Want to Fight Cancer? Help Your Heart? Get Fitter? Drink Coffee.

Alex McMillan

Alex McMillan

Head Trainer, Mid Age Man

Drinking coffee reduces the risk of cancer, heart attack, cardiovascular disease, and premature death in general. It's particularly good for your liver. And it's a good idea to drink coffee before a workout, since it improves exercise performance.

I’m writing this while enjoying my morning coffee. Turns out it’s good for me, too. And I should go back for several cups more.

Coffee benefits your body, and the best effects are felt when people drink three to four cups per day, according to new research. But even seven cups a day is good for us, reducing premature death by 10%.

Drinking coffee reduces the risk of cancer, heart attack, cardiovascular disease, and premature death in general, the new study shows. It fights off prostate cancer, skin cancer, liver cancer, and uterine cancer in a woman’s womb. It is really good for your liver.

High coffee consumption reduces cancer risk by 18%, according to the report, a “study of studies” by British researchers that they call an “umbrella review” of existing research. It also lowers the risk of a host of nerve, metabolic and liver conditions.

Drink three cups of coffee a day, and you are 30% less likely to die from a stroke. You are 19% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease. And you are 16% less likely to die from coronary heart disease, in other words a heart attack.

All these findings are quite surprising to me, since I figured the job of processing a drink as strong as coffee might not do an organ like the liver any good.

But it does! Drinking coffee very conclusively benefits your health.

I’ve often championed coffee consumption before a workout, because research shows it improves exercise performance. I now drink a cup of coffee, sometimes even a Thermos-flask full, before and during a session at the gym. It’s not something I would have done so keenly had I not already done a little reading into the research that’s already out there. And I’m definitely going to continue doing it now.

Roasted coffee is a “complex mixture” of more than 1,000 bioactive compounds, including antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, anti-fibrotics, and anti-cancer agents.

Coffee also cuts your appetite and contributes to weight loss, so it’s particularly useful to people who want to lose weight. (That’s not in the new study: just a little bonus!). Still, I had a little hunch that the small speed-up that you feel of your pulse due to the caffeine in coffee might not be the best thing for you in the long run.

I was wrong. Coffee gives your liver a good workout, too. It helps prevent liver cirrhosis and liver cancer, gallstones and even gout. In fact, the scientists concluded, the benefits to the liver “stand out” as “consistently having the highest magnitude compared with other outcomes across exposure categories.”

Translation from science jargon: coffee is especially good for your liver.

The scientists tracked down 201 observational studies of what coffee does to you. This kind of meta-study essentially negates the point of view that “Today the scientists say one thing, tomorrow another,” which to be honest is an unscientific and irritating response to research into health. That kind of reaction is not useful, and does not mean you can just go ahead and eat and drink whatever you want.

This time, a team of medical researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Edinburgh have done the work for us, and removed the guesswork. Fair enough, they note that previous studies have had “mixed conclusions” about the benefits of drinking coffee. But their findings are very conclusive that coffee is good for you.

The top six causes of death, according to the World Health Organization, are:  heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, bronchitis/emphysema (normally caused by smoking), lung cancer and diabetes.

Coffee combats nearly all of them. It doesn’t do you much good if you enjoy a smoke with your coffee (it doesn’t really work on the lungs). But it wards off depression, fights Parkinson’s disease, and lowers the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease. Coffee reduces the risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes. Coffee even reduces the risk of incontinence.

It’s not quite all good. Pregnant women should likely avoid drinking coffee early in a pregnancy, since it may result in lower birth weight of the baby. And women who are at risk of bone fractures should also be wary.

Still, this seems to be because caffeine reduces bone density in women who don’t have enough calcium, by assumption probably also associated with pregnancy, so adding milk to your coffee could counteract that. There’s no such effect on bones in men. The relationship with bone fractures in women is “uncertain but warrants further investigation.”

Any downside to drinking coffee is more than outweighed by a very big upside.

Why? Well, there’s a reason beyond taste that people have been drawn to gathering the green cherry on coffee bushes, drying and roasting them, grinding them up, shoving them in hot water, and swishing it into our mouths.

Roasted coffee is a “complex mixture” of more than 1,000 bioactive compounds, this latest study explains. Some of them act as antioxidants (which eliminate free radicals, harmful rogue molecules produced during oxidation), anti-inflammatories (reducing swelling and soreness), anti-fibrotics (preventing harmful excess connective tissue from growing in an organ), and anti-cancer agents.

The key active compounds in coffee are: caffeine, chlorogenic acid, cafestol and kahweol. These last two are diterpenes, natural chemical compounds that reduce inflammation and kill nasty microbe bugs.

Kahweol appears to help create bone cells that maintain and repair the bones of our skeleton. Cafestol seems to help us control cholesterol and even protect our nerves, for instance fighting Parkinson’s disease. Both of them detoxify our body and stimulate the body’s defenses.

Incidentally, the names are somewhat similar because they all come from the Arabic word “A-hah-wa” that gave us the word “coffee.” Which technically is known as Coffea Arabica and Coffea Robusta. In French, kawa is slang for coffee.

Chlorogenic acid is the most-common antioxidant in coffee, followed by caffeine. All these antioxidants knocking around after drinking a cuppa Joe explain why coffee combats liver fibrosis, cirrhosis and cancer.

Interestingly, coffee is a better antioxidant than tea, fruit and vegetables, all things I would also encourage you to consume. Decaf coffee still has positive effects on reducing premature death and heart disease, but isn’t as good at fighting cancer as caffeine-charged coffee.

Coffee has different effects on each of us due to our genetics and our unique gut microbiome. We should make our best guess, ideally backed by the best research, as to what’s healthy and good for us to eat.

To be honest, it’s pretty simple. Natural unprocessed foods are the best sources of the body’s building blocks (carbs, fats, protein), vitamins, minerals, fiber … You name it, what we need is there in what comes right off the plant or farm.

What we should not be eating is all the processed crap that big food companies churn out. For the most part, the processing is designed to extend the shelf life of products, rather than to improve the flavor. Certainly not to do anything good to you.

Yes, there are multiple studies of all kinds of food. That they come to different conclusions is not all that surprising since they are different studies that each take a different approach. We need to make sense of them to the best of our ability, not just throw up our hands and say, “Scientists these days! Honestly!”.

The bottom line: coffee is particularly good for your liver and “is also beneficially associated with a range of other health outcomes and importantly does not seem to have definitive harmful associations with any outcomes outside of pregnancy.”

Translation: keep drinking coffee. It does a lot of good and, unless you’re pregnant, no harm.

I gave up drinking coffee for a very long time. When I worked at CNN, there was a machine with free coffee. I always tend to overdo things, and my pulse would be racing and hands shaking after my sixth cup …

But coffee has crept back up on me. Looks like I should keep going with that caffeinated kick.

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About the author

Alex McMillan

Alex McMillan

Head trainer at Mid Age Man. Alex believes there are four pillars to being healthy: physical fitness, sensible nutrition, mental strength, and wellbeing for your body and soul.

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