What is your morning brew doing to you?

Science 2015-09-29

For millions of us around the world, our day cannot begin without a hot cup of coffee to give us that much-needed pick-me-up. We all know this is thanks to our friend caffeine. But, what else is in coffee and what other effects is it having on us? Since we’re consuming over 400 billion cups of the stuff a year, it’s worth knowing what it’s actually doing to us. To celebrate National Coffee Day, I thought I’d take some time to look into some of the surprising health benefits of coffee.


Firstly, what’s in it? Aside from the obvious water and caffeine, the main ingredients of your brew include Trigonelline, Dimethyl disulphide, 2-Ethyphenol, Quinic acid, Putrescine, 3,5 Dicaffeoylquinic acid, Niacin, cafestol and kahweol, to name a few. That’s all nice to know but what’s the result on our health and body?


Coffee Effects & Benefits


Type II diabetes

Studies have shown that people who drink 3 or more cups of coffee a day were 37% less likely to develop type II diabetes than those who didn’t. The exact ingredient that has this effect is not known. However, caffeine has been ruled out as decaffeinated coffee seems to be more beneficial. It must be stressed that the main risk factor for diabetes is weight. So maintaining a healthy weight is vitally important too, not just your 3 cups of coffee a day (although it does help).



A 10-year study on over 50,000 women reported an inverse dose-response relationship between caffeine consumption and risk of depression. Those who drank 4 or more cups a day were 20% less likely to suffer from depression than their peers who drank little or no coffee at all.  Caffeine is known to give you that feel-good factor by stimulating the release of neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline. It is cautioned that the results of the study may be down to the good mood and energised feeling that coffee provides, meaning the women were more positive when recording their mood symptoms throughout the trial.



A 2015 report by World Cancer Research Fund International concluded that drinking coffee decreases the risk of liver cancer in men.  It’s thought to be a result of two ingredients in coffee: cafestol and kahweol, which were found to reduce genotoxicity by 50% in human-derived hepatoma cells. Elements of coffee have a DNA repair capacity, which exert chemopreventive (cancer prevention) effects.


In in vitro systems coffee has been reported to have anti-angiogenic activity. Angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels, is a vital function in order for tumours to grow and survive. Without this, cancerous tumours will struggle to develop so this could be vital in preventing cancer.


As an aside, coffee is also found to have anti-inflammatory properties, predominantly in the liver. Studies found that coffee inhibited the production of inflammatory markers including IL-6, TGFβ, TNFα and IFN-γ.


Burning fat

It may be a good idea to have a quick cuppa before your next workout as research has found that coffee may increase fat burn during exercise. This is a combination of caffeine increasing your metabolism and coffee causing fat cells to be used as the source of fuel, instead of the usual glycogen. It’s also suggested that coffee may reduce muscle aching during and post-workout, ultimately allowing you to do more. These benefits, combined, make coffee seem like a great idea when considering your next workout.



If all of the above wasn’t enough, a study from 2014 concluded that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee a day could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 20%. Another study even reported a 65% reduced risk in later life! It’s the wealth of antioxidants residing in coffee that are responsible for this. Researchers believe they prevent the formation of the amyloid plaques that are the markers of Alzheimer’s disease. As well as this, they deter any inflammation and decline of brain cells in the areas of the brain responsible for memory: the cortex and hippocampus.



To top it all off, coffee may be to thank for your pearly whites. Trigonelline, a compound I mentioned earlier, was found to prevent mucus by-products from adhering onto our teeth. This prevents the formation of dental cavities. I wouldn’t suggest downing a cup before your next dentist appointment though.


It must be stressed that a balanced diet is the key to leading a healthy life and without that coffee won’t have any of these great benefits. Take these findings with a pinch of salt and still consume coffee within reason. Oh, and sleep is important too, so don’t go downing a few espressos right before bed!


If you’re doing anything special to celebrate National Coffee Day, let me know by tweeting me, @emilyatnotch!