Here’s what drinking coffee actually does to your body

Chances are you drink coffee every day without giving it a second thought. You probably put a lot of thought into the foods you eat, possibly adopting the KETO diet, clean eating diet, or Mediterranean diet. But have you ever stopped and though about the drinks you are consumer and wondered, “Is this even good for me?”.

There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there offering a varying degree of opinions on caffeine and how coffee interacts with the body. And that’s because coffee has gone through quite the transformation in recent years.

We now have coffee spiked cosmetics, coffee grounds as a seasoning, and home kits for brewing coffee and cold brew populate Millennial countertops across the country.

But let’s not forget the biggest contributor to coffee’s meteoric rise in popular culture. Every corner is now dominated by the familiar green logo emblazoned with a white mermaid. In Chicago alone, there are 796 Starbucks. This includes a 35,000 sq ft. location predicted to roast nearly 200,000 pounds of coffee beans annually. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery Chicago was so highly anticipated that Rewards members admittedly skipped work to attend its grand opening.

“ I love the space. It’s very unique, and everyone is friendly, and this location — it is in the heart of where everyone wants to be.”

In April 2020, Pepsi will release a line of canned coffee-infused cola beverages under the name Pepsi Cafe. Coca-Cola is not far behind with Coke Plus Coffee potentially making its US debut in 2020 to compete.

It’s not just large chains bringing coffee into mainstream culture. There are thousands of boutique roasteries, hipster cafes, and one-off shops paving the way for coffee trends in 2020 and beyond. From nitro cold brew to health-conscious blends, coffee drinkers are expecting more than the traditional black sludge.

The truth is, a lot goes on under the surface that we don’t even think about. Here’s everything you need to know:

Why Coffee Keeps You Awake

Let’s digress for a moment and look at what coffee’s most polarizing stimulant does to your central nervous system. Caffeine acts on a chemical in your brain called adenosine. According to neurologist Ajay Sampat, M.D., “Adenosine is like a sleep-inducing molecule that your brain makes while you’re awake. The longer you’re awake, the more adenosine you have in your system.”

He further explains that caffeine is essentially an adenosine antagonist, binding to molecules of adenosine and lessening its sleep-inducing effects.

Caffeine is so effective because it peaks right away and then lingers in your system for hours. Typically, the half-life of caffeine is around four to six hours, meaning that four to six hours after consumption, about half of that caffeine is still in your system.

One of the biggest knocks against coffee is the disruption it can have on healthy sleep cycles.

“Caffeine can increase your arousal frequency — how many times your brain wakes up each night, though you may not remember.”

However, some studies have begun to debunk this claim.

Professionals from Harvard Medical School and Flordia Atlantic University studied 785 people for a total of 5,164 days and nights, arriving at the conclusion that beverages containing caffeine are less likely to cause sleep disturbances than most of us think.

It often depends on the individual. If you have had a cup of coffee every evening for twenty years, you may not have trouble sleeping.

What research says about coffee consumption

While drinking coffee has been linked to all sorts of health benefits and issues, there are a few elements clouding our understanding. Again, coffee appears to affect everyone differently. Some people get headaches and restlessness from a simple cup of black coffee. Others are able to take down multiple espresso shots without noticing much of a difference.

Part of this stems from tolerance. There are also tons of different variables that come into play.

In Harvard Health Publishing, Dr. Stephen Juraschek, an internal medicine specialist says, “While caffeine can give you a temporary mental and physical boost, its impact depends on how much you consume and the source”.

This is what a lot of people forget: there’s a big difference between drinking one or two servings of black coffee every day and making multiple trips to Starbucks for a Cinnamon Roll Frappuccino.

Research at Duke University shows that daily consumption of caffeine in coffee, tea, or soft drinks increased participants’ daily sugar levels by nearly 10 percent, boosting their risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity. Even if you avoid loads of sugars and fats dumped in a latte, just adding cream and sugar to your homebrewed coffee could quickly skyrocket to over 200 calories per serving.

Drinking Coffee Can Be Good For You Too

You don’t have to be a medical director to know that coffee is linked to mood spikes, alertness, and overall mental function. May professionals that work late night or early morning hours, like pharmacy managers and construction project managers, rely on coffee to stay alert during their unusual working hours.

A recent article produced by the Italian Longitudinal Study found that coffee consumption habits may even reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

Many of the nutrients in coffee beans make their way into the finished brewed coffee.

A single cup of coffee contains:

  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
  • Manganese and potassium
  • Magnesium and niacin (vitamin B3)

Coffee even shows more antioxidant activity than other highly touted beverages like green tea. There’s also some evidence that coffee may lower the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In fact, a Dutch study analyzing data from more than 37,000 people over a period of 13 years, found that moderate coffee drinkers (who consumed between two to four cups daily) had a 20 percent lower risk of heart disease as compared to heavy or light coffee drinkers, and nondrinkers.

Caffeine is a performance and endurance enhancer; not only does it fight fatigue, but it also strengthens muscle contraction, reduces the exerciser’s perception of pain, and increases fatty acids in the blood, which supports endurance. While some people believe that coffee is dehydrating, it doesn’t have much, if any, interference with exercise if consumed at a reasonable level.

In most cases, coffee appears to promote a number of health benefits- some observational studies even indicate that it can boost our longevity.

Final Thoughts

Despite some of the common misconceptions about coffee, we still need to be careful when choosing our coffee source. Obviously, drinking it the least amount of additional ingredients is best. We often don’t notice or even care to pay attention to the additives a lot of companies include in their beverages, but those ingredients can add up fast.

So how much is safe — or even beneficial? Realistically, you’d consume coffee the way you consume other products of that nature: only when you need it most, and not in large amounts every day, says Laura Juliano, Ph.D., a psychology professor at American University.

This article first appeared on Medium.