Is Coffee a Superfood? |

3 min read
Germanova Antonina/Shutterstock

Source: Germanova Antonina/Shutterstock

It’s not an exaggeration to say that America runs on coffee—some 400 million cups a day, according to the most recent data from the National Coffee Association. That works out to about 9 pounds of coffee per person per year.

Coffee is a significant source of caffeine, a stimulant that sparks wakefulness and energy; it also enhances cognition. While it certainly keeps us awake and alert, what are the long-term health effects of drinking coffee? Researchers have been asking this question for decades; in recent years, the evidence is pointing to a clear answer.

The most current scientific literature demonstrates that coffee is a superfood. Data show it helps prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease, just to name a few benefits. Let’s take a closer look at this evidence.

First, a review article in Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine summarizes the evidence showing that consuming two to three cups of coffee each day leads to beneficial effects on metabolic syndrome, helping to reduce high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels, and excess weight around the waist. It reduces your chances of developing coronary heart disease, arrhythmia, heart failure, and stroke, decreasing your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. It also reduces the body’s sensitivity to insulin, decreasing your risk of developing diabetes.

A separate body of evidence demonstrates that coffee may help prevent neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkison’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Researchers are currently trying to pinpoint the mechanisms that reduce the incidence of Parkinson’s disease among coffee drinkers. A longitudinal study found that participants drinking two or more cups of coffee a day were less likely to develop cerebral amyloid deposition, plaque that forms in the brain as part of the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

A broad group of studies that includes 28 separate meta-analyses shows that drinking coffee reduces the risk of developing liver or endometrial cancer and may also help prevent cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and skin.

Researchers believe it’s because of coffee’s flavonoids—a group of natural substances found in fruits, vegetables, grains, bark, roots, stems, and flowers—which are known to reduce inflammation and cell mutations, and modulate important enzyme functions.

While the benefits are clear, the data show there are drawbacks to drinking coffee for some people. In some cases, the caffeine in coffee can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, and insomnia. Coffee does cause an increase in blood pressure; people with high blood pressure may need to moderate their coffee consumption. For pregnant women, caffeine passes through the placenta to the fetus and can increase the risk of pregnancy loss and low birth weights; doctors recommend pregnant women have no more than one or two cups of coffee a day.

The take-home message: Unless you are pregnant or have high blood pressure, this research indicates drinking up to three cups of coffee a day can help prevent a wide range of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. So grind up those beans and get brewing.

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