People are divided into two groups when it comes to coffee. Many consider it a vice and are pretty sure it’s unhealthy, while the rest consider a cup of Joe the stuff of life that gives them the vigor to face each day.
The prevailing feeling is most people think coffee is bad for them, but well worth any potential health risk.
Coffee continues to evolve and its descendants are equally controversial. Espresso drinks, home grind and drip brewed, pod brewed and now “bulletproof coffee” are among the choices.
Coffee and tea are the world’s most popular beverages. Approximately 130 million Americans are regular coffee drinkers and 1.6 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide each day. That’s a lot of Joe. Big numbers like that usually make trouble easy to spot.
The World Health Organization (WHO) first weighed in on the coffee question in 1991. It considered coffee a possible carcinogenic, which would not be a good way to start your day. It turns out that many of the studies reviewed for the 1991 opinion were flawed. The cancer found in these older studies was related to the cigarettes that accompanied the coffee. Back then, cigarettes and coffee were cohabitating and got along famously, much like red beans and rice. But it was later discovered that getting rid of the cigarettes resulted in coffee drinkers actually living longer.
Coffee is full of bioflavonoids, those strong antioxidants that seem to protect us from cancer. Coffee beans share some of the same antioxidants with well-known superfoods like cranberries and blueberries. Who knew?
More than 1,000 studies were reviewed for the 2016 WHO report on coffee. These were recent studies that controlled for the confounding influence of cigarette smoking. Coffee showed a clear reduction in cancer, specifically in the liver and uterus.
The benefits of coffee extend beyond making you a little more cancer resistant – and more awake. Parkinson’s risk is significantly lower in coffee drinkers. So is Type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. There is very early evidence that Alzheimer’s risk is also lower in coffee drinkers.
Under the microscope, coffee kills cancer cells. That is in concentrations that would require substituting your entire circulation blood volume with coffee. Of course, that’s a little extreme. Yet the WHO study concludes that coffee drinkers on average live longer than those who abstain.
Bulletproof coffee is the latest coffee-based drink to take the world by storm. This is coffee brewed and then blended with fats such as butter and/or coconut oil.
Some Eastern cultures drink buttered coffee, which is where the idea for bulletproof coffee probably came from. There are unsubstantiated claims that the drink can make you work at a higher level and lose weight. While those are scientifically unlikely, the drink still discourages cancer and Parkinson’s.
One minor caveat to the latest news on coffee – don’t scald your throat with extremely hot coffee (over 160 degrees Fahrenheit). Repeating burns to the same area can increase the risk of throat cancer. But it’s not the coffee doing the damage, it’s the burn.
Coffee has come full circle, from a beverage with a slightly unsavory reputation to one that actually makes you healthy – and awake enough to enjoy it.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
Photos courtesy of the artists of Unsplash.com.