Coffee is probably one of the most reliable things in our lives—and despite the bad rap it gets for causing jitters and stealing sleep when taken in excess, it actually offers some pretty sweet health benefits.
We may think of our morning cup of Joe as just an energy-booster, but epidemiological studies (which identify trends in people’s behaviors and health over time) have identified links between drinking coffee and lower risk of everything from heart disease to type 2 diabetes to liver cancer, says Keith Kantor, Ph.D., CEO of the Nutritional Addiction Mitigation Eating and Drinking program. We’re not saying drinking coffee automatically turns you into a superhuman, but there’s definitely something there. So, just in case you needed further justification for your Starbucks habit, take a look at these science-backed health benefits of your favorite beverage.
Coffee And Chronic Disease
Chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, plague the U.S.—and what we eat and drink play a major part in whether or not we’ll eventually develop these issues.
To investigate the relationship between coffee consumption and type 2 diabetes risk, one study published in Diabetologia analyzed the diets of over 90,000 women and 27,000 men every two to four years for more than 20 years. Throughout the study, participants self-reported their diets, lifestyle habits, and current medical conditions. What did the researchers find? Participants who upped their coffee intake by more than a cup a day had an 11 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes, while those who cut their coffee consumption by more than a cup a day had a 17 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Meanwhile, research presented by the American Heart Association’s 2017 Scientific Session also linked guzzling java to a lower risk of heart failure or stroke. This time, researchers assessed info from an ongoing heart disease risk study known as the Framingham Heart Study, which looked at people’s diets and their heart health status. The scientists identified a link between drinking coffee and a decreased risk of heart failure and stroke; each additional cup of Joe per day correlated to a seven percent lower risk of heart failure and an eight percent lower risk of stroke.
Coffee And Cancer
Studies on coffee and cancer show connections between the two. For example, one review published in BMJ Open analyzed 18 studies to determine whether coffee’s antioxidants could affect the formation of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver cancer. The researchers found a correlation between higher coffee consumption and lower risk of liver cancer.
Coffee And Cognitive Function
Many of us already turn to java when we need to crank out a big work project, and research confirms that coffee really can boost cognitive function. According to a study published in the American Journal of Epiemiology, elderly adults who reported being lifelong coffee drinkers performed better on cognitive tests (like reciting the months of the year backwards, naming as many animals as possible in one minute, and repeating sequences of words from memory) than non-java-drinkers.
Where Does The Magic Come from?
You’d probably guess that caffeine is responsible for coffee’s special powers, but nope: Researchers believe the brew’s benefits come not from the caffeine, but from the antioxidants in it, says Jagdish Khubchandani, Ph.D., associate professor of community health at Ball State University. In fact, coffee contains just slightly fewer antioxidants than blueberries, which are often touted as one of the most potent sources of antioxidants out there—so its antioxidant value is no joke.
Antioxidants ward off oxidative stress (and resulting cell damage and inflammation) caused by free radicals—and polyphenols, the type of antioxidant found in coffee, have specifically been shown to help ward off a number of diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, adds Kantor.
Whether thanks to our fruit- and veggie-devoid diets or our general caffeine obsession, coffee is actually the number-one source of antioxidants in the average American diet, so it offers much more value than just the buzz. Plus, if you’re drinking coffee (and not dumping sugar into it), chances are you’re not drinking something higher in calories and sugar (and lower in antioxidants) like soda or juice—and avoiding these less-healthy beverages can also benefit your health, says Kantor.
Just keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you should throw back six espressos a day! The majority of these studies look at moderate caffeine intake, which tops out at three or four eight-ounce coffees per day. And that doesn’t change the fact that it causes digestive issues and nervousness in some people—so if you have anxiety, insomnia, acid reflux, high blood pressure, or intestinal issues, you’re still best off limiting your intake.