Coffee health facts

If you're wondering if that daily latte is the best choice for your health - you may be surprised!

Contrary to what many people might think, coffee and good health are not mutually exclusive. In fact, coffee can have some positive effects on the body, such as increasing alertness and concentration. There is also recent evidence that coffee can aid digestion and may improve gall bladder function. However, drinking coffee in excess can lead to problems, and some people are definitely better off without it.

What is coffee?

Coffee is brewed from the roasted and ground seeds of the tropical evergreen coffee plant, indigenous to Africa. Two species of the coffee plant, Coffee arabica and C. canephora, supply almost all of the world's coffee. The word coffee is derived from the place where the beans were first discovered - Caffa in Ethiopia.

What is caffeine?

There are over 200 chemical constituents in the roasted coffee bean, of which caffeine is only one - albeit the most widely known. Caffeine is not just in coffee; it is a naturally occurring compound in over 60 species of plants and over 1,000 non-prescription medicines. Almost everyone ingests caffeine in some way - whether in coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, cold remedies or pain relievers.

Coffee's caffeine content depends on how it's prepared. A cup of instant coffee contains about 60mg of caffeine. Drip or percolated coffee has about 100mg. A cup of espresso contains about 100mg.

The average cup of coffee delivers around 100mg of caffeine. Ten cups or 1,000mg of caffeine can have toxic effects, while 10,000mg of caffeine is lethal.

Quick facts: the benefits of coffee

  • Coffee is best known as a powerful stimulant that helps people wake up and stay awake.
  • Concentration and coordination are both improved by drinking coffee.
  • Voltaire, the French poet and revolutionary was said to drink 50 cups of coffee a day.
  • Caffeine also helps open the bronchial tubes, relieving the congestion of colds and flu.
  • There is some evidence that coffee can prevent asthma attacks; however more studies are required to confirm this.
  • If you take aspirin for pain relief, you should also take it with a cup of coffee.
  • Several studies have shown that the combination of aspirin and caffeine relieves pain significantly better than aspirin alone.
  • Many headache and migraine remedies contain caffeine for this reason.
  • Coffee may also improve physical stamina, according to a report published in the journal The Physician and Sports Medicine.
  • That's why the International Olympic Committee forbids "caffeine loading" and tests urine for illegal amounts.
  • To reach the IOC's illegal levels, an athlete would have to drink four or five cups in 30 minutes.
  • A study published in 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the risk of Parkinson's disease declined consistently with increasing quantities of coffee or other caffeine-containing beverages. More follow-up studies will be required to confirm this.

How much coffee is too much?

According to the International Food Information Council, decades of research confirm the safety of moderate caffeine consumption from foods and beverages and most experts agree that, in moderation, caffeine poses no health concerns.

Here's what you should keep in mind:

  • An excessive intake of anything is not recommended.
  • In the case of coffee, moderate amounts of caffeine - about 300mg per day - are safe for most people.
  • Caffeine does not accumulate in the body, and is rapidly metabolised and excreted.
  • Coffee's worst press has concerned caffeine's association with heart disease.
  • Most studies indicate that coffee (whether decaffeinated or not) can raise cholesterol levels slightly, so if your cholesterol is high, discuss your coffee consumption with your doctor.
  • High levels of caffeine (more than about six cups a day) can lead to or exacerbate problems ranging from insomnia, panic attacks, headaches, irritability and depression.

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