By Dan Fields
Move over, green tea? Recent studies indicate that coffee drinkers are less likely to develop Alzheimer's, colon cancer, and diabetes compared to non-drinkers, and they're also less apt to die from heart disease. To be sure, coffee isn't for everyone: It can cause insomnia, anxiety, and irregular heartbeat in some people, and too much caffeine during pregnancy can increase miscarriage risk. Plus, specialty coffee drinks (like Starbucks Frappuccinos) can be high in calories. But if coffee's your drink of choice, let's look at the many ways that
A 2009 study found that people who drank three to five cups of coffee a day at midlife were 65 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's in their later years, compared to those who drank little or no coffee. Other research suggests that the caffeine in coffee may reduce production of the protein beta-amyloid, deposits of which often form in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
Curb Cancer Risk
The antioxidant compounds in coffee may help prevent several types of cancer. In a Japanese study, women who drank three or more cups of coffee a day had half the risk of developing colon cancer, compared to those who didn't drink coffee. An analysis of 10 studies showed that coffee drinkers have a 41 percent lower risk of liver cancer than coffee abstainers. Other studies have linked coffee consumption with a reduced risk of endometrial, kidney, and oral cancers.
Defend Against Diabetes
Drinking coffee lowered the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 60 percent in a 2006 study that included people at high risk for the disease. Even former coffee drinkers were less likely to develop the disease than those who never drank it. The antioxidants, minerals, and caffeine in coffee may help keep diabetes at bay by improving glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity.
Consuming caffeinated coffee an hour before vigorous exercise may help prevent pain while you're working out, suggests a 2009 study of young men. An earlier study of young women found that using caffeine before exercise can cut post-workout pain by nearly 50 percent. The caffeine in coffee may help by blocking the activity of a chemical called adenosine that activates pain receptors in cells.
Guard Against Gout
Two studies from 2007 suggest that drinking coffee is protective against gout, a painful, arthritic condition of the joints (most commonly, the big toes). In one study, middle-aged and older men who drank four to five cups of coffee a day were 40 percent less likely to develop gout than those who abstained from the beverage. Decaf also was associated with a modest reduction in risk, suggesting that something other than caffeine is responsible for the beneficial effect. Another study, involving both men and women, found that coffee consumption may lower blood levels of uric acid, a substance linked to gout.
Preserve Your Memory
Coffee may help to keep memory sharp, according to a pair of studies from 2007. In one study, older women who drank more than three cups of coffee a day experienced less decline over time on memory tests than those who drank one cup or less a day. Tea drinkers enjoyed similar benefits, so caffeine may be the beneficial component. Another study found that older men who consumed three cups of coffee a day had a slower rate of cognitive decline than those who drank either more or less than this amount.
Protect Against Parkinson's
Several studies have linked coffee drinking with a lower risk of Parkinson's disease. For instance, a 2007 study revealed that people who drank one to four cups of coffee a day cut their chances of developing the neurodegenerative disorder by nearly 50 percent. Scientists believe the caffeine in coffee may help defend against Parkinson's by boosting levels of the brain chemical dopamine.
Coffee appears to reduce the risk of both gallstones and kidney stones. In a 2002 study, women who drank at least four cups of coffee a day were 25 percent less likely to need surgery for gallstones than nondrinkers were, and an earlier study showed that coffee drinking lowered gallstone risk in men. The caffeine in coffee may discourage gallstone formation by triggering gallbladder contractions and increasing the flow of bile. As for kidney stones, both regular and decaf coffee have been linked to risk reduction, perhaps simply by increasing urine output.
In a 2009 study, women who drank four or more cups of coffee a day had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke, compared to those who had less than one cup a month. Coffee's protective effect was even more pronounced among nonsmokers: For women who had never smoked or had kicked the habit, drinking at least four cups of coffee daily was linked to a 43 percent reduced risk of stroke. As with heart disease, the antioxidants in coffee may offer protection by improving blood vessel function.
A number of recent studies indicate that coffee drinkers have lower odds of dying from heart disease. For instance, a 2008 study concluded that women who drank two to three cups of coffee per day had a 25 percent lower risk of death from heart disease than those drinking less than a cup a month. The antioxidants in coffee may have several heart-healthy effects, including improving blood vessel function, reducing inflammation, and protecting LDL ("bad") cholesterol from oxidation.