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The Perks of Drinking a Cup of Joe
By Karen Appold

Studies show coffee does more than wake you up; it can provide important health benefits.

Many people drink coffee to clear their minds and give themselves a jolt of energy. In fact, 60% of US coffee drinkers claim to need a cup of java to jump-start their day.1 But your clients and patients may not know that this morning elixir offers plenty of health benefits too.

A 2012 prospective cohort study in which researchers observed more than 400,000 people over 14 years found that consuming caffeinated coffee may reduce the risk of death from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and infections.2 Men who drank at least six cups of coffee per day had a 10% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared with those who didn’t drink coffee. Women who drank at least six cups of coffee per day had a 15% decreased risk of all-cause mortality compared with nondrinkers.

The study also found that people who drank at least three cups of coffee per day had a 10% chance of living longer than nondrinkers.2 What’s more, older adults who drank three cups of coffee per day were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.2

Other studies have found the following:

• Drinking up to four cups of caffeinated coffee per day may decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 25%.3

• Consuming coffee helps control symptoms of Parkinson's disease.4

• Men who drank six or more cups of either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee per day had a 20% lower risk of developing prostate cancer.5

• People who drink coffee are 50% less likely to develop liver cancer than nondrinkers. A few studies even found lower rates of colon, breast, and rectal cancers among coffee drinkers.6

Reasons for Health Benefits
“The coffee bean has been shown to contain a large number of antioxidants. There are approximately 1,000 antioxidants in green coffee beans, and an additional 300 antioxidants are added during the brewing process,” explains Toby Smithson, LDN, CDE, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy) and the founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com. Polyphenols, including chlorogenic, caffeic, and ferulic acids, are the chief health-promoting antioxidants in coffee.

Most studies that evaluate the benefits of coffee consumption saw positive effects after two to four cups, but these effects vary from person to person. “Caffeine consumption and its effects are individual and are based upon gender, body mass, age, certain medications, and health conditions such as anxiety disorders,” Smithson says.

How Much Is Too Much?
Moderate coffee intake is recommended to avoid negative side effects such as restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, headache, increased blood pressure, gastrointestinal distress, and benign fibrocystic breast disease.

Consumers should drink no more than six cups per day, says Ximena Jimenez, MS, RD, LDN, an Academy spokesperson and a consultant dietitian in Miami. An 8-oz cup of coffee has 100 mg of caffeine, she notes.

Most of the negative effects associated with drinking coffee are related to excessive consumption, although “caffeine consumed in moderate amounts doesn’t pose any health risks,” Smithson says.

Advising Clients
Dietitians may want to share the health benefits of coffee with clients and patients, Jimenez says, but also remind them that they shouldn’t rely solely on coffee for their daily source of antioxidants. Clients can obtain antioxidants from vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains as well as black or green tea.

Certain populations, such as pregnant and lactating women or people who have trouble controlling their blood pressure, should limit their caffeine intake.

— Karen Appold is a medical writer living in Royersford, Pennsylvania.


1. Coffee drinking statistics. Statistic brain website. http://www.statisticbrain.com/coffee-drinking-statistics. July 31, 2012.

2. Freedman ND, Park Y, Abnet CC, Hollenbeck AR, Sinha R. Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med. 2012;366(20):1891-1904.

3. Study: coffee combats diabetes. Newsmax Health website. http://www.newsmaxhealth.com/Diabetes/coffee-diabetes-prevention-decaf/2012/12/05/id/484740. December 5, 2012.

4. A cup of coffee may help control movement and other symptoms in Parkinson's patients. Medical Daily website. http://www.medicaldaily.com/articles/11224/20120801/parkinsons-disease-coffee-symptoms-movement-speed.htm. August 1, 2012. Accessed January 4, 2013.

5. Coffee tied to lower prostate cancer risk. Harvard Gazette website. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/05/coffee-tied-to-lower-prostate-cancer-risk. May 17, 2011.

6. Coffee’s health benefits. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide website. http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0406c.shtml. Last updated April 2006. Accessed March 2013.