New Castle News


May 5, 2014

Mitchel Olszak: Jitters about the health effects of coffee remain unfounded

NEW CASTLE — I drink plenty of coffee.

The reasons are mainly two-fold. First, I like it. Second, it’s something of an occupational hazard. Traditionally, coffee and the news business go hand in hand.

So do journalism and alcohol, but that’s a different story.

Because of my heavy coffee consumption (usually reaching as much as eight cups a day), I tend to pay attention to medical research on the beverage and how it impacts human health.

Coffee is noted for the jolt of caffeine it provides, a fairly powerful and addictive stimulant. It’s probably reasonable to say that of all the products humans typically consume, coffee is near the top of the list of those examined for their effects on health.

The reasons for such extensive studies probably stem from the fact coffee is a popular beverage, as well as the understandable assumption that anything addictive has to be bad for you.

But as it turns out, all the studies about the health impacts of coffee appear to show that it’s something of a wash.

According to a website maintained by the Harvard School of Public Health, there are some concerns about coffee contributing to high blood pressure. But if so, the link is minimal. On the other hand, recent evidence suggests coffee consumption helps to protect against the effects of Type 2 diabetes.

Overall, there appear to be no increased risks of heart disease or cancer from drinking coffee. As for overdosing on caffeine, you would have to drink about 75 cups of java before reaching deadly levels.

There is one key caveat about the best way to drink coffee: It’s recommended you do so by dripping it through a paper filter. The filter blocks a substance in coffee that can raise the level of bad cholesterol in the blood.

Of course, if you are a regular reader of health news, you may have come across some reports suggesting the harmful effects of caffeine. But the Harvard website indicates these studies may have been flawed, because of the complexities associated with coffee in our culture.

For instance, many coffee drinkers also smoke. It’s believed some studies may have failed to properly separate the two.

And lots of folks who drink lots of coffee tend to sit around while they do so. Statistically, sedentary people have health and fitness issues that really aren’t caused by the coffee they are drinking.

One of the interesting aspects of medical research into coffee is the discovery that it’s far more than a caffeine delivery system. Coffee, it turns out, is chock full of a variety of chemicals whose full effects have yet to be mapped out.

This presents the opportunity for even more research into coffee. You can practically hear all those university printers churning out grant applications.

In the meantime, I have no real reason to refrain from my morning pot of coffee — even if it takes me into the afternoon.

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