Is Coffee Healthy or Not?

Steaming Cup of Coffee

I am often asked what my thoughts are about whether or not coffee is “healthy.” As with most health issues, your personal physiology determines whether or not coffee is beneficial for you. Many people are shocked that I am not opposed to coffee. To be quite honest, I recognize that coffee does have health benefits. I also recognize that some people have such poor diets that a morning cup of java provides the only antioxidants they receive during the entire day.

If you’d like to learn how to brew the healthiest coffee possible, please read my article, How to Brew a Healthy Cup of Coffee: Cold Brew.

In the points that follow, please note that a “cup” of coffee is 8 ounces. Most coffee mugs hold far more, so use caution.

Coffee’s Benefits

Coffee may provide the following benefits. Please note that some people are extremely sensitive to caffeine. Caffeine sensitivity may counteract some of the positive effects I’ve shared below.

  • Coffee is a rich source of antioxidants.
  • Coffee contains certain minerals that are lacking in the Standard American Diet (SAD), including magnesium, potassium, chromium (necessary for proper blood sugar control), zinc, and others.
  • A Harvard study found that women who drink two to three cups of coffee per day have a 15% lower risk of depression than women who do not drink coffee.
  • Coffee is rich in Trigonelline, a chemical that helps protect your teeth from bacteria that can cause decay.
  • Over 17 different studies found that people who drink one to four cups of coffee daily have lower rates of Type 2 Diabetes and some forms of cancer.
  • In addition to antioxidants, coffee contains high levels of 3,5 Dicaffeoylquinic acid, a chemical that protects cells from free-radical damage.
  • Coffee is rich in niacin, a B vitamin that is essential for cardiovascular health, normal brain function, normal digestion, cell health, energy production and more.
  • Multiple studies found that those who drink two to four cups of coffee daily have lowered rates of Alzheimer Disease, liver disease, gallstone formation, Parkinson’s Disease, coronary rhythm disorders, heart attacks and more.
  • Several studies found that coffee consumption does NOT elevate blood pressure and actually improves coronary health. Hallelujah! If you have high blood pressure, test your pressure before drinking a cup of coffee and 20 minutes after to determine if drinking decaf might be a better option due to your personal sensitivity to caffeine.
  • A 13-year study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012 found that coffee drinkers who drank two to three cups of coffee per day had a 10-15% lower rate of mortality than those who did not. The researchers said this effect cannot be directly attributed to coffee and that further research is needed, but those numbers are certainly interesting!

Coffee’s Risks

Coffee beans contain over 1600 different chemicals. Unfortunately, not all of them are healthy. Drinking coffee may have the following harmful effects:

  • Coffee has been shown to increase levels of LDL cholesterol, although the exact reason is not known.
  • Consumption of two or more cups of coffee per day has been associated with a higher risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia. Percolated or drip coffee is very, very acidic, which creates an overly acidic pH in the body. To counteract the acidity, the body will pull calcium out of the bones and teeth to alkalize the body’s pH. My personal belief is that acidic brewing methods lead to osteoporosis and not the coffee. See the section below for healthy ways to brew coffee.
  • Coffee is known to interfere with sleep and may cause irritability and anxiety in some people. Drinking naturally decaffeinated coffee may lessen this effect.
  • Coffee hampers the absorption of iron and has been connected to iron deficiency anemia. Women who take iron supplements should never take them within two hours of drinking coffee. (Iron supplements are best absorbed on an empty stomach, so taking them right before bed – at least two hours after eating – works best for most people. Please note that iron interferes with the absorption of some prescription medications. Check with your pharmacist to find out which medications should not be taken with iron supplements.)
  • Brewed and percolated coffee can irritate the lining of the digestive tract and may worsen the symptoms of digestive disorders, heartburn (GERD), ulcers and more.
  • Combining coffee with Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is known to cause liver damage.

The Healthiest Way to Make Coffee

Here are my tips for enjoying coffee in a healthy way:

  • ONLY DRINK ORGANIC COFFEE. I cannot stress this enough. Coffee plants are often sprayed with gallons of chemicals. Since most coffee is grown outside of the US, those chemicals may not be regulated. Although it would be nice to think that roasting the beans removes those toxins, the opposite is actually true.
  • Enjoy it in moderation. Try to drink no more than 16 – 24 ounces per day.
  • Don’t substitute coffee for water. Coffee is a strong diuretic which can cause dehydration. Always drink extra water for every cup of coffee you drink.
  • If you drink decaffeinated coffee because you are sensitive to caffeine, only drink coffee that was decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process method of decaffeination. The standard method of decaffeination uses chemical solvents, some of which remain in the coffee after processing. These chemical solvents may be toxic and should be avoided.
  • Coffee is known to challenge the adrenal glands. The caffeine in coffee stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete hormones. Anyone who has adrenal fatigue should avoid coffee. Decaffeinated coffee has less of an effect.
  • Coffee raises blood sugar. When the adrenal glands are stimulated, the hormones they secrete stimulate the liver to release glycogen, a form of sugar the body stores for energy. Decaffeinated coffee has less of an effect.
  • Don’t drink it for dessert. Many people immediately ruin coffee’s health benefits by loading it up with sugar, artificial sweeteners, chemical creamers, flavored syrups, whipped cream and more. Black coffee is the healthiest. Adding a bit of stevia or a tiny amount of natural milk or milk alternative is fine, but don’t go crazy.

Healthy Brewing Techniques

My personal belief, based on much of the information shared above, is that cold brewed coffee is the healthiest. Cold brewing is very simple and provides all the taste (and caffeine, if you choose) of drip coffee without the acidity. I will share the cold brew method I use in my next blog post. Trust me when I say my method is far simpler than the methods shared online. I can brew a pot of cold brew in less than 15 minutes. 

If you prefer drip coffee, please only use a non-bleached filter. There is some evidence that a non-bleached, paper filter removes some of the chemicals in coffee that could potentially have a harmful effect.

If you’d like to learn how to brew the healthiest coffee possible, please read my article, How to Brew a Healthy Cup of Coffee: Cold Brew.

Did this article surprise you? I help many people evaluate their lifestyle habits to identify changes that may help improve their wellness or help them avoid future challenges. To schedule, please email me or call 317.489.0909.

What are your thoughts about coffee? Do you drink it? How do you ensure you get the benefits without the risks? Please share!

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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8 Responses to Is Coffee Healthy or Not?

  1. […] If you’re reading this post, chances are you want to enjoy a cup of coffee without worrying about potential negative health effects. For more information on the potential risks and benefits of coffee, please read Is Coffee Healthy Or Not? […]

  2. Carol says:

    THANK YOU!
    I searched through about 2 dozen articles based on my search parameters of “Healthiest way to BREW coffee”, getting only stuff like don’t add sugar, etc. How is that BREWING???
    Finally I got to your link! Yeah!! BREWING coffee the healthiest way!
    After cold brewing, is it ok to heat it up (I don’t have a microwave, either)?
    My son in law loves iced coffee, but I think cold coffee is yucky, personally…
    So….ok to heat after brewing?
    Great article! Thanks again.
    Carol

  3. Randy Clark says:

    Another benefit of coffee may be asthma relief. From my (unscientific) personal experience I know it can help relieve blocked airways and reduce wheezing.Here’s an interesting link.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/health/30really.html?_r=0

    • GWWR says:

      It definitely does! Thanks for sharing!! It’s known to be very helpful for asthma and other chronic airway problems.

  4. […] If you’re reading this post, chances are you want to enjoy a cup of coffee without worrying about potential negative health effects. For more information on the potential risks and benefits of coffee, please read Is Coffee Healthy Or Not? […]

  5. Great post, thanks for the info! I’m a coffee fiend, although I’ve really cut back over the last year or two. I usually only drink it in the morning now. We only use a french press in our home and have done so since my wife and I got married over 3 years ago. In the last year we’ve switched to only buying organic coffee. I only drink it black, no sugar or milk, which was easy to do once we started using a press since it doesn’t get that burnt taste. I’m curious, do you know how french press brewed coffee compares to drip and percolated as far as acidity goes?

    • GWWR says:

      There’s potentially more acid in French press. French press coffee is also known to raise cholesterol more than filtered coffee, but I’m a firm believer that much of the info shared about cholesterol is false. We use a French press in our house. We cold brew instead of hot brew, so we do not get the excess oils that can raise cholesterol. Thanks for your comment!

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