Dr. Friedman’s Health Blog

The Latest Buzz on Coffee: Is it Healthy or Not?

By: Dr. David Friedman

Ahhh, there is nothing like the aroma of brewed coffee to start the day! Americans are so crazy over their java, they fork out over $22 billion dollars per year on the stuff! In fact, coffee is now the number one traded commodity in the world, followed by gold and silver. Starbucks, the nation’s leading coffee chain, opens three new stores every single day!

Okay, so coffee is popular and delicious but is it healthy for us?

For decades health experts have warned us of the health risks of drinking coffee – everything from it causing brittle bones, heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety to cancer! Today, research is telling us quite a different story. Studies now show coffee has many health benefits including fighting, not causing the following diseases:

  • Diabetes
  • Skin Cancer
  • Colon and Liver cancer
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Heart Disease


The most impressive research on coffee was published last month in The European Journal of Nutrition. Scientists found that people consuming coffee have a significant reduction in oxidative DNA damage. What that means is coffee drinkers live longer. Regular coffee consumers also have more defined white blood cells. White blood cells are part of the human immune system that protect you from disease and infection. So, basically the studies show coffee drinkers not only live longer but they are also healthier than non coffee drinkers. Quite a difference from what the health experts were saying not too long ago.

All of this conflicting information is leaving me steaming with a latte of confusion!  Is coffee going to kill us or cure us?

First, let’s explore exactly what happens when we drink coffee.

The caffeine in coffee is a central nervous system stimulant which has physiological effects very similar to drugs, such as amphetamine and cocaine. This caffeine can be addictive and if you deprive your body of its java fix, it can lead to withdrawal symptoms like headaches, nausea and light headedness. Okay, it’s addicting; that doesn’t sound good. But since coffee is also loaded with health enhancing phytonutrients, vitamins, and enzymes, is being addicted to it really such a bad thing?

Over the years, doctors have told patients with cardiovascular disease to reduce their intake or completely stop drinking coffee. Now many doctors are advising patients to do the complete opposite and increase their coffee consumption. Huh? Turns out, coffee is good for the heart. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard School of Public Health, concluded that drinking coffee in moderation protects against heart failure. They defined ‘in moderation’ as two 8-ounce servings per day as being able to lower your risk of heart failure by 11%.

While there are many sources of caffeine (soda, energy drinks, tea, and chocolate), only coffee seems to function as an adenosine impersonator. Adenosine is a vital molecule found in the body that helps with our cellular energy, dilates blood vessels, improves circulation, reduces strain on the heart and has anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing properties. Adenosine also helps increase muscular endurance which might explain why so many body builders add black coffee to their daily regimen before heading out to the gym.

Okay, so the real question remains: Is coffee healthy for us?

During my 27 years as a nutritionist, I’ve percolated over whether or not to recommend drinking coffee to my patients. After reviewing all the scientific research coupled with my own clinical experiences, here’s what I believe.

We are all different and every person reacts differently to certain foods and beverages. For example, I love having a bowl of oatmeal in the morning; it makes me feel great! That wouldn’t be the case for a person with a gluten sensitivity. Eating a bowl of oatmeal could cause a horrendous headache, dizziness, fatigue and severe digestive issues. The same goes for coffee. It’s not for everyone.

Let your body speak to you and listen to it!

If you drink a moderate amount of coffee (1-3 cups) per day and it helps you feel alert, puts you in a good mood and makes you more productive at work… then go ahead and enjoy that cup of coffee.

If drinking coffee upsets your stomach, makes you feel jittery, bloated or irritable, coffee isn’t for you. Don’t drink it.

For those of you that drink coffee every day, I can’t stress enough the importance of the word MODERATION!

While there are many studies showing the health benefits of drinking coffee every day, there are just as many studies showing how excess daily consumption can have the opposite effect. For example, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, while moderate amounts of coffee can help the liver to detoxify the body, too much can have the opposite effect and cause liver dysfunction. Research published in The British Journal of Psychologyshows that moderate daily coffee consumption (1-3 cups) can sharpen your thought process and increase concentration; however, too much coffee can cause confusion and stuttering. While coffee in moderation can help people increase muscle tone, high volume or prolonged use can have the opposite effect and cause muscles to dehydrated, cramp and atrophy. If you’re a coffee drinker and suffer from muscle soreness or spasms, it could be from either a lack of water consumption or too much coffee consumption. On average, you should be drinking 8 glasses of water every day. If you’re a coffee drinker who suffers from muscle cramps or spasms, for every cup of coffee you consume, drink two additional glasses of water. This can often remedy your muscle pain.

One last thing to mention.

While black coffee does offer health benefits including weight loss, adding sugar or cream can cause you to gain weight. Adding these to your cup of Joe can also lead to inflammation in the body which causes all types of ailments from arthritis, diabetes, heart disease. If you don’t like your coffee black and want to add a little sweetness, reach for honey or a natural sugar alternative called Xylitol. Instead of cream, reach for coconut or almond milk. While there are some people that can’t tolerate drinking coffee, for most, it seems to have its perks.

About the Author

Dr. David Friedman is the author of the award-winning, #1 national best-selling book Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. He's a  Doctor of Naturopathy, Chiropractic Neurologist, Clinical Nutritionist, Board Certified Alternative Medical Practitioner, and Board Certified in Integrative Medicine.  Dr. Friedman is a syndicated television health expert and host of To Your Good Health Radio, which has changed the face of talk radio by incorporating entertainment, shock value, and solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.

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