“America Runs On Dunkin” is probably a slogan you have heard a time or two before. Whether you drink coffee out of necessity, personal preference, or as a social event, coffee is a highly consumed beverage by almost everyone around the world. But, is coffee safe and healthy? Should you be consuming coffee daily, weekly, sparingly or only when absolutely necessary? If you’re someone who contributes to the 587 million cups consumed per year, where do you draw the line…how much is enough..too much? This article hopes to shed some light, and more importantly spark your interest, on the popular beverage, coffee, and how much you should be consuming as well as the surprisingly numerous health benefits of coffee. That’s right…coffee is not only NOT bad for you, it actually has many positive health benefits!
There are numerous benefits to caffeine consumption. The obvious one, and most common reason for use, is being more energized and productive. Higher productivity alone will likely lead to getting more things done and if you live a healthy lifestyle this means getting more beneficial things done. The combination of the immediate short term benefits with the research backed long term benefits makes caffeinated coffee not only a good choice, but a healthy proactive choice in taking care of your overall health! First, lets look at some of the positive effects of caffeine as shown in research studies:
About 83 percent of adults drink coffee in the U.S. This makes the U.S. the world’s biggest consumer of the beverage. This number is only increasing from prior years, according to the National Coffee Association’s 2013 online survey. People are consuming, on average, three cups a day. Although many people typically start their day off with a morning cup, there may be additional benefits to having a stronger and/or another cup or two throughout the day. Many studies have shown the positive effects of coffee. A study done by Alberto Ascherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard, showed that drinking four or five cups of coffee daily cut risk of Parkinson’s disease almost in half when compared to little or no caffeine consumption. Another study supports these findings, showing that those who consumed coffee were at less risk for developing Parkinson’s disease, even those genetically more inclined to develop the disease!
Aside from disease prevention, coffee (caffeine found in coffee) has been shown to boost memory. Two studies showed that coffee was able to boost cognition during normally low periods of mental acuity (AM for children and PM for adults). In contrast, those who ingested the placebo (decaffeinated coffee) were found to have a decline in memory performance from morning to afternoon. However, those who ingested caffeine showed no decline in performance from morning to afternoon. This would suggest that coffee can help you avoid the “mid-afternoon crash” and keep you going, something that should not be surprising to most people. What may be surprising is that the type of “physiological arousal” appears to be important when analyzing the effect on memory. Although exercise was shown to increase arousal, memory was not increased. When exercise and caffeine consumption were used together, caffeine-induced arousal was shown to compensate for the time-of-day memory deficits. Finally, researchers in Japan have shown that caffeine consumption also helps memory retention, suggesting coffee is a great way to help improve memory. If you’re looking for better focus and memory retention, the research supports caffeinated coffee as a means to improve both. But the benefits of caffeine are not limited to just the physiological and mental, there is a wide variety of physical benefits as well.
Because of the positive effects of caffeine, it has become a very useful tool to be used pre-workout. Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulator and has been shown to reduce symptoms of fatigue, increase reaction time, and increase motor unit firing. All of these effects lead to heightened activity and functioning when consumed for intended purposes at proper times. Caffeine acts as a competitive antagonist of adenosine receptors to potentiate calcium release into the skeletal muscle. Because calcium fuels muscular contraction, caffeine induces more forceful muscular contractions. In addition, caffeine has been shown to increase lipolysis (burning fat as fuel), causing muscular glycogen sparing. In basic terms, caffeine helps you burn fat and as an indirect result your body doesn’t use carbohydrates as fuel for exercise due to increased fatty acid oxidation. The research supports the increased performance theory as well. A systematic review of 29 studies conducted by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that caffeine prior to exercise yielded significant improvements in performance in 11 of 17 studies. Additionally, 6 of 11 studies showed benefits during resistance training. In the Journal of Muscle and Nerve, participants who consumed 6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of weight produced significantly more muscle torque when compared to placebo.
As is the case of most sports, high-intensity exercise/sport is fueled primarily by carbohydrates. You can think of intramuscular glucose as your “gas tank” that you deplete throughout exercise and can help to replenish during prolonged sporting events through simple sugar replenishing. Interestingly, one study showed that athletes who consumed caffeine and carbohydrates post-workout had 66% more intramuscular glycogen when compared to those who consumed carbohydrates alone. In the world of athletics, that means 66% more gas. So if you are a multiple-sport athlete, train multiple times per day, or even just push yourself each and every workout, research would suggest there is benefit to consuming some caffeine post-workout to fully restore glycogen prior to your next workout/competition. But wait…….
Remember, caffeine increases lipolysis and consuming pre-workout has been shown to spare carbohydrate use as fuel. It is best to first know your goals and why you are using caffeine. If you are performing a short, intense weight training session it may be best to consume pre workout for increased energy and muscular contraction. If you are performing long-distance/endurance training or competition such as a marathon, it could be wise to add caffeine to your post-training session meal to increase storage of carbohydrates AND pre-competition to increase fatty oxidation. Because fat is the preferred energy source for slow, long distance training, increase fatty acid oxidation would be beneficial. You also have the benefit of a slight energy boost coupled with prior increased storage from previous consumption. Many runners may begin in a fasted state to further increase fatty acid utilization as efficient fuel, then supplement with oral glucose (simple sugar) to keep the gas tank running. Caffeine can be implemented with this strategy as well to spare glycogen use even longer (think about holding out on your “reserve tank”), and the research supports this!
Caffeine has been shown to be an ergogenic aid that stimulates endurance performance. One study showed that the stimulating effect of caffeine was already apparent at the lowest dose of 5 mg per kg bodyweight. It also showed that a dose-response relationship was not apparent, suggesting getting the minimal effective dose is all that is needed. As mentioned above, it was concluded and predicted that caffeine is of greatest benefit for endurance athletes when glycogen depletion could limit performance. It does appear that lower dosages (6 mg/kg) were beneficial to endurance sports to gain the muscle glycogen sparring effect, while higher dosages were needed to improve high intensity exercise performance. This could be potential due to higher dosages being need to increase muscular contraction, torque and motor unique firing. Up to this point we have discussed the benefits of caffeine, which may suggest that it is the caffeine that hold all the positive benefits. However, there are also other unique compounds, in addition to caffeine, in coffee that deserve some credit.
UNIQUE TO COFFEE
Much attention has been given to life expectancy in regards to health and fitness. How can a diet or lifestyle extend one’s life? Whether it be excluding certain things from your day-to-day life or incorporating positive things (such as exercise), it is often incorporated in reference to extending one’s life. Needless to say, quality of life falls within one’s life expectancy. There is little benefit to extending one’s life if the quality doesn’t carry over as well. Research investigating positive correlators with quality of life often look at DNA health and damage, meaning they can determine one’s biological age based off the state of their DNA. More damaged DNA correlates to shorter life expectancy and “healthier”, more intact DNA correlates to longer life expectancy. DNA, as most things in nature, has an innate protection mechanism. To our benefit, there is a way of protecting DNA directly through diet and nutrition…and yes, coffee consumption.
If you think of DNA as a shoe lace, then telomeres are the caps at the end of the string to protect it from damage and “unraveling”. These telomeres get shorter each year. Once the telomere has shortened too much, the cell will die or become “metabolically inactive” When/if this occurs in stem cells, it leads to tissue aging. So if you wish to preserve your DNA, then you need to protect its innate protection mechanism, telomeres. Amazingly, one of the benefits of moderate to high coffee consumption is it being associated with longer telomeres. As said, telomeres are a biological marker for healthy aging, suggesting that moderate to high coffee consumption assists in healthy aging by reducing natural telomere damage. As with most things, results are dose dependent. As is the instance in Parkinson’s disease prevention, moderate to high consumption seems to be most beneficial (3-4 cups per day).
Aside from the positive correlation with healthy aging, coffee has also been shown to have more immediate health benefits. Among the compounds in coffee, two have been found to work in similar fashion to many anti-diabetic drugs. Both cafestol and caffeic acid have been shown to increase glucose uptake into the muscle. Again, by consuming three to four cups of coffee per day (on par with Parkinson’s and telomere preservation research), individuals were shown to have decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In the instance of Type 2 diabetes, the insulin receptors have lost sensitivity due to prolonged heightened blood glucose levels. By increasing glucose uptake, you not only decrease blood glucose levels but also improve receptor sensitivity by no longer chronically stressing those receptors. As you may be thinking… could these compounds be potentially used and investigated for medicinal purposes? It appears that research is investigating these isolated compounds for Type 2 diabetes prevention.
In addition to being an anti-diabetic, coffee consumption has been inversely associated with liver enzyme activity. You may know someone who was struggling with there health (many times heavy drinkers) and they reported having elevated enzyme levels. This is a health concern, one that needs immediate attention, and coffee has been found to help control enzyme activity. Coffee has also been shown to improve hepatic steatosis (fatty liver) and fibrosis as well as reduce the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). This may possibly be due coffee consumption causing a reduction in fat accumulation and collagen deposition in liver, although this has only been proposed in experimental studies. Additionally, coffee has also been shown to promote antioxidant capacity through modulating the gene glutothione and expression of inflammatory mediators.
Coffee is not only useful as a preventative tool against liver disease, but also as a means to decrease the progression of malfunctioning livers. In chronic liver disease patients who consume coffee, a decreased risk of progression (and lowered overall mortality rate) to cirrhosis and a lowered rate of hepatocellular carcinoma development were observed. Coffee consumption was also shown to be inversely related to the severity of steatohepatitis in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. As you can see, the research supports that with patients who have chronic liver disease, consuming coffee daily is beneficial and should be highly recommended.
Whatever physical activity you enjoy, caffeine (or coffee) is a legal and effective performance booster that is widely used. If you are looking for both short and long-term health benefits, the research supports that coffee is the way to go. You get the immediate benefits of the natural caffeine found in coffee with the prolonged benefits from the additional compounds unique to coffee…the best of both worlds. As is the case with diet and nutrition, a lot of attention is given to the quality of the nutrients you are consuming. It is no different with coffee, you get what you pay for. Choosing a reputable product/brand that is single sourced is likely your best option. Below is a company I highly recommend due to their single source and personal relationship with the provider ultimately ensuring you know what you are putting into your body (not to mention it is great tasting coffee!).
It is not uncommon for people to have different levels of sensitivity to caffeine, making it especially important to assess your personal tolerance first. Know your prior health history, as mentioned earlier caffeine is a CNS stimulator and will increase both your heart rate and blood pressure short term. Also, be aware of the NCAA and other sport regulating bodies that test, as caffeine is considered a performance enhancing drug AT CERTAIN DOSAGES. Specifically, the NCAA limits concentrations in urine to no more than 15 micrograms/ml and recommends no more than 300mg/day. Coffee (and caffeine) should not be used as a “crutch” or replacement. Caffeine will give you the extra kick to get more done, but often times it becomes a sleep/rest replacement. To gain the full benefit of coffee, it is best to add it to an already solid health and fitness foundation. This means getting the recommended 7-8 hours sleep per night in combination with your daily cup(s) of coffee. So enjoy one of America’s most popular beverages…. whether you were aware or not, you are doing yourself a lot more good then just a quick energy boost!
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