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Coffee Science: It’s a Blend


By Scott LaFee   |   June 27, 2018

​The debate over whether coffee is good or bad for you has been percolating for centuries, a drip-drip-drip of wild rumor and conflicting news. In the 1500s, for example, some folks thought coffee lead to illegal sex. In the 1600s, that it caused impotence. In the 1800s, that coffee might make you go blind.

More recently, advocates and critics have argued that coffee consumption can help you live longer or shorter, improve cardiovascular health (except in younger people who drink lots of it) and increase or decrease cancer risk, depending on the type.

cup of coffee

In a nod to the coffee-may-be-good-for-you camp, German researchers recently described how coffee may be beneficial in part because caffeine triggers a cascade of events in heart cells that ultimately boosts protection of the organ itself.

The findings, published in PLOS Biology, involve the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1B/p27. You know it, of course, as (CDKN1B)p27. OK, maybe you don’t. It’s a complicated paper and frankly, pretty confusing if you don’t have a doctorate in cell biology, biochemistry and a deep interest in mitochondrial function.

So herewith, a quick but admittedly incomplete summation of what we know or think we know or don’t really know: six reasons why that cup of Joe may be good for you and six reasons why you ought to switch to, say, a steaming cup of hot water. (But not too hot!)

The good

  1. Coffee (caffeine) can make you smarter because caffeine boosts neurotransmitters responsible for various aspects of cognitive function, such as memory, mood, reaction times and attention. (Experiment: Try reading the linked scientific literature while sipping a cup.)
  2. Coffee helps you burn fat because it boosts the metabolic rate.
  3. Coffee can reduce muscular pain, at least the post-exercise kind.
  4. Coffee can increase your fiber uptake. Yep, apparently coffee contains fiber.
  5. Coffee reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, heart disease and depression (the last in women at least), multiple sclerosis and colon cancer.
  6. Coffee contributes to stronger DNA .

The bad

  1. Coffee hinders restful sleep.
  2. Coffee is filled with known and suspected carcinogens.
  3. Coffee may raise your blood pressure.
  4. Coffee may cause urinary incontinence (again, in women).
  5. Coffee could reduce female fertility.
  6. Coffee inhibits collagen production, a protein key to elastic, youthful skin.

The bottom line: Sometimes clarity comes with a good latte, sometimes it’s just a latte.