Coffee Without Guilt


Coffee Without Guilt
Healthy Living - September 1, 2015
Amy Movius, MD

Coffee lovers rejoice - 2015 has been a great year!dr-movius.jpg

This year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) made official recommendations on caffeine use and the news is good.  The DGAC, a committee that advises the US department of Health and Human Services, stated that there is strong evidence that up to five cups of coffee a day is not associated with chronic disease risk.  The good news doesn’t stop there, though.  The DGAC also pointed out that there is moderate evidence that coffee may have of variety of health benefits.

One of the more surprising possible benefits are those affecting cardiovascular health since it has long  been standard teaching that caffeine increases blood pressure.  Recent evidence suggests that for people without baseline high blood pressure, the effect of caffeine is mild at most and coffee drinkers were observed to have less coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure and a 25% decreased risk of stroke!  This year also unveiled evidence that coffee drinking is probably fine even for people with a history of cardiac arrhythmias (fast, skipped, or irregular heartbeats) as coffee did not aggravate these conditions, again contrary to traditional thought.
The risk of Type 2 Diabetes observed in coffee drinkers was about half of that seen in non-coffee drinkers.  There was also a decrease in a variety of cancers including endometrial, prostate, head and neck, basal cell carcinoma, melanoma and breast cancer. 

On the neuropsychiatric front, coffee drinking was associated with a slower progression of dementia and Parkinson’s disease, and also a decreased risk of depression.
Lastly, there was a mish-mash of other conditions in which coffee consumption showed a protective effect.  These included some liver conditions, gout, dry eye syndrome, and maybe even MRSA.

The amount of coffee consumed in these studies tended to range from 2-6 cups/day and the benefits didn’t simply reflect caffeine content.  Coffee beans contain additional substances thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.  In support of this, some studies included results of various blood markers for inflammation which were more favorable in the coffee drinker groups. 

It is important to note that these findings aren’t absolutely conclusive; they were from observational studies and as the research saying goes “correlation isn’t causation”.  Still, the studies tended to be large and followed participants for up to 10 years, which is encouraging for meaningful data.  There are, of course, still some people who should not drink coffee such as persons who actively suffer from high blood pressure.  Coffee will also tend to worsen anxiety, tremors, and insomnia. 

Further studies on the effects of coffee are expected.  For now most coffee drinkers can rest easy that their habit is not harmful and may even be helpful.  It is important to emphasize, however, that no one is advocating coffee as a medical therapy.  There is more information in the references listed below for those interested - maybe to read while enjoying a satisfying and guilt free cup of Joe.
  1.  How Healthy is Coffee:  The Latest Evidence.  Bret S  Stetka MD,, August 19, 2015
  2. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Do Your Patients Consume Enough Caffeine?  Aaron B Holley MD,, August 19, 2015
  3. Caffeine Comeback for Patient with Arrhythmia.   John Mandrola,, Mar 14, 2015
  4. Coffee Drinking May Lower Inflammation, Reduce Diabetes Risk.  Kathryn Doyle,, August 6, 2015
  5. Neurologic Effects of Caffeine.  Jasvinder Chawla, MD MBA,, August 12, 2013