Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the modern world. Its health benefits and risks have long been debated, with some studies suggesting reductions in the risk of various diseases and mortality, while other studies have suggested a potential increase in cardiovascular risk. So is the habit of drinking coffee worth it? This article will seek to explore the pros and cons of one of our most beloved beverages.
The Pros of Drinking Coffee
Ok, let’s start off with the positive aspects of drinking western society’s most beloved beverage. We wouldn’t want to start off on a bad note, what’s the fun in that?
The antioxidants in coffee may help to protect brain cells and inflammation as well as reduce the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Antioxidants are also linked to making cells more sensitive to insulin, which improves the regulation of blood sugar.
Good for the Heart
There have been studies indicating that moderate coffee drinkers (1-3 cups per day) have lower rates of stroke than non-coffee-drinkers. Again, antioxidants may help quell inflammation’s damaging effects on the arteries. More Joe isn’t always better though. Five or more cups daily is correlated with a higher risk of heart disease.
Temporary Increased Cognitive Agility
Comprised of over 1,000 chemical compounds, coffee gains its popularity through its acute stimulatory effects, which are attributed to the pharmacological activity of caffeine. Caffeine is the key reason why coffee boosts brain function (a popularly known fact). Caffeine readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. It’s believed to exert its neurocognitive effects by antagonizing adenosine receptors in the central nervous system. Caffeine causes changes in several neurotransmitters that may improve mood, reaction time, vigilance, attention, learning, and general mental function.
The Cons of Drinking Coffee
Is coffee bad for you? Many of the negative effects of coffee drinking are due to the drug known as caffeine. Evidence exists that coffee can increase your blood pressure, increase heart rate, and decrease our bone density. The caffeine in coffee can also lead to irritability, anxiety (during meetings, social settings, or in general), upset stomach, and a lack of or interruption of sleep. Compounds in unfiltered coffee may also increase LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Java Jitters and Anxiety
If your body is sensitive to caffeine, it can cause irritability or anxiety. How? Chemically, caffeine looks a lot like adenosine. Adenosine is a “slow-down” brain chemical. The chemical is associated with sleep and relaxation of blood vessels. Caffeine binds to adenosine receptors on nerve cells, leaving no room for actual adenosine; therefore nerve cell activity speeds up, blood vessels constrict, and you get a caffeine buzz (or irritable jitters).
Of course, if you caffeinate daily, you’ll likely develop tolerance to the effects and the jitters may subside. This also means that eventually you’ll need a regular caffeine fix just to reach your baseline level of alertness. Your body will adapt by producing more adenosine receptors, making you more sensitive to the effects of adenosine. So if you don’t have your daily cup o’ joe, you’ll likely develop withdrawal symptoms like extreme fatigue and severe headaches (caused by constricted blood vessels).
Inability to Fall Asleep
Caffeine’s half life is 6 hours. Which means if you have 90 mg of caffeine at 6 pm, you will still have 45 mg of the drug in your body come midnight. Ever wonder why you are wide awake while trying to fall asleep? This may have something to do with it if you are drinking coffee in the afternoon or later on a daily basis. You may not be an insomniac afterall. If coffee tends to affect your sleep, don’t drink it after 2 pm (or even earlier).
In summary, moderation is key when it comes to drinking coffee. When consumed in moderation, coffee can be very good for your brain and body. Java is high in antioxidants and reduces risk of many diseases. However, it also contains caffeine, a stimulant that can cause problems in some people and disrupt sleep. When consumed late in the day, it may reduce the quality of your sleep and subsequently make you feel more tired.
Bottom line, research shows that the health benefits of coffee – even decaf – often outweigh the risks. Both pros and cons should be weighed as each person is uniquely different in how their body reacts to this beloved beverage.
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