Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Gavin Mahalo.

Judging by the latest research, it’s not hard to imagine a day in the near future that coffee producers may start touting the health benefits of the beverage. From improving cognitive abilities to lowering the risk of some types of cancer (like liver, for example), type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s, it seems that there are some powerful properties packed into a cup of java.

In November 2017, the British Medical Journal published a large-scale review of previously published data about coffee’s health-boosting abilities and found that three to four cups (served black) per day is the ideal amount for those looking to improve their health and stave off cardiovascular disease or stroke, neurological, metabolic and liver disorders.

Coffee linked to a decrease in early death

Earlier in 2017, the positive news came as a result of a European study that looked at 520,000 coffee sippers in 10 countries. It said that regularly drinking coffee could significantly reduce risk of mortality. Another study pegs the risk of early death as being 64 percent lower. The reduction is more significant once coffee consumers hit the age of 45. The current thinking says it may be more beneficial to enjoy more cups of joe as we get older.

In 2018, a slew of research reports touting coffee as a powerful preventor of disease received plenty of media attention. Brazilian scientists discovered that three cups of coffee helped lower CAC (Coronary Artery Calcium – the stuff that can build up and lead to heart attack). And the latest data says that it can help manage an irregular heartbeat. It’s not widely understood why coffee is beneficial to the heart, but the early money is on the fact that the naturally occurring antioxidant plant compounds in the coffee beans play an important role.

Coffee beans have naturally occurring plant oxidants. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Pen Waggener.

In numerous studies that examined coffee’s impact on older adults, many said that it has a positive effect on cognition, improved performance during complex tasks, memory and mood. The oft-cited Rancho Bernardo study from 1996, for example, looked at more than 1,500 participants in Southern California with a median age of 73, and determined that both male and female life-long caffeine consumers scored well in cognitive tests. Those subjects who were ages 80 and older did even better on the tests.

Before you sip

There are caveats, of course, to consider before coffee can even be considered to be a potential superfood. If the coffee is question comes loaded with sugar and fat, many of its health benefits are derailed, so tread lightly when it comes to sweeteners, cream and flavoured syrups. Skip the sugar altogether, if you can. Adding low-fat milk is a good idea, not just as a means of cutting calories, but also to add a bit of calcium – important since caffeine can cause calcium loss.

Those with heart conditions and high blood pressure should enjoy coffee in moderation. Caffeine can accelerate heart rate. One to two cups a daily considered acceptable, but talk to your healthcare provider about the potential impact. And do keep in mind that switching to decaffeinated versions might be helpful, but they still contain some low levels of caffeine.

When it comes to coffee and health, it’s a mixed bag of good and bad. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Perzon Seo.

Looking at the big picture for coffee, there’s good and not-so-good aspects that are worth taking into account before you pour your next cup. Over the last few decades, it has come in and out of favour a number of times among researchers and medical professionals. You could say it’s a case of ‘bean’ there, done that. But, in 2018, coffee is at the forefront again as a potential health booster. Watch this space as more java-centric studies come to light…