Consistently oscillating between demonization and valorization, coffee has a reputation that has shifted markedly over the last few decades. Late 20thcentury studies indicated that the delicious, addictive, stimulating beverage would surely yield negative health consequences. But modern studies are revealing flaws in the old ones that skewed their data. Today, most researchers are convinced that coffee is the key to health and longevity. That’s good news for those of us who work on a Hawaii coffee farm like Gingerhill.
Last week we explored the history, processing, and personality of Kona coffee and the average Hawaii coffee farm. This week we are delving into coffee more broadly, examining the ways in which these little roasted beans can either boost or burden your health.
Coffee and Genes
Scientists have recently discovered that there are different types of genes that dictate the activity of caffeine metabolizing enzymes. Individuals with different types of these genes thus react to coffee quite differently. Those who metabolize caffeine quickly can drink coffee before bed and still sleep soundly. Slow metabolizers, on the other hand, may find that just a single cup of coffee is overly stimulating.
Researchers initially believed that those with different genes might also experience different health-related outcomes from drinking coffee. But, surprisingly, they found that all genetic types demonstrated superior health markers and longevity when they drank coffee compared to non-drinkers.
The Many Health Benefits of Coffee
Both the number and variety of health conditions that coffee consumption is capable of preventing is truly astounding. Coffee consumption appears to benefit almost every aspect of your health, from blood sugar regulation and cardiovascular function to mood and cognition.
Regular coffee consumption reduces your likelihood of developing heart disease by 18%; stroke, by 30%; and type 2 Diabetes by 11%. One study even indicated that each cup of coffee per day corresponded with a 7% reduction in the likelihood of developing type 2 Diabetes. Coffee consumption also reduces your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as heart disease, kidney disease, and gallstones. Coffee drinkers even have healthier liver enzyme profiles than non-drinkers, making them less susceptible to liver cirrhosis.
There are several minerals and compounds in coffee to thank for the myriad of benefits it provides. Coffee contains considerable levels of chromium, a mineral that supports healthy insulin production and secretion. It is perhaps coffee’s chromium content that prevents Diabetes and supports healthy blood sugar regulation. The chlorogenic acid in coffee reduces retinal damage, preventing conditions like age-related macular degeneration. The B Vitamins and Magnesium in coffee support efficient metabolism and energy production. Finally, lignans and quinides in coffee effectively reduce your risk of contracting cancer.
It seems, then, that working on a Hawaii coffee farm is one of the best things you can do for your health! That is, assuming you’re drinking the coffee from said Hawaii coffee farm. But who could resist the bright, rich, energy-boosting properties of organic Kona coffee?
Coffee’s Powerful Antioxidant Profile
The antioxidant properties of coffee are so impressive that they warrant their own section of this post. Coffee is actually the most popular source of antioxidants in the American diet, with 64% of Americans consuming at least one cup a day. The concentration of antioxidants in coffee surpasses that of fruits and vegetables, which is great news for the busy, coffee-guzzling American who has a hard time consuming enough produce.
Antioxidants are absolutely essential to our health, especially in this day and age of polluted air, ubiquitous toxic additives, and chronic stress. These compounds reduce free-radical induced oxidative damage, which results from stress, poor diet, and exposure to toxic substances. They also reduce inflammation, preventing inflammatory conditions and aging.
What is perhaps coffee’s most significant benefit—reduced risk of a whole host of cancers—is thanks to its incredible antioxidant profile. One study conducted at the UK’s University of Southampton found that regular coffee consumption not only resulted in a 17% lower risk of death from any cause; it also resulted in a 18% decrease in the risk of developing cancer. A study at the University of Southern California linked consumption with a 26% decrease in the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer. It also reduces the risk of cancers like Melanoma and Leukemia, among others. Dark roasts, specifically, prevent DNA strands from breaking, reducing the risk of cancer and aging.
For years, the World Health Organization asserted that coffee was a carcinogenic food and should be minimized or avoided to prevent cancer. However, the organization retracted their assertion in 2016, citing a lack of evidence for prior findings. While coffee is carcinogenic to some degree (the roasting process produces a carcinogenic compound called acrylamide), the concentrations are low enough to be considered benign.
Coffee and Your Lifestyle
Clearly, coffee boasts an impressive array of long-term health benefits. But it can also provide short-term benefits that will make your life a lot easier and happier. That’s because the caffeine in coffee blocks adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that encourages relaxation and sleep. When caffeine blocks adenosine and increases the secretion of dopamine and adrenaline, we feel more energized, focused, and happy. Indeed, studies show that consuming caffeinated coffee improves cognition, memory, and concentration. According to a Harvard study, regular coffee drinkers are also 20% less likely to be depressed.
Coffee provides pleasant physiological benefits as well. Caffeinated coffee can give you the energy to workout longer and harder and generally improves athletic performance and endurance. It also increases your metabolic rate by 3-11% and helps the body utilize fat for energy. Thus, while coffee is not a miracle weight loss drug, it can be a useful component of your weight loss regimen. Finally, caffeinated coffee increases excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. In laymen’s terms, that means coffee helps you continue burning calories even after your workout is over! There’s a reason why those who work on a Hawaii coffee farm are more cheerful, fit, and lean.
The Drawbacks of Coffee Consumption
Like most foods, coffee is not inherently good or bad. It’s benefits come with drawbacks, which may or may not be tolerable depending on the individual.
Caffeinated coffee in particular can cause adverse affects, especially for those with a slow caffeine metabolism. Slow metabolism or excessive consumption can lead to anxiety, poor sleep, and high blood pressure. It can also increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth in pregnant women.
Coffee can cause digestive distress. Because it is highly acidic, coffee can exacerbate acid reflux and damage the linings of the stomach and small intestine. Taken on an empty stomach, it also increases bodily production of hydrochloric acid, decreasing later production. In so doing, it can impair the efficient digestion of proteins and fats, leading to gas, bloating, IBS, and poor nutrient absorption. Caffeinated coffee can also induce premature emptying of the stomach, yielding many of the same effects.
There are other, lesser-known and perhaps more insidious effects of excessive coffee consumption. The first is high cholesterol, as the cafestol in coffee elevates cholesterol levels. The phenolic compounds in coffee bind to non-heme iron, reducing iron absorption by an average of 35%. Reduced iron absorption, in turn, can lead to anemia, resulting in dizziness, low energy, low metabolism, and impaired physical performance.
The good news for those of us working on a Hawaii coffee farm is that the disadvantages hardly outweigh the benefits. Just be sure to limit your consumption to no more than 5 cups, or about 400mg of caffeine, per day. Most experts agree that optimum coffee consumption for health purposes is 3 cups per day.