms of caffeine withdrawal on abrupt cessation of a regular caffeine intake, these symptoms are short-lived and can be avoided altogether if caffeine intake is decreased progressively”

So, is coffee good or bad? There are arguments for and against, and here I’ve only gone through a handful of them. At the end of the day, taking into consideration both sides of the argument, moderation is key to the perfect balance. This is true of most things in life. Moderation in terms of coffee consumption would be no more than 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day. If you have more than this, you may want to consider reducing your intake. But again, if you don’t drink coffee at all, don’t feel like you should start drinking 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day in the hopes of improving your health. Basically, moderate intake does no harm, but at the same time doesn’t particularly do much good either.