- By Jason Lemon For the AJC
Dozens of studies have shown the striking health benefits of coffee. Regardless, many in the general public continue to believe coffee consumption is something to cut back on, not something that has positive implications for those struggling with liver disease, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, among others.
"There's over 19,000 studies done on coffee and health. And it's very well-researched," Andrew Salisbury, Atlanta resident and founder of Purity Organic Coffee, told the AJC. "There's just a huge disconnect between what science knows about coffee and what the general public knows."
While traditional coffee sellers and producers focus primarily on taste, Salisbury founded Purity with health benefits as the main priority.
Health is "the only driver" for decisions made throughout the production process of Purity coffee, Salisbury explained.
After his wife experienced some health issues three years ago, and self-medicated with coffee, Salisbury began researching coffee for himself. He was blown away by the scientific research demonstrating its positive effects. With the goal of getting the information out, he began researching to see how the health benefits could be maximized and promoted.
"We didn't know if we were going to have coffee that tastes like ditch water, or if we were going to have coffee that people have to pay $200 per pound (for)," he said. "But, it ended up being fantastic organic coffee that tasted great, and we made every decision based on health."
Many of coffee's health benefits stem from its high level of antioxidants. Experts often cite coffee as the highest source of antioxidants in the typical American diet. At the same time, drinking coffee for its natural health benefits hasn't quite caught on.
In November, the BMJ – a British medical journal – published a scientific review by researchers from the University of Southampton, which examined 201 observational studies analyzing the health of coffee drinkers. According to the review's findings, while some health issues are associated with coffee, research suggests that the benefits of moderate coffee consumption overshadow potential problems.
"There is a balance of risks in life, and the benefits of moderate consumption of coffee seem to outweigh the risks," Professor Paul Roderick, from Southhampton's faculty of medicine and the co-author of the review, said, according to the BBC.
The research suggests that three to four cups of coffee provide the maximum level of health benefits, except among pregnant women who should avoid consuming more than 200 mg of caffeine daily. Too much caffeine during pregnancy has been linked to an increase risk of miscarriage.
Overall, when coffee drinkers are compared to those who don't drink coffee, regular consumers appear to have a lower risk of death from all causes, including heart disease.
"I have yet to come across a patient with cirrhosis of the liver who regularly drank four to five cups of regular coffee a day,"Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, MACP professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who sits on Purity's advisory board, told AJC.
"The beneficial effect is not the caffeine, but ingredients such as Kawheol and Cafestol which protect the liver in experimental animal models of liver injury. Coffee also contains chlorogenic acid which is one of the richest antioxidants," Chopra explained.
But as Salisbury points out, although many have been focusing on the amount of coffee to drink, there's a more important question to ask.
"The questions should be, what's the quality of coffee that I'm drinking? And what gives me the most antioxidants in my coffee?," he pointed out. "That's where I think people are a little bit off base. They are treating coffee as if it's all equal and it's not."
For instance, the way coffee is grown, harvested and roasted can significantly impact the level of antioxidants. Over-roasting or under-roasting can also produce compounds that are potentially hazardous to human health. Salisbury explained that many factors, including the coffee's level of freshness, can impact the amount of antioxidants in each cup.
If you want to maximize the health benefits when choosing coffee, there are several factors to consider.
"If you go into your Whole Foods and you're looking for a coffee, you want an organic coffee, it needs to be specialty grade, because that will be a lot higher quality," Salisbury explained. "And you want a medium roast coffee," he added, emphasizing the risks of under-roasting or over-roasting.
When it comes to people who have pre-diabetes or at risk for liver disease, coffee might be an easy and natural addition to their daily diet positively impacting their health. Salisbury suggests that people start focusing on their coffee consumption as a way to address health risks.
So, if one of your new year's resolutions was to cut back on coffee, you may want to reconsider. Instead of trying to reduce your consumption, you may want to take a closer look at what quality of coffee you're drinking.