That Morning Cup of Joe: Friend or Foe?

That Morning Cup of Joe: Friend or Foe

Do you love coffee? If so, you're not alone. Americans drink about 517 million cups of coffee a day — now that’s a lot of coffee! With all those coffee lovers, it makes sense to wonder whether the stuff is actually good for you, but the latest research is great news for moderate java drinkers.

“The overall evidence has been pretty convincing that coffee has been more healthful than harmful in terms of health outcomes,” Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the nutrition department at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Discover magazine. “For most people, moderate coffee consumption can be incorporated into a healthy diet.”

The good news

Between the caffeine and the antioxidants from coffee beans, there are many benefits to being a light- to moderate coffee drinker. (You’re considered a light to moderate coffee drinker if you drink up to three 8-ounce cups a day.) Here are some of the perks:

  • It boosts energy levels. As we all know, coffee contains caffeine, which stimulates your nervous system. This helps people to feel focused and energized.
  • It may support brain health. Some studies suggest that regularly drinking coffee can protect against certain neurodegenerative disorders, including dementia, along with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
  • It may reduce the risk of heart disease. Drinking two to three cups of coffee a day is associated with a lower risk of stroke, heart failure, and dangerous heart rhythms, according to the American College of Cardiology.
  • It might reduce depression risk. One analysis of seven studies found that each cup of coffee per day reduces a person’s risk of depression by 8 percent. Another study found that coffee drinking reduced the risk of death by suicide.

That’s a lot of benefits for something you’re craving. (How often does that happen?!)

The bad news

With all those benefits, it’s easy to think of coffee as some sort of miracle beverage for all. But this might not be the case for those who are heavy coffee drinkers or more sensitive to caffeine.

Too much caffeine can overstimulate the nervous system. And coffee’s acidity can also have a negative effect on the body. Both of these factors can contribute to a variety of side effects, including:

  • Ulcers
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Nervousness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Dehydration
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent urination and urgency

If you are prone to any of these conditions, you might want to talk to your doctor about whether you should reduce or eliminate coffee from your diet.

Medications that interact with caffeine

Coffee drinkers should also be careful if they take medications. Dozens of drugs interact with America’s favorite morning beverage. Sometimes it’s the caffeine that causes the interaction; other times it’s the coffee’s compounds.

Common interactions include:

  • Osteoporosis drugs. Coffee has been found to significantly reduce absorption of alendronate (brand name, Fosamax). The medication should be taken with water on an otherwise empty stomach.
  • Antidepressants. Drinking caffeine alongside taking antidepressants has been sometimes shown to increase caffeine’s effects, including high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, and general jitteriness.
  • Thyroid medication. A past study found that caffeine affects the absorption of the thyroid medication levothyroxine, making it pass through your system too quickly.

When starting a new medication, talk with your doctor or pharmacist to see whether it will interfere with your diet or other medications you’re taking. If you get the okay, then don’t worry–be frappe!

Additional Resources

Angela Escobar
Angela Escobar writes about lifestyle, health, and wellness for the 50+ crowd. Based in Arizona, when she isn't writing and editing, she likes to spend time with her husband, their dogs, and brag about her two adult children.

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