Although coffee originates to eleventh century Ethiopia, the first people to roast and brew coffee were the Yemenese, back in the fifteenth century.
Since then, coffee has turned from a noble drink to a common beverage, brewed in palace kitchens, cafes, restaurants, homes, small tent-sized kiosks and corner vendors all around the world.
It is the beverage most consumed in the globe, with over 400 billion cups drank yearly. Yet, coffee is as loved as it is hated, believed by some to benefit the health, by others to be harmful.
Most of those who drink coffee are so enamored by its rich flavor and aroma, they do not believe, or want to believe, that coffee can be harmful to their health. But those who do believe, consider coffee a necessary evil, and some may even try to moderate consumption, but never quit it altogether.
But is coffee good or bad and why?
The active ingredient in coffee is caffeine. Caffeine is a powerful, popular drug, capable to harm and benefit a person, depending on how much is consumed.
It is the one most consumed psychoactive substance in the world, and a stimulant that affects the brain. But caffeine is not only found in coffee, tea, and nuts but also found in painkiller drugs, as well as in fat burning pills.
How can caffeine affect the body?
- Caffeine can act as a brain receptor, taking adenosine’s place – which is a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. Naturally, when caffeine takes adenosine’s place, it makes a person more alert.
- Caffeine affects the central nervous system, letting lose dopamine, which in turn can boost our mood.
- Caffeine also stimulates the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, the hormone responsible for our fight or flight instinct, although this doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing. Adrenaline can be good or bad, depending on the situation.
For one, some people like to drink a cup of coffee before exercising, to boost their energy and help them perform better. Others avoid it prior to an important meeting because caffeine can give them jitters.
But caffeine is not the only substance found in coffee, and this is what distinguishes coffee from other caffeine active foods.
Coffee is also rich in anti-oxidants, minerals, and proteins, some vitamins and fibers, as well as over one thousand other substances. It is a complex beverage, and many of its nutrients make through to the final drink.
Some benefits of coffee may include:
- It can reduce the risk of type II diabetes.
- It can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
- It boosts the energy level.
- It helps with cognitive functions.
- It’s good for the memory.
- It’s good for the digestive tract (because of the dietary fibers).
- It can help prevent cancer (also because of the dietary fiber).
- It can help reduce heart problems.
- It can lessen pain.
- It is good for dieting people, as it can burn fat
Note that although coffee plays a big role in the above-mentioned benefits, coffee does not act alone, as our bodies need adequate amounts of nutrients to work properly. This doesn’t mean that an increase in coffee consumption will add up and provide us with the nutrients the body needs. On the contrary, more than 400mg of caffeine per day (about three to four cups of coffee), can have a negative effect in our health as caffeine affects the central nervous system and adrenal glands.
Some side effects of coffee consumption can be:
Like any other stimulant, caffeine overdose i.e. more than five hundred milligrams per day can have serious effects on an individual, such as:
- Muscle tremors,
- Chest pain,
- Irregular or fast heart rate
- An upset stomach.
As with any other stimulant, caffeine can be addictive, but unlike any other addictive drug, caffeine withdrawal isn’t life-threatening, and it may last from one to ten days, depending on how much coffee that individual consumed daily. Withdrawal symptoms can range from headaches, irritability, a need to sleep, nausea, lethargy, anxiety, fatigue and lack of concentration. As with any addictive drug, overdose can happen when caffeine intake is too high, although drinking plenty of water, exercise and eating food rich in magnesium and potassium can ease some of the high.
It is safe for most healthy adults to take about 400mg to 500mg of caffeine daily, and a cup of coffee contains between 75 to 175 mg of caffeine.
Note that coffee is not the only source of caffeine and that other foods such as chocolate, nuts, and tea are also rich caffeine sources.