Scientists say how the black magic in your coffee helps cheat death
Chances are that you drank one of the most popular drinks in the world this morning: a cup of coffee. There’s nothing like that wonderful aroma for a great start to the day.
And the rich and satisfying taste of that dark liquid — mmm. The effects of are truly magic: it gives you a buzz, gets you going. After a delicious cup of that dark brew you feel you can take on the world — well, at least you can take on your day.
You know it perks you up, you’ve been drinking it for years after all.
But do you drink coffee for your health?
Or are you like me and didn’t even know there’s a health benefit to coffee drinking?
Like me, do you have a niggling fear that coffee is addictive and carcinogenic and that you should really be giving it up for health reasons?
Scientists have been researching the effects of coffee and caffeine on health and coffee is turning out to pack a punch when it comes to delivering the health goods. So, what are they saying about how coffee really will have a magic effect on you?
What you might not know about coffee and how it can help you live longer
Scientists from all over the world are reporting that coffee drinking reduces mortality overall, by a whopping 8% to 15% reduction. That’s a lot more years for you to enjoy life.
There’s more: a few cups of coffee on a daily basis lowers your risks of all these nasty problems that you’ve heard can make older age a miserable time: cardiovascular problems, Parkinsons, prostate cancer, uterine and liver cancers, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, kidney stones, gout and a host of other conditions.
So you’ll not only enjoy a longer life, you’ll enjoy a longer healthspan too. You’ll still be able to having lots of fun, doing the things you want to do.
But what about those controversial claims about coffee being carcinogenic? Scientists found that early research on coffee failed to take into account that a lot of heavy coffee drinkers are also heavy smokers. So coffee got an undeserved bad rap.
However there is still an argument about acrylamides, a substance which forms on many foodstuffs which are heated to a high temperature — potato chips, barbecue food and bread amongst them. Chances are that the dose from roasting coffee beans is too small to be significant.
Even the World Health Organisation agrees. It took coffee off its list of carcinogens back in 2016. There is now broad scientific consensus that coffee can help protect you against certain cancers, especially liver cancer.
What hidden alchemy causes coffee’s magic effects?
Probably everyone knows that coffee contains caffeine — a psychostimulant which can permeate your cells including your brain cells in less than 30 minutes. It boosts dopamine, which improves your mood and serotonin which makes you more relaxed, alert and energetic. Great before exercise or whilst you’re working.
Coffee has been found to be the biggest source of antioxidants for Americans. Its antioxidant content outranks intake from vegetables and fruit. Coffee’s many antioxidants gobble up free radicals by oxidising them so that your body can dispose of them. Even better, coffee’s antioxidants are more bio-available: your gut works better with coffee than other substances to extract the good stuff.
(But that doesn’t mean you can forget about eating your veggies and fruit: coffee will work even better with a good healthy diet.)
Coffee contains polyphenols and other protective anti-inflammatories. Inflammation occurs naturally to help you get rid of infections. But as we age, we get worse at switching off the inflammation and it can become chronic.
Chronic inflammation means the body is fighting itself all the time and it allows ageing diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, to take a real hold.
Scientists at Stanford have shown that drinking coffee regularly is related to lower levels of that kind of ageing inflammation: and that means a much longer life for you.
Coffee contains protective nutrients called phytochemicals. These help plants protect themselves but also protect the humans who eat the plants! In particular, they have specific effects on enzymes that regulate liver function, insulin and glucose metabolism, and DNA repair. And that means coffee helps you to repair the damage you do to your body daily by doing the wrong things.
Coffee boosts your memory– so drink coffee after you study and before an exam!
What a list of benefits! Does it sound too good to be true?
When even magic has its limits
Like all good things, there are limits to what coffee can do for you.
We’ve all done it: drunk too much coffee. It can make you feel pretty bad — jittery, nervous and irritable. It can stop you sleeping properly.
Yes, coffee is addictive. You can get terrible headaches and withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking it.
Coffee is normally heavily treated with pesticides and other nasty chemicals. So the more you drink, the more it can upset your hormones. Men can end up with man boobs and anyone could end up with stubborn abdominal fat. It may be that the amounts left after processing are very small. So either don’t worry about it or just drink organic.
Too much coffee can cause your hard won good health to go downhill. Whilst a moderate amount of coffee can help protect you against cardiovascular diseases, too much can raise your cholesterol levels and make things worse.
Many scientific studies show that drinking coffee is associated with beneficial outcomes in many ways. But there are always examples where studies show adverse effects and one of these might affect you.
Coffee drinking may not agree with you: it’s a personal thing. Listen to your gut feeling. More, your state of health or medical condition may mean that it’s not a good idea for you to drink coffee. (A classic case is pregnancy, but there are others such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases where it may not be so obvious. Get it checked out!)
Like other kinds of magic, you have to take care that you use it properly or it could backfire on you.
The secret formula for the magical elixir
If, after a certain point, coffee stops working its magic and makes things worse instead, what’s the right amount to drink?
Drink any more and you might find the magic effects rapidly disappear. Plus, if you stop drinking it for any reason, such as going on a fast, you’re much less likely to suffer from those awful caffeine withdrawal symptoms if you’re not drinking so much in the first place.
You can try decaffeinated if you want to keep drinking coffee but want to avoid some of the jittery side effects. You’ll still benefit from some of the antioxidant effects.
What about the brew? Filter coffee filters out some of the nasties, (diterpenes, cafestol and kahweol) which, if you drink an excess, cause your cholesterol to rise). Or drink expresso coffee.
The expresso method lets through less of those nasties and since the size of the coffee is smaller, you’ll drink less of them.
The worst brews for diterpenes are French press (cafetière) and Turkish or Greek coffee.
What about the roast? There’s a lot of conflicting scientific evidence. You may read that a light roast gives you more caffeine and antioxidants and less of the diterpenes that raise your cholesterol, but you’ll get more of the potentially carcinogenic acrylamides if you choose a dark roast. But then, a dark roast is better for helping you lose weight and absorbing vitamin E and is easier on your gut!
One thing is certain: the magic works better if it’s black. Yes, drink your coffee black! Ok, it’s a bit of work. But over the last couple of years, I’ve trained myself to like my coffee black with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Here’s what might help you to change your coffee drinking ways: the benefits of coffee can be destroyed by the bad effects of too much sugar, too much dairy or, even worse, the kinds of fats in creamers. Avoid them and all those commercial syrups like the plague.
A cup of coffee bucks you up, but too much coffee can make you depressed. So be moderate and try learning to drink coffee without any sugar or sweeteners. That way you’ll avoid the increased risks of depression.
Unexpected side benefits from the daily grind
1 Drinking coffee promotes team work.
So pour everyone a cup at the beginning for more productive meetings!
2 Coffee kills off a bug called streptococcus mutans which causes those holes in your teeth. At the very least it can help keep those nasty bugs in check.
3 Coffee not only improves your exercise performance but helps keep at bay that nasty DOMS, (delayed onset muscle soreness), which can keep you limping around for days afterwards.
4 You can use up your leftover coffee grounds to ginger up your circulation and soften your skin. Just mix up some coffee grounds with honey and rub it all over your body. Messy but fun: best try it in the shower! (I learned about this from a lovely Russian lady in a Russian sauna.)
5 My granddaughter has a great jacket made from coffee grounds. A Taiwanese company, S.safe, has used coffee grounds to make a fibre which is made into sports clothes which
absorb odours and wick moisture away, all whilst protecting your clothes and you from UV rays. And you can feel even better about yourself because you’re using a recycled product which is more environment friendly.
Enjoy that old black magic for more years than you expected
You pick up your coffee with a smile and, closing your eyes, breathe in that wonderful aroma. You made it yourself with fresh, organic coffee beans, an expresso this time, maybe next time you’ll go for a filter Americano or treat yourself to a latte, even though you’ve learned to drink it black.
As the magic liquid bursts into that slightly bitter flavour in your mouth, you think of all the antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients that you’re absorbing along with the great taste.
You’ve always had a gut feeling that coffee did you good, even when the scientists told you it was harmful. And now that science is on your side, you can laugh at those who missed out on the benefits of drinking coffee down the years: the pros of coffee drinking outweigh the cons.
You savour every sip, down to the bottom of your cup, knowing that your years of coffee drinking are helping you to cheat death and raising your chances of better health in your longer life.
You’re enjoying your coffee now but you’re already looking forward to all those future mornings down the years of your longer life, when you’re going to indulge in some more black magic.
Rosemary Bointon: working out what we can all do now to improve our healthspan and live longer, whilst having more fun and adventures along the way.
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This article is not intended to diagnose, cure or treat any disease.