Why You're Reading Coffee Health Studies All Wrong
Hey coffee drinker, did you see that new research suggests moderate coffee consumption can prevent Alzheimer's? A new study claims that consuming three to five cups of coffee per day can help offset age-related cognitive decline, meaning that your morning cup(s) of coffee can help prevent you from getting dementia and Alzheimer's. In fact, the researchers suggested that moderate coffee consumption can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's by up to 27 percent. Not a terrible reason to have more than just one cup of the stuff in the morning, is it?
If you feel like you're seeing some version of this story every other week, it's not just you: There really is an abundance of weird coffee health studies that seem to suggest that the beverage contains all sorts of mythical health benefits. It's easy to wonder if coffee is good for you, given the avalanche of information out there. Deciphering which coffee studies are sound and which are bogus isn't super easy—especially when media outlets distort the real findings behind most of these scientific breakthroughs. But our top Breakfast Scientists are on the case, and are here to help you make sense of what's in your mug.
Claim: Coffee Can Prevent Dementia and Alzheimer's
Studies on the link between coffee and Alzheimer's may sound promising, but most of the actual results are either overblown or just plain incorrect. A study published in the Journal of Gerontology came to a conclusion that women who consumed more coffee than your average drinker saw fewer incidences of dementia and cognitive impairment. But that's just a long way of saying "what a coincidence." The authors of the study do not suggest that there's a definitive link, even if the flurry of news stories about the research did. And when it comes to Alzheimer's prevention, even the newest crop of drugs can't seem to do much to forestall or prevent the disease from getting worse. The closest anyone's come to preventing Alzheimer's comes to us by way of a large-scale drug trial of a medicine that removes protein fragments—known as amyloid—from the brain. And even this test isn't a sure bet, as previous trials have resulted in success rates of under one percent.
Claim: Antioxidants in Coffee Can Prevent Cancer
We've all heard plenty of pseudoscientific banter about antioxidants: they're helpful, fight cancer, and are all-around amazing. Apparently, coffee is full of antioxidants and is the leading source of them for most Americans. But how many of us know what antioxidants actually are? Moreover, who among us can say we know how antioxidants work?
According to the National Cancer Institute, antioxidants are chemicals that neutralize free radicals, a group of chemical compounds that wreak havoc on cells within our bodies. The human body creates its own antioxidants, but can also ingest these chemicals from foods and other sources to help bolster a person's naturally made supply.
Coffee's chock full of antioxidants, but not every antioxidant is created the same. The main antioxidants in coffee—chlorogenic acids, eugenol, gamma-tocopherol, isoeugenol, p-coumaric acid, scopoletin, and tannic acid—have shown some positive effects in cancer treatment, mostly by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells that already exist in the body. But saying that coffee can prevent cancer as a result of this research requires a lot of logical gymnastics.
Claim: Coffee Can Prevent Type-2 Diabetes
This claim is tricky for a few reasons. First, the findings of some studies suggest that caffeine can help inhibit sugar metabolism after a meal, which can have positive effects for people with Type-2 diabetes (less sugar absorption means less need for the body to produce insulin). Second, another study's findings suggested that caffeine consumption can limit the occurrence of Type-2 diabetes, but cautioned that other factors like diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices, could have an impact on the end results. Yet again, there's no smoking gun that cements a link between coffee and diabetes prevention—just a few promising studies that suggest a link might be possible after more research is done on the matter.
Claim: Too Much Coffee Is Bad for the Heart
You've heard this one before: Too much coffee can make your heart flutter, or even cause a heart attack. But like most health claims about coffee, this one appears to be bogus too. Granted, coffee does lead to high blood pressure, but only temporarily. Most people don't even feel the difference, let alone suffer from any adverse health effects as a result. And as far as heart disease goes, most research suggests that there is no link between coffee and heart problems for healthy people. Early research suggested otherwise, but largely omitted to take out poor dietary choices and smoking from their findings. Even the American Heart Association says that, unless otherwise instructed, having a few cups of coffee is fine for your ticker. Although you might want to stay away from overly caffeinated drinks (put down the Asskicker coffee) so you don't risk finding out about unknown heart problems the hard way.
Claim: Coffee Makes You Smarter/Faster/Stronger/Leaner
If this one were true, I'd have the brains of Stephen Hawking, the speed of Usain Bolt, and the rugged good looks of Liam Hemsworth. But anyone can debunk this claim by standing within eye- or earshot of me for about ten seconds. Sure, you can think quicker and move faster after a cup of coffee, but that's because caffeine blocks the release of Adenosine, a neurotransmitter that allows other brain chemicals—such as dopamine and norepinephrine—to be felt more acutely. Coffee itself doesn't make you smarter or more agile. All it does is suppress inhibitive brain chemicals that allow other compounds to shine. And when it comes to losing weight, coffee only really proves useful because caffeine is a stimulant. If you were to simply take caffeine pills (and aren't named Jessie Spano), you could benefit from the same effects. Our advice? Don't get so excited that you just can't hide it.
Claim: Coffee Can Decrease Your Risk of Dying
Sorry pal, everyone dies at some point. Coffee isn't gonna help you there.