The science behind the health benefits of Coffee

There are plenty of claimed health benefits of coffee and some are quite bold. From the prevention of liver disease and cancer to dementia and multiple sclerosis. To top it up it is said to increase life expectancy.

Despite the claims, there are also more attentive studies that report on the risks of consuming caffeine, especially in children, pregnant and lactating mother, young people, pregnant and lactating mothers, and individuals with underlying health conditions.

Whilst you are sipping your first or your umpteenth cup of the day, read up on the latest research on the safety and benefits of coffee. 

How much caffeine are we consuming?

Caffeine occurs naturally in coffee beans, cocoa beans and tea leaves. Synthetic caffeine is also added to some food products, drinks and certain medications.

The levels of caffeine in coffee depend on how it was prepared and the type of coffee used. An average 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains between 95 to 165 mg of caffeine, while a single shot of espresso contains between 47 to 64 mg.

An estimated 80 percent of Americans consume caffeine – mostly in the form of coffee, tea, and soft drinks to a lesser extent. Men consume slightly more caffeine (240 milligrams per day on average) compared to women (who consume, on average, 183 milligrams per day).

Consumption of energy drinks has increased drastically between 2001 and 2010, even though it makes up only a small proportion of the caffeine intake of adults.

Majority of U.S. children, 79 percent, also consume caffeine, with older children consuming more than younger ones.

Children before the age of 12 tend to consume caffeine in the form of soda, tea and flavored dairy products, while older children mainly consumed coffee.

What happens to our bodies?

Caffeine is a stimulant that can enhance brain function and boost metabolism. There are also other antioxidant substances that activate DNA repair and help to clean up free radicals in our cells. It also contains anti-mutagen molecules that stop cancer-causing DNA mutations from striking.

The truth is, there are a few negative aspects to coffee as well, but it also depends on the individual. Consuming too much coffee can lead to heart palpitations, jitteriness, anxiety and even exacerbated panic attacks.

So, what happens to our bodies when we consume caffeine? It travels throughout the body after it is taken up in the intestine. It takes a while to be metabolized meaning it is present in our bodies for some time after consumption.

How coffee is metabolized depends on individuals age. An estimated 3 to 7 hours is needed to break down half the caffeine in adult’s system.  For newborns this number is much higher – 65 to 130 hours.

Some people are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine due to genetic variations, by affecting both how fast it is broken down and by how strong an effect it has on organs. There are other things that affect caffeine metabolism.

The enzymes that break down caffeine are also accountable for breaking down steroids. Oral contraceptives in women are thought to double the amount of time taken to break down the caffeine in the body. Caffeine also stays in the body significantly longer in pregnant women.

There are other molecules in coffee such antioxidants and flavor molecules – chlorogenic acids. These molecules are also found in pears, apples and other fruits, as well as in plants and vegetables.

They are absorbed in the intestine and partially metabolized by our gut microbes. They are now able to exert their strong antioxidant effects on a variety of cells.

The caffeine and the other antioxidant molecules in the drink have been attributes of the health benefits. But what is the scientific evidence behind this?

The science behind the health benefits

Fascinatingly, decaffeinated coffee has many of the same health benefits as regular coffee. Both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee showed significant anti-aging effects on a study carried on mice.

A new study compared the effect of caffeine and coffee from other sources on the length of telomeres, which are caps that protect the end of chromosomes from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. Telomeres are used as a measure of aging; the structures get shorter with age.

Short telomeres are linked to a higher risk of death. Telomeres were significantly shorter as caffeine consumption increased in U.S. adults

Yet, telomeres were longer with increasing coffee consumption, Caffeine consumption might therefore shorten life, while coffee consumption could prolong it.

Other potential health benefits have been linked to caffeine. Researchers recently revealed that caffeine can boost the levels of an enzyme that might prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, the anti-inflammatory properties of caffeine and its metabolites have been investigated. Lowes levels of inflammation in older adults seemed healthier than those with higher levels, the lower levels of inflammation group had significantly greater levels of caffeine metabolites in their blood.

Shouldn’t we all be drinking coffee if it’s so good for us?

Caffeine safety

Caffeine consumption is not safe for all consumers. As previously mentioned, expectant mothers, lactating women, teenagers, children and patients with underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease are the groups most at risk of potential negative effects.

The adverse effects of caffeine in these groups have been examined by scientists.

Caffeine consumption has been associated as the cause of numerous negative reproductive outcomes, from shortened menstrual cycles to reduced conception, premature birth, delayed implantation, low infant birthweight, spontaneous abortions and congenital malformations.

Regarding lactating mothers consuming coffee, the negative effects is that some of the caffeine is passed on to the baby through breast milk. As caffeine metabolism is much slower in babies than in adults, even small levels can have significant effects on the baby. Even though, studies are not definite.

An increased irritability in babies has been reported, especially when mothers consumed very high levels of coffee, such as 10 cups or more per day. Research on other outcomes in infancy, such as childhood obesity and IQ, was largely unsettled due to other contradictory reports.

For healthy adults, however, the news is not bad. Sensible consumption of around 400 milligrams of caffeine per day does not seem to pose any health risks and may contribute to overall health and longevity.

So, if you are having your first cup of the day, you can relax and enjoy it. If you are on your umpteenth cup, on the other hand, you may want to think about slowing down.

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