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Coffee. A healthy boost or trouble brewing.
Wednesday 18 April 2018

Coffee is the second most popular drink in the world after water. In the UK, 55 million cups of coffee are drunk each day. But there continue to be regular stories about the impact coffee has on our health, and whether it is harmful or beneficial.

A nationwide celebration of our love of coffee, UK Coffee Week, runs from 16–22 April 2018. But as we settle down to a double expresso, a skinny cappuccino or an extra hot flat white, what is our daily brew doing to our health in both the short and long term?

Caffeine hit

The caffeine hit that coffee provides can help improve alertness and concentration. And the benefits of having caffeine before exercise have been well researched, with some studies claiming that drinking a cup of coffee 20–30 minutes before exercising can allow you to exercise for up to 30% longer. Some athletes swear by coffee as a way of reducing fatigue and increasing energy.

However, the flipside of that boost to alertness is that it can disrupt sleep for some people. For those who suffer from insomnia or have problems getting off to sleep, it is advised that they restrict their coffee consumption to the morning hours.

Heart health

If drinking too much coffee causes some people to have heart palpitations, is that a sign that caffeine is bad for our heart health? Not according to the British Heart Foundation. They have said that moderate amounts of coffee do not lead to conditions such as an irregular heartbeat or coronary heart disease, and do not affect blood pressure.

However, the British Heart Foundation have pointed out that they class a moderate amount as four or five cups a day – but some coffees from cafes can be twice the size of standard cup sizes.

Cancer link

Recently a judge in California ruled that coffee companies should be forced by law to carry cancer warnings on their drinks because of a chemical that is produced in the coffee bean roasting process. The coffee industry has maintained that the chemical, acrylamide, is present at harmless levels.

The link between coffee and cancer has been rumbling for many years. The World Health Organization took coffee off its ‘possible carcinogen’ list two years ago, stating that there was no strong evidence that coffee increases cancer risk.

There has been research published that claims coffee could in fact reduce the risk of getting certain cancers, such as liver and womb cancer. But the link is still unclear. Cancer Research UK say there isn’t enough evidence to make claims either for or against coffee consumption when it comes to cancer risk.

Long-term conditions

There has been a significant amount of research into the impact of coffee consumption on long-term health conditions as well.

There is some evidence to suggest that coffee could help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The science behind this is unclear, but it does mean that people who already have diabetes can be assured that moderate coffee drinking isn’t going to do them any harm.

There is also some evidence that coffee reduces the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Although again, the science behind this is not clear-cut.

Some reports suggest that caffeine consumption can increase anxiety symptoms in people who have existing anxiety issues, and that it may worsen depression or mood disorders in people with these conditions.

On balance

There is no definitive conclusion on many of these health theories, and research will continue. However, it is generally clear that having a couple of cups of coffee a day won’t do you any harm – unless of course you’re looking to get to sleep shortly after that caffeine hit!

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