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Coffee and Your Health

Say it’s so, Joe: The potential health benefits -- and drawbacks –- of coffee.

Hold the Caffeine?

The fact that coffee contains good stuff does not necessarily mean that it’s good for us, says James D. Lane, PhD, professor of medical psychology and behavioral medicine at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

“It has not really been shown that coffee drinking leads to an increase in antioxidants in the body,” Lane tells WebMD. “We know that there are antioxidants in large quantities in coffee itself, especially when it’s freshly brewed, but we don’t know whether those antioxidants appear in the bloodstream and in the body when the person drinks it. Those studies have not been done.”

Regular coffee, of course, also contains caffeine. Caffeine can raise blood pressure, as well as blood levels of the fight-or-flight chemical epinephrine (also called adrenaline), Lane says.

Heart Disease and Stroke

Coffee may counter several risk factors for heart attack and stroke.

First, there's the potential effect on type 2 diabetes risk. Type 2 diabetes makes heart disease and stroke more likely.

Besides that, coffee has been linked to lower risks for heart rhythm disturbances (another heart attack and stroke risk factor) in men and women, and lower risk for strokes in women.

In a study of about 130,000 Kaiser Permanente health plan members, people who reported drinking 1-3 cups of coffee per day were 20% less likely to be hospitalized for abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) than nondrinkers, regardless of other risk factors.

And, for women, coffee may mean a lower risk of stroke.

In 2009, a study of 83,700 nurses enrolled in the long-term Nurses' Health Study showed a 20% 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, and type 2 diabetes.

Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's Diseases

“For Parkinson’s disease, the data have always been very consistent: higher consumption of coffee is associated with decreased risk of Parkinson’s,” Hu tells WebMD. That seems to be due to caffeine, though exactly how that works isn't clear, Hu notes.

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

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