There’s no part of the morning routine as sacred to so many of us as that first sip of freshly brewed coffee. In fact, most coffee fans know not to schedule anything important until after they’ve downed that cup of joe. And that’s a wise decision, as studies continue to pour in that suggest our beloved bean juice isn’t just a morning jolt, it’s also good for our health. Indeed, the health benefits of one cup of coffee a day are so widespread, from healing our brain, heart and liver to reducing the risk of diseases such as diabetes and cancer. And, as it turns out, the more you sip the more benefits you reap (up to a point). Read on to learn more.
The health benefits of one cup of coffee a day
It’s true that coffee’s caffeine helps to wake us up in the morning. But that caffeine also raises our metabolism for significant weight loss, boosts our physical speed and stamina, and can even make us happier, asserts Bob Arnot, MD, former chief correspondent for NBC News and author of The Coffee Lovers Bible. But while caffeine bring health perks, Dr. Arnot says: “The true magic in coffee lies in its polyphenols.”
The same compound that makes fresh fruits, vegetables, red wine, green tea and olive oil so healthy, polyphenols are one of the most potent anti-inflammatory compounds in nature. And that’s key, he says, since the driving force behind most disease is inflammation. “Coffee is the greatest source of polyphenols of anything in the American diet,” says Dr. Arnot. “It’s probably the No. 1 superfood in the world today. There’s simply no other measure you can take to improve your health that requires minimal effort and imparts such amazing rewards [as drinking coffee].” Read on for the benefits you can get from drinking just one cup a day.
Related:Swap Your Dark Roast Coffee for a Lighter Roast for Automatic Weight Loss
1. Coffee helps keep your heart healthy
“Heart disease remains the number one killer in the United States and much of the Western world, so it’s no surprise that coffee’s ability to reduce risk factors for the disease may be its most widely reported benefit,” Dr. Arnot says. He points to a landmark study in The New England Journal of Medicine that found coffee drinkers were 78% less likely to develop heart disease than people who didn’t drink coffee.
What’s more, researchers at the University of Colorado analyzed results from the Framingham Heart Study, which tracked eating patterns and cardiovascular health of more than 15,000 people since the 1940s. Their findings? For every cup of coffee a person consumed, their risk of heart failure, stroke and coronary heart disease decreased by 8, 7 and 5 percent, respectively.
Another heart perk: A study published in the journal Stroke looked at 82,000 adults and determined that just one daily cup of coffee cut their stroke risk by 20%. The scientists credit coffee’s ability to tame inflammation, which increases stroke risk.
And German researchers, who looked at caffeine’s effect on mice and human tissue, found that caffeine helped “push” certain beneficial proteins into the mitochondria (energy engines) of heart cells. Their study, published in the journal PLOS Biology, suggests that caffeinated coffee could improve heart function and even have a protective effect on older hearts at risk of injury or disease. Click through for more ways to reduce your risk of heart disease.
2. One cup of coffee a day keeps your brain young
Researchers from the University of South Florida and the University of Miami looked at the links between caffeine intake and a reduced risk of dementia. Their findings, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, revealed that coffee drinkers with higher blood caffeine levels avoided the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in the two to four years of study follow-up. Plus, the research showed that this protection seemed to occur even in older people with early signs of the disease.
“Moderate daily consumption of caffeinated coffee appears to be the best dietary option for long-term protection against Alzheimer’s memory loss,” says study co-author Gary Arendash, PhD. “Coffee is inexpensive, readily available, easily gets into the brain and has few side effects for most of us. Moreover, our studies show that caffeine and coffee appear to directly attack the Alzheimer’s disease process.” (Click through for more ways to improve your memory.)
3. Coffee reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes
“Of the nearly 26 million Americans who have diabetes, 90% to 95% have type 2, which is largely preventable with healthy lifestyle habits,” Dr. Arnot says. “Here, too, coffee is a heavy hitter, helping to defy diabetes by lowering blood sugar, improving insulin response after meals and cutting down on inflammation.” Numerous studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a lower incidence of diabetes than non-coffee drinkers.
Coffee’s chlorogenic acid, a polyphenol antioxidant found in high levels in coffee beans, increases insulin sensitivity, decrease sabsorption of sugar in the intestine and also slows sugar production in the liver, he says. In fact, one study that followed more than 3,000 subjects over 10 years found that those who consumed just one cup of coffee daily were 54% less likely to develop diabetes.
What’s more, Danish researchers found that the cafestol and caffeic acid — found in both decaf and caffeinated coffee — helped to regulate blood sugar and insulin production. The scientists say this is good news when it comes to prevention of or control of type 2 diabetes, which is characterized by unregulated blood sugar levels.
Related: These 9 Simple (Delicious!) Food Swaps Significantly Lower Diabetes Risk, Say MDs
4. One cup of coffee a day wards off weight gain
A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that chlorogenic acid flips a switch that instructs the body’s cellular energy engines to increase fat burn — and the benefits kick in after just five days. “Chlorogenic acid is coffee’s secret weapon,” Dr. Arnot asserts. “The compound signals the body to take fatty acids right out of your fat cells and burn them for fuel — and that has a profound effect on weight loss.”
What’s more, research in the journal Scientific Reports found that coffee stimulates the body’s brown fat cells, which work to maintain body heat by burning calories. In the study, volunteers underwent thermal imaging and drank either water or a cup of caffeinated coffee, then underwent imaging again. The results? Compared to subjects who drank water, those who had coffee saw a significant increase in metabolic activity in brown fat cells, which are known to aid weight loss. Researchers suspect caffeine switches on the fat-burning cells.
Chlorogenic acid is especially beneficial for women over 40. Korean researchers found that adults who make coffee a daily habit have a 57% lower risk of muscle loss. “The research shows that chlorogenic acid promotes the regeneration of muscle,” explains Dr. Arnot. “That’s key because after 40, women lose up to 6 pounds of muscle each decade. Losing that muscle mass slows the metabolic engine, causing women to have less energy and put on weight.” By helping to preserve calorie-burning lean muscle mass, though, chlorogenic acid ensures fat and sugar are burned for fuel by the muscles instead of stored as fat, helping women avoid or even eliminate a stubborn menopot. (Click through to learn how protein coffee can significantly speed weight loss.)
5. Coffee can ease pain
A Norwegian research team found that coffee drinkers experienced less intense neck and shoulder pain while completing office-related tasks compared to participants who abstained from drinking coffee. Their study, published in BMC Research, also found that back pain was less common for java fans who drank their brew an hour and a half before starting work. Though the exact reason this happens remains unknown, the researchers theorized that the same process that makes caffeine jolt us awake could also desensitize the nerves to pain.
Dr. Arnot goes a step further, explaining that coffee’s chlorogenic acids trigger a type of molecule that tamps down on pain-triggering inflammation. “The more chlorogenic acids you drink, the more you damp down inflammation.”
Related: 5 Stretches You Can Do In Bed to Melt Away Neck and Shoulder Pain
6. One cup of coffee a day protects the liver
People with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) who drink coffee experience less fibrosis, a hardening of the liver tissue that worsens NAFLD, says liver specialist Sanjiv Chopra, MD. “Liver disease affects about one billion people in the world,” he asserts. “But drinking coffee brings a 50% reduction in mortality from liver disease.” The reason? Dr. Chopra points to coffee compounds that repair liver cells and slash levels of liver-damaging enzymes. What’s more, he adds, you get the perks whether you drink caffeinated or decaf brews.
Related:Doctor + Nutritionist: 10 Easy Ways to Heal a Fatty Liver Fast to Boost Fat Burn by 400%
7. One cup of coffee a day slows aging
Go ahead and linger over that second cup of coffee: Bioactive compounds in the brew help keep telomeres long, says William Li, MD, author of Eat to Beat Disease. These tiny endcaps on strands of DNA defend cells against aging and ward off everything from dementia to heart disease and diabetes. Normally, telomeres shorten as we get older, but a study in Nutrition & Metabolism found that for every 100 grams of caffeine subjects consumed (about 1 cup of coffee), their telomeres were 35 “base pairs” longer — the equivalent of more than 2 years younger. “Drinking coffee has been shown to increase the length of telomeres, which translates into a lower risk of dying from any cause,” Dr. Li says.
8. It helps you live longer and healthier
Several studies analyzing all-cause mortality rates (aka all the deaths that occur in a specific group, regardless of the cause) shed light on how coffee could help extend your lifespan.
A report presented at a meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes analyzed the food diaries of more than 3,000 subjects with the disease and found that women with diabetes who consumed 100 mg of caffeine (the equivalent of one cup of coffee) daily were 51% less likely to die from any disease compared to their caffeine-free counterparts. What’s more, those who upped their caffeine intake from 100 mg to 200 mg a day saw that figure jump to 57%.
The benefits of more than one cup of coffee a day
If you’re someone who can’t stop at a cup or two a day, you’ll experience even more health perks!
4 cups of coffee a day reduces your risk of depression
“The effect of high-polyphenol coffee on mood is phenomenal,” Dr. Arnot says, explaining that the combination of these polyphenols along with coffee’s caffeine can actually impact our brain chemistry to make us feel happier. And Harvard research backs this up. Their study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that the risk of depression sank by 20% among women who drank four or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day. The long-term study included 50,000 women whose health habits were tracked over a decade. The researchers suggest that coffee’s effect on energizing the central nervous system is likely the reason for this benefit.
4 cups of coffee a day reduces the risk of skin cancer
We apply sunscreen whenever we’re outside and we also eat foods high in vitamin D, two strategies that help keep our skin healthy. But research suggests daily coffee consumption might also help maintain the body’s largest organ. In a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that study subjects who drank more than four cups of coffee each day had a 20% lower risk of developing melanoma over 10 years. (Click through for more ways to prevent skin cancer.)
4 cups of coffee a day calms rosacea
In an international study led by Brown and Harvard universities, researchers observed 82,737 women and their coffee consumption over a 14-year period, focusing on the connection between caffeine intake and rosacea, a common skin condition that causes redness on the face. The results of their study, published in JAMA Dermatology, revealed that women who consumed the most caffeine — more than four cups of coffee per day — were 23% less likely to develop rosacea and more likely to maintain a clear complexton.
Related: End Facial Bloat and Redness With Floral Water You Can Make At Home for Pennies
Which coffee to chose for the most benefits
When it comes to the polyphenols and other compounds that give coffee it’s supreme health powers, not all brews are created equal. “Many coffees are made from low-quality, over-roasted beans that offer very few health benefits,” cautions Dr. Arnot. “And many of the coffee concoctions that are popular today are packed with fat and sugar that block coffee’s positive effects.”
Related:How To Order Flavored Coffee Drinks At Starbucks & Dunkin’ Without Ending Up With a Fat and Calorie Bomb
Dr. Arnot advises buying beans grown at high altitudes from countries like Kenya, Ethiopia and Colombia. “We analyzed beans from all over the world and found that those grown in challenging conditions — places with high altitude where it’s foggy and rainy and windy — produced beans with 20 times more polyphenols.”
He also suggests choosing a light roast coffee (the longer the beans are roasted the more of the beneficial compounds are destroyed) and grinding the beans just before brewing to get the most health bang for your buck. “Plus, the lighter roasts have spectacular flavors, so they don’t need added sugar or cream.”
More good news? Dr. Arnot and his team tested thousands of coffees and found several inexpensive brands that are readily available in the US are loaded with the polyphenols and other anti-oxidants that bring coffee’s impressive health benefits. A few to try: Dunkin’ Donuts Original Blend, McCafe Premium Decaf Medium Roast, Starbucks Veranda Blend Blonde, Eight O’Clock Colombian Medium Roast and Folgers Classic Roast.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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This story was originally published November 16, 2023, 3:18 PM.