Drink Your Morning Joe

By Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

When I was growing up, drinking coffee was considered a not-so-good habit. Not terribly bad like smoking, but certainly not healthy. Over time (and with additional research) that view has changed. It turns out that your morning brew may do a lot more for you than just taste good and give you a boost. In fact, a daily cup or two may offer some real health benefits. Here are some to consider.

You may live longer
Earlier this year, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, involving 400,000 older adults, reported that coffee drinkers were less likely to die over the next 14 years than those who rarely drank or avoided it altogether.

These findings add to earlier research showing potential health benefits of coffee drinking for people who suffer from chronic diseases or other health conditions.

Lower risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease
Consumption of coffee is associated with decreased risk of Parkinson’s. To date, scientists do not have a clear understanding why this is, but the correlation between coffee intake and lower risk of Parkinson’s has been consistently shown.

Coffee has also been linked to lower the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. A 2009 study from Finland and Sweden showed that out of 1,400 people who were followed for about 20 years, those who reported drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day were 65 percent less likely to develop age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, compared with nondrinkers or occasional coffee drinkers.

It may be good for your heart
Coffee may counter several risk factors for heart attack and stroke. In addition, coffee has been linked to reduce the risk of heart rhythm disturbances (a heart attack and stroke risk factor) in both men and women, and lower the risk of stroke in women.

In 2009, a study of 83,700 nurses enrolled in the long-term Nurses’ Health Study showed a 20 percent lower risk of stroke in those who reported drinking two or more cups of coffee daily, compared to women who drank less coffee or none at all. That pattern held regardless of whether the women had high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or type 2 diabetes.

Another question is whether there are there any reasons to avoid coffee.

Just a few years ago, pregnant women were advised to eliminate virtually all caffeine. However, in August 2010, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) stated that moderate caffeine drinking – less than 200 mg per day, or about the amount in 12 ounces of coffee – doesn’t appear to have any major effects on causing miscarriage, premature delivery, or fetal growth.

The effects of larger caffeine doses are unknown, and other research shows that pregnant women who drink many cups of coffee daily may be at greater risk for miscarriage than non-drinkers or moderate drinkers. Until we know more, it may be prudent to limit caffeine intake to under 200 mg per day.

Insomnia, jitters, calories, heartburn, urine
Heavy caffeine use – four to seven cups of caffeinated beverages a day – may cause problems such as restlessness, anxiety, irritability, and sleeplessness. However, these effects can vary greatly depending on the person. Individuals who are caffeine-sensitive should obviously avoid or limit caffeinated drinks.

When it comes to calories, coffee on its own is very bikini friendly. A 6-ounce cup of black coffee contains just 7 calories. But half and half, whole milk, or cream, plus sugar, of course, add calories quickly.

Worried about too many bathroom breaks? Caffeine is a mild diuretic. So you urinate more than you would without coffee. Also, decaffeinated coffee has about the same effects on urine production as water.

If heartburn is a problem, both regular and decaffeinated coffee contain acids that can make this condition worse. So if you suffer from GERD or other reflux conditions, coffee needs to go on your to-be-avoided list.

For more information about the caffeine content of coffee, tea and colas, check out this list compiled by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Katherine Brooking, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian, writer and expert contributor to numerous television programs. She has appeared on The TODAY Show, Live with Regis & Kelly, The Early Show on CBS, Good Morning America Health, and many others. She covers health and wellness topics in SELF Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and New York Daily News. For more information go to AppForHealth.com.

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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