Many of us wouldn’t dream of starting the day without our morning cup of coffee. It is one of the most popular drinks in the UK and used by hundreds of thousands of people for an energy boost or to aid concentration. At the same time, there are plenty of news articles warning us of the dangers of consuming too much caffeine. So what are the pros and cons of coffee and how do we know whether or not we should drink it?
- Pro – coffee helps you to focus and improves memory
Research has shown that people who drink coffee in the mornings perform better at tests that involve learning and retaining new information. Coffee has also been proven to aid performance in cognitive tasks. This boost to cognitive function comes in the form of improved attention and working memory, and is made possible by increasing activity in the two parts of the brain responsible for these.
- Pro – coffee is packed full of antioxidants
Like many plant-based substances, coffee contains thousands of naturally-occurring phytochemicals. Many of these phytochemicals are antioxidants, which fight free radicals within your body and help to protect you against disease and cell damage.
- Pro – coffee improves mood and helps to fight off depression
Caffeine has been scientifically proven to activate the central nervous system. It works by increasing the production of natural neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline. These chemicals can boost your mood and decrease feelings of depression. In fact, coffee has even been linked to a decreased suicide rates.
- Pro – coffee reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes
A review of nine independent studies in 2005 found that people who drank 4-6 cups of coffee a day had 30% less chance of developing Type 2 diabetes than participants who drank less than 2 cups. Although 6 cups of coffee may seem excessive, you needn’t be staying up wired for half the night, as decaffeinated coffee showed the same positive health benefits as regular caffeinated coffee.
- Pro – coffee can burn fat and help you lose weight
Coffee can help you lose weight because it contains high levels of magnesium and potassium. Both substances help your body to use insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels and therefore helps to keep cravings for sugary treats like cakes and biscuits at bay. The caffeine in coffee can also help to burn fat and boost your metabolic rate by up to 11% – although these effects are less pronounced in long-term regular coffee drinkers.
- Pro – coffee can reduce the risk of cancer, strokes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
One study showed that drinking four cups of coffee a day can decrease the risk of endometrial cancer in women by 25% and prostate cancer in men by 20%. Another study suggested that drinking coffee regularly can prevent the development of the most common form of skin cancer (also known as basal cell carcinoma). Research has also suggested that coffee decreases the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s by up to 25% by increasing activity in the part of the brain that Parkinson’s normally develops in. Other studies have shown moderate levels of caffeine reducing the risk of strokes, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Con – coffee can give you wrinkles
Too much coffee can cause you to become dehydrated, as your body uses water to break down caffeine. Over an extended period of time, dehydration can cause wrinkles as your skin becomes less elastic. To overcome this issue, you should consider a glass or two of water with every cup of coffee you drink. After all, we’re supposed to drink up to 8 glasses of water a day!
- Con – too much coffee causes restlessness
As a stimulant, caffeine can give you a lot of nervous energy – which can be useful when you’re focusing on a piece of work, but a big problem if you’re trying to settle down for bed. Too much of it can leave you giddy and restless, and can cause insomnia if drunk too late in the day. To avoid this, experts recommend you have no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day – the equivalent of 4-5 cups of coffee.
- Con – coffee can cause weight gain (if you’re not careful)
When you think of your morning coffee, is it usually combined with a doughnut or pastry? Do you ever meet friends for a coffee and cake? Coffee is often accompanied with a snack of some sort, so too much of one can easily lead to too much of the other. Consuming large amounts of coffee can also cause fluctuations in your blood sugar levels, which can themselves cause intense cravings for food. And anyone who has suffered a post-coffee caffeine crash will be all too familiar with the urge to grab a sugary snack to restore energy levels.
- Con – coffee is addictive
It’s common knowledge that caffeine is an addictive substance. Many people begin every day with a cup of coffee – not particularly harmful in itself, but they definitely notice the difference if they miss their morning cup. Ask any regular coffee drinker how it feels to cut back on their daily intake too – the effects of withdrawal can be similar to those of someone weaning themselves off of cigarettes.
So it’s clear that there are both advantages and disadvantages to one of the nation’s most popular drinks. There are clear benefits to drinking coffee, but at the same time it appears that too much of a good thing can be detrimental to our health. As with many of our favourite vices – like chocolate or a glass of wine – it seems that the best approach to take is to use coffee in moderation.