Despite 20 years of reassuring research, many people still avoid caffeinated coffee because they worry about its health effects. However, current research reveals that in moderation—a few cups a day—coffee is a safe beverage that may even offer some health benefits. The September issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch weighs the pros and cons of this popular beverage and eases the concerns of moderate coffee drinkers.
The latest research has not only confirmed that moderate coffee consumption doesn't cause harm, it's also uncovered possible benefits. Studies show that the risk for type 2 diabetes is lower among regular coffee drinkers than among those who don't drink it. Also, coffee may reduce the risk of developing gallstones, discourage the development of colon cancer, improve cognitive function, reduce the risk of liver damage in people at high risk for liver disease, and reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease. Coffee has also been shown to improve endurance performance in long-duration physical activities.
For those who drink coffee to stay alert, new research suggests that you'll stay more alert, particularly if you are fighting sleep deprivation, if you spread your coffee consumption over the course of the day. For instance, if you usually drink 16 ounces in the morning, try consuming a 2-3 ounce serving every hour or so. Again, moderation is the key.
However, as the September issue notes, coffee is not completely innocent. Caffeine, coffee's main ingredient is a mild addictive stimulant. And coffee does have modest cardiovascular effects such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and occasional irregular heartbeat that should be considered. Studies have been largely inconclusive regarding coffee and its effect on women's health issues such as breast health, cancer, and osteoporosis. But, the negative effects of coffee tend to emerge in excessive drinking so it is best to avoid heavy consumption.