"Coffee—Good or Bad?" By Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, President and CEO

Coffee—Good or Bad?

March 15, 2010 - Over the years coffee has had a variety of reputations from the very negative –allegedly stunting your growth, causing anxiety, elevating blood pressure, inducing miscarriages, causing heartburn—to the very positive: improved athletic prowess, reducing the risks of gallstones, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

Recently, there have been a multitude of scientific studies discussing the merits and mechanisms for coffee causing such a variety of responses and controversies. Over half of the U.S. population drinks coffee regularly, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. People who drink coffee consume three cups per day on average and spend about $164 dollars per year on this beverage. “Coffee consumption statistics show that coffee represents 75% of all the caffeine consumed in the United States,” states a 2009 coffee statistics report.

Coffee obviously contains more than caffeine as an active ingredient. In fact, it contains traces of hundreds of substances including some of the elements, vitamins and antioxidants. These substances may interact with the body in a variety of ways to both help and hurt various organ systems.

People who drink two or more cups of coffee per day have a lower incidence of Alzheimer's and dementia. Similarly, coffee seems to improve short term recall and elevate IQ, at least transiently. Results of objective testing of reaction time, memory, and some forms of reasoning seem to be better, particularly in older women who are regular coffee drinkers. The mechanism is unclear but a few studies have reached the same conclusion.

There is reportedly a reduced risk for gallstones, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease, related to the amount of coffee consumed over the years, i.e. the more coffee a person consumes the less chance for these maladies. The reasons are unclear but there is also some thought that coffee makes the body's own insulin more available, thus preventing diabetes.

Oral, esophageal and pharyngeal cancer risk is minimally reduced by coffee consumption. In one study conducted among nurses, there was a modest reduction in breast cancer occurrence in postmenopausal women only. Perhaps some of the compounds in coffee have a protective effect.

Gout, which is typically a disease of men and post menopausal women, is less common in coffee drinkers. This could be due to the coffee or some other correlation which has not yet been elucidated

Past Health Advice Articles

Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.