Five Surprising Ways That Drinking Coffee Makes You Healthier

By Muk Eun Ji / last month

For many people, a morning without coffee is only slightly less excruciating than being hanged, drawn and quartered. The prospect of forswearing coffee entirely is inconceivable. Fortunately, you can now indulge in your morning cup of joe without guilt; recent studies have suggested that it may have unexpected health benefits. Check it out:

1. Reduced Risk of Diabetes

Doctor taking sample of diabetic patient's blood using lancet pen

Doctor taking sample of diabetic patient's blood using lancet pen

Multiple studies have shown a correlation between coffee consumption and lower rates of type 2 diabetes, but until recently the relationship was poorly understood. Researchers from UCLA, however, are now suggesting that coffee—or, more specifically, the caffeine in the coffee—may increase blood levels of a protein that regulates sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen, which have been linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. Given that type 2 diabetes accounts for roughly 90 percent of diabetes cases and can lead to poor circulation, strokes, kidney failure and heart attacks, these findings are worth paying attention to.

2. Reduced Risk of Cancer

At least among developed countries, cancer is probably the most dreaded of diseases. Coffee drinkers, however, can rejoice; for reasons that are not yet entirely understood, the beverage seems to play a preventative role in the development of some cancers.

A woman with cancer is sitting in a wheelchair

A woman with cancer is sitting in a wheelchair

For example, researchers at Rutgers recently uncovered a link between increased caffeine consumption and decreased rates of skin cancer—specifically, one 8-ounce cup of coffee per day reduced skin cancer rates by about 5 percent, with higher rates of consumption showing a correspondingly lower risk.

However, it must be noted that where skin cancer in particular is concerned, women appear to benefit disproportionately from the effects of caffeine; a Harvard study found that while women who drank three cups of coffee a day were 20 percent less likely to develop basal cell skin carcinoma, the risk for men who consumed the same amount of caffeine was reduced by only 9 percent.

There is, however, good news for men. According to researchers at Harvard, drinking coffee—regular or decaf—was associated with lower rates of aggressive prostate cancer. On the flip side, several studies have suggested that high rates of caffeine consumption in women may moderately reduce the risk of breast cancer, although these findings may apply only to postmenopausal cancers.

Finally, coffee consumption appears to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, although exactly how effective it is remains uncertain; various studies have found that those who consume the most coffee enjoy a risk reduction of anywhere from 24 to 56 percent.

3. Protection Against Some Degenerative Diseases

Coffee may also offer protection against Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. While it has long been observed that coffee consumption during middle and old age is associated with lower rates of Alzheimer’s, a new study from the University of South Florida may offer some clues as to why.

Close up young man having a backache on yellow background

Close up young man having a backache on yellow background

According to these researchers, the interaction of caffeine and some as yet unknown ingredient in the coffee appears to boost blood levels of a growth factor found at abnormally low levels in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Bear in mind, however, that these findings apply only to those with a fairly high rate of caffeine consumption—that is, four or more cups per day.

By contrast, a mere two to three cups of coffee per day may be enough to reduce your risk of Parkinson’s by 25 to 30 percent. On the other hand, a 2010 study suggests that these benefits may only apply to those who carry a gene that amplifies the effect of the caffeine. Still, given that a quarter of the population is thought to possess this gene, drinking coffee certainly won’t hurt you.

4. Liver Protection

It’s always nice when one vice cancels out another. Scientists have known about the link between alcohol consumption and liver damage for years, but what has only recently come to light is the role coffee may play in protecting the liver. Multiple studies have revealed that the risk of alcohol-related cirrhosis is greatly reduced among coffee drinkers—perhaps by as much as 80 percent in those who drink four or more cups of coffee a day. Moreover, other research suggests that in enjoying their morning pick-me-up, coffee drinkers may be halving their risk of liver cancer.

5. Reduced Risk of Depression

For all those who feel grumpy when they miss their morning coffee, this one may seem like a no-brainer. However, the focus of this Harvard study is not the run-of-the-mill gloominess we all experience now and then, but rather clinical depression—a serious disease with a lifetime prevalence of roughly 20 percent in the United States.

That the risk of depression was found to be 20 percent lower among coffee drinkers is therefore nothing to sneer at. Unfortunately, these benefits again appear to be restricted to women, but given that depression is more common in women to begin with, the findings are still significant. Be careful, though—too much caffeine can lead to irritability and even anxiety.

About the author

Muk Eun Ji