Get the latest information about the ways that drinking coffee can improve your health.
Health Benefits of Coffee
Credit: Lee Harrelson; Styling: Virginia Cravens Houston

When it comes to life's necessities, many of us would say a good cup of coffee ranks pretty darned high – right up there with shelter, friends, and comfortable shoes. But there's more to love about your morning java than its alluring aroma or friendly kick. Once maligned (too much caffeine! the devil's brew!), coffee is now being praised as a kind of health food, thanks to its high level of disease-fighting antioxidants and other nutrients. In fact, the coffee bean's roasting process actually intensifies some of these compounds, making them more powerful. The bottom line? As long as you don't overdo it – stick to no more than two or three cups a day, and watch the calories in those fancy lattes – there's no reason not to indulge. Here are some of the ways coffee can make you feel better and even live longer – plus tasty ways to enjoy your joe.

What Coffee Can Do For You

1. Fight cancer. Recent studies suggest regular coffee drinking can reduce the risk of breast, liver, and colon cancer. In some cases, you don't even have to drink coffee to gain the benefits: Lotions containing caffeine from coffee and green tea have been found to prevent skin cancer.

2. Prevent diabetes. An 11-year study of 28,000 women in Iowa found that regular coffee drinkers had less risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-drinkers. Heavy coffee drinkers (6 or more cups a day) are about half as likely to have diabetes as light coffee drinkers or those who don't drink coffee at all.

3. Help your heart. In a huge study that followed nearly 42,000 postmenopausal women for 15 years, researchers found that regular coffee consumption reduced the risk of heart disease. In another study that tracked 129,000 men and women for 20 years, those who drank several cups of coffee a day were 34 percent less likely to die from heart disease than non-coffee drinkers. Experts say coffee's antioxidants helps fight inflammation, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

4. Protect against Parkinson's. Several studies show regular coffee drinkers are up to 80 percent less likely to develop the disease, compared to those who abstain. The more you drink, the lower your risk, some of those studies say.

5. Boost your mood. Feeling a little blue? A steaming cuppa joe could make you smile. Caffeine stimulates the production of dopamine, a brain chemical related to pleasure and motivation. Just take care not to overdo it – too much caffeine can cause anxiety and sleeplessness.

6. Zap a headache. While it's true coffee can trigger headaches in some people, it can also be a short-term cure for others. Researchers at the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago found that 200 milligrams of caffeine – about the amount in a cup of coffee – provided as much pain relief as 400 milligrams of ibuprofen and worked faster than the medication.

7. Fight cavities. Your morning mocha just may improve your smile. Scientists say coffee made from roasted coffee beans contains antibacterial properties, plus molecules that keep cavity-causing microorganisms from sticking to tooth enamel.

8. Keep you sharp. Caffeine revs up your metabolism, helping you stay focused and alert. Studies have also shown the stimulant improves short-term memory and may help protect against Alzheimer's disease.

Of course, there are people who have health conditions that may be aggravated by caffeine or other substances in coffee. Coffee can increase heart rate and blood pressure, and, although the advice to avoid coffee during pregnancy is being debated, most health care professionals are still recommending that pregnant women avoid or limit coffee consumption. Consult a physician or a dietitian if you have questions about coffee intake and your health.