If you can’t live without your morning java, blame it on your parents. Recent studies link certain genes to caffeine metabolism. People with the greatest expression of these genes reported drinking less coffee—they simply didn’t need as much to feel alert and energized.
Genetics aside, caffeine in all its guises has numerous health boons, including improving mental focus, boosting cognitive function, and enhancing athletic performance. And the list of coffee health benefits—Americans’ favorite caffeine fix—is a long one. Coffee has even been shown to stave off several serious health problems, including the following four.
1. Put the Brakes on Parkinson’s
An estimated 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year and seven to 10 million people worldwide suffer with this neurodegenerative disorder. Although this progressive condition can be slowed and symptoms improved with prescription drugs, physical and occupational therapy, and alternative treatments such as hyperbaric oxygen and IV glutathione, prevention is the best medicine.
Research shows that drinking coffee can reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s by a whopping 80 percent. Furthermore, one study showed that men who drink lots of coffee (28 ounces or more per day) were five times less likely to develop Parkinson’s than those who don’t drink it at all. For patients living with Parkinson’s, caffeine has been shown to improve symptom severity, particularly motor symptoms such as movement and stiffness.
2. Avert Alzheimer’s Disease
Epidemiological research suggests that moderate daily coffee consumption also helps stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Some research shows that drinking three to five cups of coffee per day can reduce risk of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 65 percent!
This neuroprotection likely stems from the caffeine in coffee, plus its high content of chlorogenic acid and other beneficial polyphenols. Previous studies have shown that caffeine aids in the prevention of two signature signs of Alzheimer’s, amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. And both caffeine and polyphenols have antioxidant effects, reduce inflammation, and protect brain cells in the cortex and hippocampus—the key areas responsible for memory.
3. Defense Against Diabetes
The same chlorogenic acid that wards off cognitive decline also slows absorption of glucose in the intestines and stimulates its transport into the muscles. This is the likely explanation for coffee’s protective effects against type 2 diabetes.
One study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that every cup of regular coffee you drink lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes by seven percent. And drinking three to four cups of decaffeinated coffee per day reduces that risk by 33 percent compared to non-coffee drinkers.
Coffee also contains two compounds that help to block a substance called human islet amyloid polypeptide (hIAPP). The “misfolding” of hIAPP has been implicated in the development of type 2 diabetes, and regular coffee consumption appears to interfere with that destructive process.
In addition, coffee curbs appetite and facilitates the burning of fat in the liver, so it helps prevent obesity, the number-one risk factor for type 2 diabetes. A high intake was recently shown to reduce risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which is exceptionally common in obese and diabetic individuals. And in animal studies, coffee staves off diabetes-related memory loss.
4. So Long, Liver Disease
Speaking of liver, compared to people who avoid coffee, those who drink at least two cups a day are 80 percent less likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver (even if they drink a lot of alcohol). Coffee can also help ward off liver cancer.
Furthermore, according to a landmark study published in the journal Hepatology, coffee may also improve outcomes in patients who have hepatitis C. Researchers examined 766 patients with hepatitis C-related liver damage and found that those who drank three or more cups of coffee cut their risk of liver damage progression in half over a four-year period.
The Secret Behind Coffee Health Benefits
So, what is the secret behind these coffee health benefits? First, that cup of java is a terrific source of protective antioxidants, particularly chlorogenic acid and other beneficial polyphenols, as mentioned above.
Researchers evaluating both the antioxidant levels of various foods and drinks and the frequency with which those items are consumed have found that the average amount of coffee consumed by American adults per day—1.64 cups—provides 1,299 mg of antioxidants. Tea, the second richest source, supplied only 294 mg, followed by antioxidant-rich (but sparingly eaten) fruits and vegetables, which provide fewer than 75 mg each of antioxidants per day. Believe it or not, coffee even contains fiber—nearly 2 g per cup.
But these aren’t the only components that make coffee healthy. Although some studies reveal that both regular and decaffeinated coffee have benefits, oft-maligned caffeine gives the drink much of its oomph. In addition to perking up the nervous system, caffeine increases the activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine and enhances delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and brain.
Coffee Health Benefits…In a Pill?
If you’re not a fan of drinking your caffeine, caffeine pills are an option, but that’s a bit too much of a jolt for some people. Don’t despair. You can instead choose supplements made from whole coffee berries, which contain not only natural caffeine but other protective phytonutrients. The result is sustained energy, improved mental focus, and increased alertness.
On a final note, if you have high blood pressure or you’re pregnant or expecting to become pregnant, go easy on caffeine. And if you’re struggling with osteoporosis, limit your coffee intake to a cup every now and then—higher intake has been linked with a decrease in bone density.