Is Coffee Really Good for You?

More on the effects of caffeine:

Coffee affects all of us differently

The media is full of articles citing studies claiming that coffee is good for you. Even nutritionists and healthy lifestyle editors have jumped on the bandwagon to let everyone know that they can drink as much coffee as they want without any negative health effects. But is this true?

It is certainly the goal of the coffee industry’s public relations campaigns to have you believe that unlimited coffee drinking will make you healthier. Look at all the health studies about coffee’s largest competitor, tea, and you can imagine how envious the coffee industry has been.

The real truth, however, is that coffee affects all of us differently. If you really want to know if coffee is good for you, you need to consider your age, gender, health conditions, and even your genes. Some people can drink all the coffee they want, others are fine if they limit coffee to mornings only. Then there are those who need to refrain from coffee altogether. This article will help you decide which type you are.

Scientific studies show associations, not causation

The majority of the “coffee is good for you” claims are based on epidemiological studies where patterns of health and illness are analyzed for large population groups. This data is then compared to certain lifestyle habits and environmental exposures to see if there is a correlation. The problem with these types of studies is that nothing has been proven other than an association, which doesn’t necessarily equate with causation. Additionally, segments of the population that may have sensitivities due to genes, gender, age, and different health conditions are often not considered or are drowned out in these types of mass studies.

Take for example Parkinson’s disease. Epidemiological studies have found an association between a lower incidence of Parkinson’s disease in people who drink three to five cups of coffee a day. However, if you look at women alone, you find a much smaller association than you do with men. Then, if you look at postmenopausal women who take estrogen, you discover that women consuming six or more cups of coffee a day have a fourfold increase in Parkinson’s disease than women who never drink coffee.

Heart disease provides another example: A large scale epidemiological study of 120,000 people found no effect of drinking multiple cups of coffee a day on heart disease. However, a closer look is not so reassuring. It turns out that a significant proportion of the population metabolizes caffeine slower than the rest, and those slow metabolizers have a much higher incidence of sudden heart attack.

Your genes affect how good coffee is for you

A groundbreaking study was published analyzing coffee drinking in people who had suffered from sudden heart attack in comparison to matched controls of healthy people. Everyone in the study was classified according to their variation of the gene in the liver that detoxifies caffeine. This gene comes in a slow or fast variation.

For people with the slow metabolizing genetic variation, drinking two to three cups of coffee a day increased the risk of heart attack by 36%. For those drinking four or more cups of coffee a day, the risk went up to 64%. These numbers may already seem quite significant, but when the researchers looked at younger people where heart disease is less prevalent, they found that drinking coffee exponentially increased the risk for heart attack in slow metabolizers as well. For people under the age of 59, the risk went up 24% for just one cup of coffee per day, 67% for two to three cups a day, and 133% for four or more cups a day. Under the age of 50, the risk increased four-fold.1

Now here’s the kicker: 54% of the study’s 4,000 participants were found to be slow metabolizers. That is a significant subset of the population! Unfortunately, the only way to know if you are a fast or slow metabolizer is through a gene test. Symptoms of caffeine sensitivity, like jitters or insomnia after drinking coffee, is not associated with either the fast or slow version of the gene.

High blood pressure can signal caffeine sensitivity

Caffeine is proven to increase blood pressure. Studies have claimed that people’s bodies adjust to this as they continue to drink coffee. Not so for nearly half of the population in the US with hypertension. Caffeine has been shown to significantly raise blood pressure in both pre-hypertensive and hypertensive people. If they abstain from coffee, they can achieve a significant drop in blood pressure.

2% of the population has an aneurysm, but unfortunately, most people are unaware of it and thus are at risk of a rupture. A recent study found that the rise in blood pressure after drinking one cup of coffee nearly doubles the risk of a ruptured aneurysm. High blood pressure has serious health consequences that lifestyle choices, such as drinking coffee, can profoundly impact.

Age & Gender Make a Difference

Women are more sensitive to coffee and caffeine than men, and their bodies may take much longer to detoxify caffeine and recover from its effects. Coffee affects a woman’s hormonal system, including the production of estrogen and testosterone, resulting in increased PMS symptoms and hot flashes. If a woman is taking birth control pills or hormone replacements, her body detoxifies caffeine much more slowly. Coffee drinking also interferes with iron absorption, which can contribute to anemia, a condition that women have a higher risk for developing than men due to menstruation.

As people age, their adrenal glands begin producing more cortisol and less DHEA, which is the ‘youth’ hormone for rebuilding, repairing, and regenerating the body. Under the influence of caffeine, the adrenal glands are stimulated to produce cortisol and thus, production of DHEA declines. Many people notice more symptoms of caffeine sensitivity such as anxiety and insomnia as they age due to increasingly elevated cortisol levels.

When you need a break from coffee, drink a coffee alternative

Occasional, rather than habitual, coffee drinking can be very enjoyable and satisfying. Since caffeine is a drug, it should be treated like one and only taken when needed. Coffee drinkers often turn to decaf when they want to reduce caffeine. Decaf, however, is not a healthy alternative to coffee for a number of reasons as we break down in our Decaf and Health page.

If you’ve been a habitual coffee drinker, experiment with drinking a coffee alternative. Herbal coffee is to coffee drinkers what herbal tea is to tea drinkers. You can enjoy it in the afternoon and evening to get a full-bodied, coffee-like flavor with the health benefits of naturally caffeine-free herbs and natural energy from nutrients. Herbal coffee is non-acidic and contains the alkaline mineral potassium, which helps correct metabolic acidity, making it the perfect alternative for people who need to avoid coffee’s acidity.

If you decide to reduce your coffee drinking, beware of the caffeine withdrawal symptoms that can drive you back to coffee like headaches, brain fog, depression, and fatigue. Caffeine withdrawal can be painful, but by gradually weaning off of coffee, you can adjust to lower amounts of caffeine. The most effective way to do this is to blend your regular coffee with herbal coffee. For more information, check out Teeccino’s Kick the Caffeine Habit Program.

© Caroline MacDougall, November 2020



[1] Cornelis, Marilyn; El-Sohemy, Ahmed; Kabagambe, Edmond K.; Campos, Hannia. 2006. Coffee, CYP1A2 Genotype, and Risk of Myocardial Infarction. JAMA 295(10): 1134-1140.