A cup of coffee in the morning may pack more than just an energy boost.
More and more research is emerging to suggest that there may be several health benefits associated with drinking this dark black beverage, from helping prevent diabetes to lowering the risk of liver disease.
The consumption of coffee goes back centuries.
In 17th century England the popularity of the drink gave rise to a number of coffee houses which were dubbed 'penny universities', because with one penny a person could buy a cup of coffee and have intellectually stimulating conversations with other people.1
Nowadays, with over 400 billion cups consumed every year, coffee is one of the world's most popular drinks. But what makes it special?
Possible health benefits of coffee
1) Coffee and diabetes
Coffee may be protective against type 2 diabetes. Researchers at UCLA identified that drinking coffee increases plasma levels of the protein sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG controls the biological activity of the body's sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen) which play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes.4
Dr. Simin Liu, one of the authors of the study, said that an "inverse association" exists between coffee consumption and risk for type 2 diabetes.
Increased coffee consumption may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes - the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers gathered data from three studies. In these studies, the diets of the participants were evaluated using questionnaires every 4 years, with participants who reported having type 2 diabetes filling out additional questionnaires. In total, 7,269 study participants had type 2 diabetes.
The researchers found that the participants who increased their coffee intake by more than one cup a day (on average, an increase of 1.69 cups per day) over a 4-year period had an 11% lower type 2 diabetes risk over the subsequent 4 years, compared with people who did not change their intake.
2) Coffee and Parkinson's disease
Researchers in the U.S. carried out a study that assessed the link between coffee consumption and Parkinson's disease risk. The authors of the study concluded that "higher coffee and caffeine intake is associated with a significantly lower incidence of Parkinson's disease".5
In addition, caffeine in coffee may help control movement in people suffering from Parkinson's, according to a study conducted at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC) that was published in the journal Neurology.6
3) Coffee and liver cancer
Italian researchers found that coffee consumption lowers the risk of liver cancer by about 40%. In addition, some of the results suggest that if you drink three cups a day, the risks are reduced by more than 50%.7
The lead author of the study, Dr. Carlo La Vecchia, from Milan's Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, said "our research confirms past claims that coffee is good for your health and particularly the liver."
4) Coffee and liver disease
Regular consumption of coffee is linked to a reduced risk of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a rare autoimmune disease of the bile ducts in the liver.8
In addition, coffee consumption can lower the incidence of cirrhosis of the liver for alcohol drinkers by 22%, according to a study at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, California, USA.
The authors of the study concluded that the results "support the hypothesis that there is an ingredient in coffee that protects against cirrhosis, especially alcoholic cirrhosis."9
Research published in the journal Hepatology in April 2014, suggested that drinking coffee is linked to a decreased liver cirrhosis death risk. The researchers suggested that drinking two or more cups of coffee every day can reduce the risk of death from liver cirrhosis by 66%.16
A study published in the journal Hepatology indicates that drinking decaf coffee also lowers liver enzyme levels, suggesting the benefits are not linked to caffeine content.
5) Coffee and heart health
Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard School of Public Health, concluded that drinking coffee in moderation protects against heart failure. They defined 'in moderation' as 2 European cups (equivalent to two 8-ounce American servings) per day.10
People who drank four European cups on a daily basis had an 11% lower risk of heart failure, compared to those who did not.
The authors stressed that their results "did show a possible benefit, but like with so many other things we consume, it really depends on how much coffee you drink."
Incredible volumes of black gold are poured into our collective bodies on a daily basis, which makes the medical effects of coffee drinking a perpetual area of study. Now, new research points to some interesting positive health benefits of moderate consumption.
A new study adds to growing evidence that coffee is good for us, finding that consuming four to five cups daily may reduce the risk of early death - even for those who drink decaf.
Drinking coffee every day is linked to a reduced risk of liver cirrhosis, according to a new review of published evidence that also suggests drinking two extra cups a day may nearly halve the risk of dying from the disease.
Research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicates that caffeine's neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties may lower the risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
Researchers from the US and Israel found that drinking coffee every day - even decaffeinated coffee - may lower the risk of colorectal cancer.
Nutritional breakdown of coffee
Regular black coffee (without milk or cream) has a very low calorie count. A typical cup of black coffee only contains around 2 calories.
However, if you add sugar and milk, the calorie count can shoot up.
Coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S., according to researchers at the University of Scranton.
Joe Vinson, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said that "Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Nothing else comes close."2
The authors of the study emphasize moderation, stating that only one or two cups a day appear to be beneficial.
Caffeinated and decaffeinated versions provided nearly the same levels of antioxidants.
Previous studies have linked regular caffeine intake to extra heartbeats - a common occurrence that can nevertheless lead to heart problems, stroke and death in rare cases. Now, in the first study to date that looks at long-term caffeine consumption, researchers conclude that regular caffeine consumption is not linked to extra heartbeats.
Risks and precautions
Drinking too much coffee can result in some very unpleasant adverse effects. According to a study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma, "caffeine can cause anxiety symptoms in normal individuals, especially in vulnerable patients, like those with pre-existing anxiety disorders."13
In addition, "caffeine use is also associated with symptoms of depression due to either a self-medication theory, or a theory that caffeine itself causes changes in mood."Women who plan on becoming pregnant should be cautious. Researchers from the University of Nevada School of Medicine reported in the British Journal of Pharmacology that regular coffee may reduce a woman's chances of becoming pregnant.14
Medical News Today examined the positive and negative effects of drinking coffee in an article in July 2012, Drinking Coffee: More Good Than Harm?.
Previous studies have suggested coffee consumption may lower the risk of mild cognitive impairment. But new research suggests this protective effect may depend on how coffee consumption habits change over time.
Young adults with mild cases of high blood pressure may want to steer clear of coffee, as new research suggests drinking the beverage could increase the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks in this population.
Scientists from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the UK and the University of Colorado have made a discovery that may hold the key to how caffeine consumption affects the underlying body clock.
A new study confirms the presence of mycotoxins in commercial coffee samples, leading to concerns about potential public health risks.
Have you enjoyed reading about the potential health benefits of coffee? Take a look at our collection of articles about other foods and drinks.
Alternatively, read our article about the top 10 healthy foods for your daily diet.