Coffee – that wonderful aromatic, tannic, energizing, beautiful elixir. Man I love coffee! And not because I need it to wake up in the morning; nope, I absolutely love the taste of an intense dark roast or espresso, straight up – black please. I am sure the majority of you out there also enjoy coffee as much as me and some of you even more than me. I know this because coffee is the second most highly consumed beverage in the world next to water. However, the consumption of coffee and its effects on our health are very controversial leading to many of us asking the question of whether it is a part of a healthy lifestyle.
Now, before I even begin, let’s get one thing straight here, in this article I am talking about straight black coffee or espresso, not some drink that is ¾ milk, cream, sweetener, flavored syrups, chocolate, whip cream, or whathaveyou, and only ¼ actual coffee. “Hey, would you like some coffee on top of your liquid sugar” 🙂 I am sure we can all agree that coffee filled with tons of “other” crap is not a great choice. On that note, I am also not referring to the chemical and sugar filled “beverages” labeled as energy drinks. I believe there is a very big difference between caffeine all by itself, or caffeine contained in a whole food form such as coffee.
Also, I highly suggest you read some expert opinions on coffee, and here are some great places to start:
Of course, these opinions do not necessarily represent the be all end all on coffee and health, but they are very respectable sources.
So, me being me, and since I really, really enjoy some coffee now and again, I thought I would look at a few studies and see if there was anything else out there that I was missing aside from what I read in the above posts. So, other than the possible beneficial effects that moderate coffee intake can have on performance, type II diabetes, neurodegenerative conditions, cardiovascular health, cancer, and overall risk of mortality, I also came across some evidence that coffee consumption can have a positive influence on the gut microbiome (you know those wonderful gut bacteria that play such a major role in our health) and systemic inflammation. This is information I had not heard about previously; although, in the end, it would explain some of the benefits coffee seems to have on certain chronic conditions.
So I hadn’t heard anything about this previously, but there is some evidence that some of the beneficial effects of coffee on chronic conditions may be due to some possible prebiotic properties of coffee. For those of you not aware of what prebiotics are, they are simply indigestible portions of foods that stimulate growth and maintenance of beneficial gut bacteria. As opposed to probiotics which are basically the beneficial gut bacteria themselves. One study (1) was able to demonstrate that moderate coffee consumption increased the amount and activity of a certain beneficial gut bacteria with no impact on the other major bacterial colonies. Although the participants were required to not only eliminate fermented dairy from their diet, but also whole grain breads and cereal grains…I wonder if this elimination could have played a factor in their findings or not…very interesting. However, a literature review (6) also commented on the possible prebiotic properties of coffee and the subsequent benefits associated with this. Although the evidence is not concrete, it seems possible that coffee may have some prebiotic properties, which could partially explain some of the health benefits coffee may have certain chronic conditions.
There also seems to be some evidence out there that moderate coffee consumption can decrease markers of systemic inflammation and oxidative stress. In one study (5), it was demonstrated that moderate coffee consumption lead to a decrease in markers of systemic inflammation, triglycerides, and liver enzymes. In another study (6), although the study was performed on rats, it was also demonstrated that moderate coffee consumption had beneficial effects on biomarkers associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease as well as systemic and liver oxidative stress. Basically, coffee consumption decreased markers of inflammation and increased anti-inflammatory markers. This study also used decaffeinated coffee, indicating that when you lose the caffeine, coffee still may have the same health benefits, at least in rats :-).
Although there seems to be some differences in the way coffee/caffeine is metabolized from one person to the next, I have not yet come across information that would cause me to totally stop drinking my wonderful coffee. Although, for every given person, there will be a certain amounts per day that should not be exceeded. Personally I do not seem to experience the symptoms of a slow coffee metabolizer, and I don’t have any chronic conditions, so I will continue to drink my coffee. I will likely limit upper daily intake to an equivalent of no more than 3 cups, and majority of this will take place prior to midday.
Please also don’t mistake my rationale for continuing with my daily coffee consumption. I am not drinking it because I think it will make me healthier – my paleo lifestyle and whole food diet holds it’s own here – I simply like it, and see nothing at this time to indicate I should completely stop. But who knows what the future will bring.
The Barefoot Golfer