The Museum’s Health Sciences Department is partnering with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to publish a monthly series on the Museum blog called “Know Health”. The articles focus on current health topics selected by CU’s medical and graduate students in order to provide both English and Spanish speaking communities with current, accurate information. The posts in the “Know Health” series are edited versions of articles that first appeared in Contrapoder magazine. Thank you to the students at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus for bringing these stories to life.
(aka Dr. Nicole Garneau, chair and curator, Health Sciences Department)
Guest Author, Molly Terhune is an Administrative Assistant for the Center for Global Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
Every day about 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed across the world. Although it is a popular beverage, there is mixed information about the positive and negative effects of coffee on health. On one hand, there are university-led studies showing that drinking caffeinated coffee daily reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, heart disease and Parkinson’s. On the other hand, there are other studies showing that daily consumption of caffeinated coffee increases the risk of stomach upset, anemia, insomnia and anxiety.
To narrow down this subject, researchers study whether caffeine (the active molecule in coffee) is good or bad for your health. Caffeine is a mild stimulant that is also found in other beverages like tea, soda, and energy drinks. Caffeine is addictive. For those who drink even one cup of coffee per day, cutting back or quitting can cause withdrawal symptoms like headache, mental fuzziness and fatigue. Caffeine can also have bad interactions with medications for thyroid, psychiatric and heartburn conditions.
However, coffee has favorable qualities that other caffeinated beverages like soda and energy drinks do not have. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reminds us that coffee beans are seeds, and like all seeds, they have many beneficial chemical compounds. Some of these bioactive compounds confer benefits because of their antimicrobial and possibly antioxidant properties. Again, these positive characteristics of coffee may offset the potential negative qualities associated with caffeine consumption. Ultimately, the pros and cons of coffee consumption come down to the person, both their own genetics and the amount of coffee they drink.
In fact, a large-scale study led by Harvard School of Public Health researchers took a close look at the role of genetics and the benefits of coffee. They examined the genes of 120,000 people from European and African American ancestry. The study identified six genetic variations (changes in the human DNA sequence) associated with coffee drinking. These results may explain why coffee and caffeine have different effects on different people. Each person’s unique digestive and nervous system control how caffeine is processed in the body. For instance, certain genetic features may mean that coffee reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease, but for other genetic dispositions, the risk of Parkinson’s does not change.
The bottom line is that drinking coffee in moderation may actually be a healthy habit. Although coffee may make some people have upset stomach or tremors, it does not negatively affect health overall. While more study is needed, research by many universities and groups like Coffee and Caffeine Genetics Consortium shows that coffee may play a positive role in reducing the risk of certain diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular conditions.