How Coffee Consumption Can Affect Your Health

There's no denying that Americans like coffee. The U.S. coffee market is a staggering $18 billion industry, powered in large part by our need to drink caffeine to get us going in the morning, and in some cases, to keep us going throughout the day. Coffee is the second most valuable commodity in world trade, second only to oil, with the United States importing more than $4 billion in coffee every year.1 Here's some more information on Americans' coffee intake:Coffee infographic

As you can see, Americans love their coffee, but the debate over the health pros and cons of drinking so much coffee, particularly the caffeine in it, has raged for decades. In just the past 30 years, over 19,000 studies on the effects of caffeine have been conducted, resulting in varying recommendations on how much is healthy to consume.

Is Coffee Bad for You?

With so many studies done on caffeine and coffee, it's not surprising that a few cons have been discovered. The most common negative side effect experienced when drinking coffee throughout the day is interrupted sleeping patterns. Caffeine causes increased neuron firing in the brain and increased adrenaline in the body, which can make getting to sleep difficult and decrease the quality of sleep. This is best managed by limiting your intake late in the day; caffeine's effects generally last about four to six hours, so avoiding coffee six hours before you go to sleep is recommended.2 Another side effect that coffee may have on some people is heartburn or otherwise upset stomach, and the worsening of ulcers. If you experience any of these issues, you may wish to limit your coffee intake or look for low-acid blends.

Most other negative effects of caffeine and coffee are only applicable to those who drink an excessive amount, usually five or more cups per day on a regular basis. One study found that postmenopausal women with osteoporosis who drank excessive amounts of coffee could experience more calcium loss than usual.3 Another posits that long-term coffee drinking may contribute to a small increase in blood pressure.4 Drinking too much coffee can also be detrimental to women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

It is worth mentioning that, while mild, caffeine is a drug, specifically a stimulant. Like with any drug, overdosing on caffeine can be dangerous and even fatal. While you would have to drink 80 to 100 cups of coffee in the space of a few hours to reach fatal levels of caffeine, pure powdered caffeine is now being marketed. The FDA issued a warning5 in 2014 after the deaths of two people caused by an overdose of powdered caffeine. Even a small spoonful of the powdered caffeine is enough to be fatal, and it is so concentrated that calculating a safe dose is next to impossible.

Coffee Benefits

The benefits of coffee and the caffeine in it are varied and have been widely researched. Caffeine is already in use for many medical applications, including weight loss pills, asthma treatments for young children, and as a pain relief enhancer. Several studies have confirmed caffeine's ability to relieve pain and make other pain relief more effective; if you've ever taken an Excedrin®, you've benefited from caffeine's pain relief enhancing properties. Coffee can also reduce pain during and after exercise, and has been proven to boost the effectiveness of pain relief drugs as much as 40 percent.6

Some other recent studies have found other coffee benefits:

  • People who drink one to three cups of coffee a day are 9 percent less likely to contract Type 2 Diabetes. Results of a study found that men who drink six or more cups a day are 54 percent less likely to have the disease, and women who drink the same amount are 30 percent less likely to have it.7
  • Coffee drinkers are less likely to develop Parkinson's disease7
  • Two cups a day drop your chances of colon cancer by 20 percent, cirrhosis by 80 percent, and gallstones by 50 percent. 7
  • Tests on mice have shown that coffee may have the potential to prevent Alzheimer's or ease the symptoms.7
  • Regular coffee consumption in the elderly population has been shown to reduce chances of heart disease.8
  • Caffeine can decrease your risk of stroke by as much as 22 percent.9
  • Caffeine consumption is linked to fewer heart rhythm abnormalities.9
  • One study has determined that caffeine intake can decrease instances of kidney stones.9

Coffee Choices

While many people get their fixes at coffee shops, that can add up quickly – Americans spend $18 billion every year on specialty coffee. Thankfully, there are a wide variety of home coffee makers available for any skill level or coffee type you may wish to make. Pourover coffee brewers allow you to make a basic cup of coffee from many bean types, while an espresso maker allows you to make specialty drinks such as lattés, cappuccinos, and mochas. Home coffee makers are available in a variety of sizes, from large carafe brewers down to individual serving machines, which can use loose grounds or coffee pods. Home coffee machines allow you to experience coffee benefits on a smaller budget. With a home espresso machine and a little practice, you can create the drinks offered at specialty coffee shops, or even design your own custom drinks to fit your personal tastes.

1. Coffee Drinking Statistics. Statistic Brain Research Institute. Accessed January 2016.

2. Caffeine. Brown University. Accessed January 2016.

3. Calcium metabolism in postmenopausal osteoporotic women is determined by dietary calcium and coffee intake. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Accessed January 2016.

4. Coffee intake and risk of hypertension: the Johns Hopkins precursors study. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Accessed January 2016.

5. Tragic Deaths Highlight the Dangers of Powdered Pure Caffeine. FDA Voice. Accessed January 2016.

6. Caffeine Reduces Muscle Pain. Caffeine Informer. Accessed January 2016.

7. How Caffeine Works. How Stuff Works. Accessed January 2016.

8. Caffeine. Medicine Net. Accessed January 2016.

9. Top 22 Caffeine Benefits. Caffeine Informer. Accessed January 2016.