Coffee: the Good, the Bad, and Everything in Between

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There are few things I see people line up for as much as a cup of coffee. Tim Horton’s, Second Cup, Starbucks, Bridgehead, it doesn’t matter: there is always a lineup. With classes over and exams in full swing, much of the student body turns to coffee and asks it, as a friend, to aid them in their time of sleep-deprived need. As someone who sticks mostly to tea due to the wired-to-a-fault effect coffee has on me, I find myself silent when peers start comparing how many cups of coffee it took them to pull off an all-nighter. Somehow bragging about my third cup of Orange Pekoe doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. But when it comes to coffee, there are numerous studies professing that caffeine is either great for you or terrible for you. So what’s the truth? Well, both and neither. In other words, like most things, coffee has its benefits and it’ downsides. Let’s start with the good news...

The Good

If you are coffee drinker, you may now rejoice. There are a number of studies that have shown caffeine does produce some positive health benefits. For one, coffee is the single best source of antioxidants in the diets of most North Americans. A moderate consumption of coffee can also potentially reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, depression and heart-stroke in women, heart failure, skin and prostate cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. And of course, the reason why most enjoy downing a cup of coffee apart from its taste, is because caffeine is a stimulant and can help with focusing, alertness, and productivity. There has even been a study that coffee-drinkers live longer. Not too shabby!

There’s also a social element to coffee consumption: cafés acting as a gathering place for friends, first dates, or people who want to sit by a public window and read, or simply the act of offering up a cup as a symbol of hospitality. Furthermore, coffee can provide psychological comfort to some, even before the hot liquid touches your lips. Getting up and brewing a cuppa Joe in the morning is, for many, an essential part of the morning ritual - as ingrained into the morning process as brushing your teeth or making breakfast. Even the anticipation of coffee can give people the perception of being more awake. People associate coffee with a sense of stimulus and therefore even the first sip is met with a feeling contented reassurance that the caffeine will eventually work its magic.

The Bad

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but coffee is not without its negative aspects. To start, caffeine is a drug and therefore it’s important that people remember not to abuse it. Coffee is addictive, and eventually many people come to feel that it is an essential part of their day just to feel normal. Reducing or completely eliminating the consumption of coffee can lead to withdrawal including fatigue, headaches, anxiety and drowsiness. It can also lead to disruptions in one’s sleeping pattern, ranging from slight to severe. Coffee has also been reported as having the potential of leading to increased cholesterol, the development of iron-deficiency anemia in women or disruption in normal heart rhythm. Due to the fact that the caffeine in coffee is a mild diuretic, coffee-drinking can sometimes cause dehydration. It can also stimulate the release of stress hormones, including adrenalin and cortisol, which is particularly unfortunate for students at this time of the year. Exam-time tends to be enough of a source of stress on its own.

The In Between

Just because coffee has negative side-effects doesn’t mean you need to abandon it altogether. There are a number of ways you can keep your love-in-a-mug around, while also maintaining good health habits.

  • Try to limit yourself to one or two cups a day. Not an extra-extra-large cup. A ‘normal’-sized cup.
  • Learn your limits. Not everyone reacts to the caffeine in coffee the same way. The gene involved with detoxification is called CYP1A2, and is genetically determined. This is why some people can have coffee before bed and still have a sound night’s sleep, while others have a cup in the morning and struggle to find shut-eye at night. If you love the taste of coffee but don’t metabolize it well, try going for decaf or my personal favourite, black tea, which typically contains fewer millilitres of caffeine.
  • Be mindful of what kind of coffee you’re ordering. Most fancy drinks referred to as ‘coffee beverages’ are made of excessive amounts of sugar and cream. While a pumpkin spice latte is delicious, and treating once in a while never hurt anyone, it’s not quite the healthiest drink to be consuming on the regular.
  • Coffee is one of the most heavily sprayed food crops in the world. Buying organic coffee can ensure you avoid pesticides or herbicides.

I’m sorry I can’t tell you that coffee is a miracle elixir that contributes only to amazing health. However, that doesn’t mean you need to stop drinking coffee altogether. It’s all about moderation! Variety might be the spice of life but without moderation, you’re likely to burn your tongue.


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