Don’t skip that morning cup of Joe. In fact, you may as well enjoy a second or even third cup, too. Not only will coffee give you a little energy boost, it seems that it may help reduce your risk of having a stroke. But read on before you decide to become a coffee addict. There’s another side to the story.
Recent research that took place at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, found that women who have more than one cup of coffee each day have a 22 to 25 percent lower risk of stroke than those women who don’t drink coffee or have less than a cup a day.1 But it’s not just beneficial for women — another study conducted by the same researchers in 2008 determined a similar outcome for men who were coffee drinkers.
The current study involved 34,670 women between the ages of 49 and 83. They were given questionnaires about their lifestyles and eating habits, including typical coffee consumption, and followed up with over a period of 10 years. When the trial began in 1997, none of the participants suffered from cardiovascular disease or cancer. But between 1998 and 2008, there were 1,680 strokes among the women volunteering. Even after factoring in such variables as smoking, body mass index, history of diabetes or hypertension, and alcohol use, the amount of coffee a woman drank each day clearly affected her risk of stroke.
This is hardly the first research that has linked coffee with health benefits. The Nurses Health Study found in 2009 that women who drink four or more cups of coffee daily have a 20 percent lower risk of having a stroke as compared to women who drink less than one cup per month. Other studies have found an association between coffee consumption and improved heart health, better vision, reduced risk of developing liver cancer, and preventing cognitive decline as we age.
But keep in mind, the health benefits conferred by drinking coffee are likely in the antioxidants it contains, not the caffeine. Chlorogenic acid is a plant compound found in higher concentrations in the coffee bean than in just about anything else we eat. Caffeic acid is another organic compound present in coffee beans that can act as a carcinogenic inhibitor. Coffee also contains melanoidins, which form as the beans are roasted and give the drink its color. Each of these can be beneficial to our bodies, as can all forms of antioxidants.
But coffee also contains a lot of caffeine — typically 75 to 100 milligrams (mg) per cup. Therefore, the more coffee you drink, even in the morning, the more likely it will still be circulating throughout your body when you try to fall asleep at night. Caffeine disrupts both the depth and the quality of your slumber, disturbing your sleep patterns over the long term. In addition, caffeine is addictive, although not in the same sense as cocaine and/or heroin. Nevertheless, because of caffeine’s role as an adenosine antagonist, anyone who consumes as little as 300 mg of caffeine a day (the equivalent of just three cups of drip coffee) will suffer withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly cut off their caffeine supply. Another problem is that caffeine is a diuretic and can dehydrate you. And finally, there is also the problem that there are at least 32 epidemiological studies of caffeine that have found an increased risk of adverse developmental or reproductive outcomes. To put that in layman’s terms, studies have linked caffeine to both lowered birth weight and a significant increase in birth defects.
Coffee, with the natural antioxidants it contains, is certainly a better source of caffeine than most of the other options out there, with the exception of certain teas. But be careful on days that you consume coffee to restrict your intake of caffeine from soft drinks, energy drinks, tea, chocolate, and even pain relievers (check the bottle — many contain caffeine!). And don’t mix caffeine and alcohol. Consuming caffeine only creates the “impression” that you’re getting sharper and more sober. But the truth is your reaction time and judgment are still impaired. Mixing alcohol and caffeine makes you more likely to have accidents — either in your car or while operating heavy machinery.
When drinking coffee, more than four cups per day tends to be the point at which most adults are simply taking in too much caffeine. In addition to insomnia, this stimulant can cause nervousness, restlessness, irritability, gastrointestinal issues, fast or irregular heartbeat, muscle tremors, headaches, and anxiety.
A moderate amount of caffeine in your system each day — about 200 to 300 mg or two to four cups of brewed coffee — seems to be an amount that will confer health benefits without resulting in any of the major problems that excessive caffeine can bring on. Sleep, however, may still be affected. The bottom line is that for most people it’s okay to welcome that morning coffee, just as long as you keep caffeine moderation in mind for the remainder of the day.
1 Larsson, Susanna C.; Virtamo, Jarmo; Wolk, Alicja. “Coffee Consumption and Risk of Stroke in Women.” Stroke. 10 March 2011. American Heart Association. 18 April 2011. <http://stroke.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/STROKEAHA.110.603787v1>.