Home Blog Coffee Consumption and Health: The Final Word – Part 2

Coffee Consumption and Health: The Final Word – Part 2

Written on November 16, 2011 at 7:49 am, by Eric Cressey

Today marks the second half of an article on coffee consumption from Brian St. Pierre.  In case you missed the first half, check out Coffee Consumption and Health: The Final Word – Part 1.

Alzheimer’s and Coffee?

If you have ever worked in a hospital or assisted-living setting, you know that living with Alzheimer’s disease is not a fun thing. Well, I have some good news for you.

On top of all of the other wonderful benefits coffee has to offer, several studies have also found that people who drink about three cups per day had a marked reduction in cognitive impairment compared to those non-drinkers. Once you got up to four or more cups per day, though, the associated protection disappeared. This protection was not seen with tea or decaf coffee, so the benefit seems to be from the combination of the caffeine and some of coffee’s bioactive compounds.

Now, this is where it gets really interesting.

As noted above some as-yet-unknown bioactive compound in coffee interacts with its caffeine content, and is responsible for its association with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s.  In fact, new research from the University of South Florida found that this combination boosts blood levels of a critical growth factor called GCSF (granulocyte colony stimulating factor) that seems to prevent the formation of Alzheimer’s disease.

GCSF is a substance that people with Alzheimer’s disease have less of than the rest of the population. It has been shown in mice with the disease that increasing GCSF improves memory.

“Caffeinated coffee provides a natural increase in blood GCSF levels,” said USF neuroscientist Dr. Chuanhai Cao, lead author of the study. “The exact way that this occurs is not understood. There is a synergistic interaction between caffeine and some mystery component of coffee that provides this beneficial increase in blood GCSF levels.”

In this study, the researchers compared the effects of regular and decaf coffee to those of caffeine alone.  In both Alzheimer’s mice and normal mice, treatment with regular coffee dramatically increased blood levels of GCSF; neither caffeine alone nor decaf coffee provided this effect.

The researchers identified three ways that GCSF seems to improve memory performance in the Alzheimer’s mice.

First, GCSF recruits stem cells from bone marrow to enter the brain and remove the harmful beta-amyloid protein that initiates the disease. GCSF also creates new connections between brain cells and increases the birth of new neurons in the brain.

It is also important to point out that while this study was performed in mice, the researchers have indicated they also have evidence of this coffee consumption effect in humans and will publish their results soon.

“No synthetic drugs have yet been developed to treat the underlying Alzheimer’s disease process” said Dr. Gary Arendash, the study’s other lead author. “We see no reason why an inherently natural product such as coffee cannot be more beneficial and safer than medications, especially to protect against a disease that takes decades to become apparent after it starts in the brain.”

“Coffee is inexpensive, readily available, easily gets into the brain, appears to directly attack the disease process, and has few side-effects for most of us,” said Dr. Cao.

According to the researchers, no other Alzheimer’s therapy being developed comes close to meeting all these criteria.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t mind enjoying a few cups of inexpensive coffee to significantly decrease my risk of such a debilitating disease.

Conclusion

Just like with all foods (and nutrients for that matter) there is a U-shaped curve on the benefits of coffee for those who can tolerate it. While some studies have found large intakes (5-6 cups) to have significant benefits, other research seems to show that coffee consumption that high tends to trend back down the curve. Some is good, but more might not be better, especially if you are a slow metabolizer.

Looking at the totality of data, it seems that 24oz of coffee per day will maximize the benefits while minimizing the risk. So, feel free to enjoy a few cups of joe and keep your brain, liver, gallbladder, prostate, breasts, upper GI tract, and heart healthy. Top off the day with a few cups of tea and plenty of fresh water, and your fluid intake will do wonders for your health and performance.

Note from EC: Alzheimer’s discussions hit very close to home for my family, as my grandfather passed away just over one year ago following a long battle with the disease.  To that end,  in order to help raise awareness, I’ll be donating $0.10 to the Alzheimer’s Association for every Tweet and Facebook share of this article by Friday at midnight.  You can do so at the top of this page; thanks for your support.

About the Author

Brian St. Pierre is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He received his degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition with a focus in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Maine, and he is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the same institution. He was the Nutritionist and a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA for three years. He is also the author of the Show and Go Nutrition Guide, the accompanying nutrition manual to Eric Cressey’s Show and Go Training System.

With his passion for seeing his clients succeed, Brian is able to use his knowledge, experience, and energy to create highly effective training and nutrition programs for clients of any age and background. For more information, check out his website.

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References

Eskelinen MH, et al. Midlife Coffee and Tea Drinking and the Risk of Late-Life Dementia: A Population-Based CAIDE Study. J Alzheimers Dis. January 2009. 16(1);85-91

Cao C, et al. Caffeine suppresses amyloid-beta levels in plasma and brain of Alzheimer’s disease transgenic mice. J Alzheimers Dis. 2009;17(3):681-97.

  • Great work, Brian!

    Do you suggest organic coffee? I’ve heard that coffee is very highly sprayed with pesticides in some of the countries that it comes from.

    And I’m sure there is some (a lot) subjectivity (based on the feedback that the individual gives you) involved, but how do you determine whether a client/person is a slow metabolizer? I wish it was black and white (i.e. if you feel jittery 3 hours and 35 minutes after consumption, then you are a slow metabolizer. Under 3:35, and you are normal/fast… that would make things a lot easier – ha!) Anyway, do you have some guidelines that you use to determine if one is a slow metabolizer and should steer clear of coffee?

    Thanks!

    Danny

  • Great article.. I’m not going to lie… I was hoping that it was positive towards coffee as I’m a lover of my daily “Cup of Joe”.
    EC, I lost my grandmother to Alzheimers a few year back. It’s a terrible disease that takes what we have lived a lifetime for. Our memories of our life experiences are all that we should have at the end of our time. The scariest part, I imagine, is gradually loosing the memory that took a lifetime to build! I guess the only consolation is knowing that “ignorance is bliss” once the disease completely sets in.

  • Danny,

    The roasting process of making coffee tends to degrade the vast majority of the pesticide residue. There is also debate on the pesticide residue prior to roasting as well, since we are not eating the berry, but simply the “bean” inside the coffeeberry. While I am usually an advocate for organic (if one can afford it), with coffee I feel it is more of a personal choice and less of a health choice.

    Brian

  • Dave

    Suggesting people drink 24 ounces of coffee to prevent a disease that is quite rare doesn’t seem to be a great reason. I agree with the benefits of one cup of coffee for some, but in our high stressed, poor diet, poor sleep, and poor lifestyle society excessive coffee and other caffeine products just contributes to these problems you could find a better study saying that diet, exercise, sleep decrease your chance of almost everything bad. sorry for playing devils advocate as I have nothing wrong with a cup a day but 24 ounces is a little much and was frustrated when I read this as I am constantly trying to cut back on my clients coffee intake to get their natural energy levels up and give their adrenals a break

  • Ashe

    Very interesting information. I’ve read that coffee consumption can increase cortisol production, and I didn’t see that addressed in these two articles. What’s your take on this? I’m already taking a few supplements to mitigate cortisol, working a very stressful job, and have recently managed to reduce my coffee intake. Should I be ramping back up??

  • Great article , thanks for sharing .

    where does coffee fall on the pH scale ? and how does it influence the body pH ? and would that affect the body negatively or positively ?

  • Andrew

    Hello Eric,
    The article points out some good information about coffee and Alzheimer’s prevention. Will there be a part three with a little more pertinent information about coffee and exercise?

    Cheers,

    Andrew

  • moshe richmond

    how does one find out if he is a slow metabolizer
    or a fast one thanks

  • Ray

    Just as in the Dairy article, I believe that you are sidestepping many of the issues/questions that are on our minds. I was looking for a “real” analysis, but you only touch on a fraction of the claims that are made about coffee. Some of the issues have to do with effects on the liver, adrenal gland, cortisol, heartbeat, anxiety, sleep … many others as mentioned in this article: http://getforeverfit.com/docs/What's%20Wrong%20with%20Coffee%20and%20Caffeine.pdf

    You did similar sidestepping in the Dairy article … such as not addressing the impact of the insulin spikes on insulin resistance and weight gain. I don’t think an incomplete analysis and superficial “final word” serve any constructive purpose. I believe that a complete analysis shows that coffee and milk have negatives that far outweigh the benefits and was hoping to see a detailed, educated analysis that I could compare to my other research, but it was so superficial and incomplete that is simply misleads.

  • Ted

    @Charbel – If you are referring to possible benefits of alkaline water on the body’s ph, I’ve done a bit of research on this and found it to be inconsequential – the body regulates it’s ph no matter what the level is in your liquids. As a matter of fact, I’ve read that the ph is slightly acidic in your mouth, highly acidic in your stomach, yet basic in your large intestines. I’ve been told that the reason for this is that the body needs the different ph levels to more readily process the foods we consume.

  • Thank you for your reply, Brian, in yr previous blog entry here.

    To answer yr point, yes, I’d agree that coffee is more natural than some things in energy drinks, but natural does NOT necessarily mean better – example: Poison Oakm Poison Ivy, and snake bites are ALL ‘natural,’ he heh… ;D

    Also, these energy drinks have vitamins, which are chemically identical to their natural counterparts (alth, I admit, maybe not in the same proportion).

    I think your best point was that some people are slow metabolisers and thus can’t tolorate caffeine as much –or, in my case, the ability to metabolise may vary for various reasons (still have lingering caffeine in my system, or maybe i’m just feeling ‘sluggish’ some days).

  • John

    @Ray

    Your article would have been much more credible if it was written with peer reviewed sources. While I do agree that Brian’s article was written with a pro-coffee slant, he at least used several peer reviewed sources between the two articles.

  • Erika

    @John

    Seriously.

  • Dave,

    I would never suggest that coffee is a replacement for adequate sleep; it is simply a helpful adjunct to an otherwise healthy lifestyle. I agree that excessive caffeine in addition to poor diet, inadequate sleep and an overall unhealthy lifestyle is not a good thing. However, 24oz of coffee is not as much as you might think. Most people think of a cup of coffee as one mug, which is about 12oz. Therefore it only requires 2 “cups” to reach that number, which I don’t think is excessive and the data certainly does not indicate that to be excessive. Using coffee to replace adequate sleep and proper nutrition is not a good idea and not what I am suggesting. In the case of your clients your recommendation may be appropriate as professional judgment always comes into play when providing individualized recommendations.

    Ashe,

    Coffee and caffeine does tend to increase cortisol levels, however this is dependent upon several factors. Time of day seems to be a big piece of the puzzle, as well as habitual consumption and whether or not you have hypertension. Cortisol is naturally high in the morning, so if your coffee consumption is say at 6am and 10am (two 12oz cups) then you should be fine as cortisol is naturally higher anyway. Having the second cup later in the day may be more problematic and at that point you may be better off with tea. Habitual consumers do show a diminished response, and those with hypertension show an elevated response, so there is individual variability. If cortisol is a problem for you, you may be best to keep your coffee intake where it is and consume more tea. Again my recommendations were broad, they don’t fit every situation and individual.

    Charbel,

    Thanks. Coffee has a pH of about 5 and there is little data that supports any food’s pH affecting body pH, as it is pretty tightly regulated by the kidneys. Many of the acids in coffee, such as caffeic acid, are what provide some of the health benefits. Research also shows that the acidity of coffee does not affect tooth enamel. It is one of those areas where I think people are missing the forest for the trees. In an otherwise healthy diet the pH is not of concern, much like the GI of a food.

    Andrew,

    What exactly were you looking for? Caffeine is a noted performance enhancer and decreases the rate of perceived exertion and with habitual consumption does not cause dehydration.

    Moshe,

    To truly know would require a genetic test, though I am unsure of how widely available that is (probably not very). In my experience however if you are someone who finds that a cup of coffee keeps them wired and jittery for hours, it is probably not in your best interest to consume. In that case the risks may outweigh the benefits.

    Ray,

    First I want to touch on the dairy comments. Acute insulin spikes do not lead to long-term insulin resistance or weight gain. In fact I would argue that insulin is far from the main driver of adiposity, but that is another discussion for another day. While dairy may not be for everyone I fail to see, and the research certainly fails to indicate, that the risks far outweigh the benefits. In fact it is quite the opposite.

    As for your article, it has some facts intermixed with some fantasy and simply uses books as resources, rather than peer-reviewed research. In the beginning of article 1 I did address some of the potential side effects of coffee including anxiety and sleep disruption. Excessive consumption in an already overstressed person is probably not a good idea, hence why I capped the recommendation at 24oz. The information you are looking for is steeped in conjecture and theory, and not in fact.

    Gordon,

    Yes I realize that natural does not necessarily mean healthy, but when a food that provides the result you are looking for and also provides many other associated health benefits, why choose a synthetic version?

    To All,

    I can’t stress enough that I was simply providing a broad recommendation. Each individual may or may not require a different intake depending on many factors that are far beyond the scope of this article. That is where professional judgment and using a results-based model comes into play.

  • Chris Norton

    This is what happens when you rely solely on studies done on Westerners and don’t take into account the health of traditional cultures. Take a degenerate human being and compare to another degenerate human being, big deal. And with a disease like cancer that is strictly confined to Westerners and never seen in traditional cultures, there are way too many factors involved to say “do this or don’t do that if you don’t want cancer”.

    Anyone can find a study as hold it up as a standard for their particular “schtick”. “X” is held up as the cure all….”take fish oil!”…..”get your omega 3s!”…..”limit saturated fat!”….”get plenty of anti-oxidants in healthy fruits and veggies!”. Yet there have been healthy population groups that have thrived (and never had cancer) never eating a bunch of supposed health foods and never letting coffee touch their lips.

    Broaden your perspective before holding coffee up as the health idol of human worship.

  • dave

    best point from ray’s posted link. Fatique is not a coffee deficiency

  • Matt Hicks

    Brian,
    It is very interesting that regular coffee and decaf have such a large difference in effectiveness of raising GCSF as compared to caffeine. I was wondering if you have seen any studies that have looked at decaf coffee + supplemental caffeine, does this have the same effect as regular coffee or does it have the same effect as decaf? I am thinking that instead of a synergy between the substances in coffee and caffeine, it could also be a compound that is similar to caffeine chemically that is ALSO extracted when the beans go though the decaffeination process. If this is the case then coffees that are decaffeinated with different processed (Swiss Water, Ethyl Acetate, Methylene Chloride, Supercritical CO2, etc) may have different effects depending on exactly what compounds they extract and what they don’t. The subtleties of decaffeination processes are not widely understood outside the coffee industry, so I would be very interested to hear if they had been controlled for in the studies.

    I was also hoping that you would comment on the health implications of coffee oils in coffee that is brewed with methods that allow it into the brew. That would be methods such as press-pot, espresso, cloth filtration, etc, as opposed to methods like paper filter filtration that doesn’t allow the coffee oils through. I have read in the past that coffee oils can lead to a degradation in blood lipid profiles, although I am not sure how accurate this is. Do you have any information on this?

  • Vin

    Well balanced review, Brian!

    Similar to chocolate, I think a good perspective on coffee is that while it’s comforting to know it may actually provide some benefit, this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go out of your way to consume it for health purposes.

    Many people drink a lot of coffee and rely on it as a stimulant. As such, if it’s true that caffeine invokes the stress response as is currently believed, this reliance is asking for trouble long term.

    I think it’s also important for coffee drinkers to know that since most beans are imported, they may be exposed to pesticides that are outlawed in the US. Coffee may be one of those cases where it’s especially worth while to invest in organic.

    Vin

  • Neil

    Hey Brian,
    Great series! I loved it! I was just curious on your thoughts regarding coffee choice. Is it best to stick with an original coffee brew or is it ok to consume different flavors such as hazelnut, pumpkin spice, irish creme, etc.?

  • Lindsay

    Hey Brian!

    Great article! I thought that it was very factual and I liked that you provided a lot of peer reviewed articles to back up your data. I had a question as to how coffee can affect your Kidneys: I used to get bladder infections all the time, and then about 5-6 years ago, I was sent to the hospital for a kidney infection. I don’t consume pop, however, at that time, I consumed a LOT of coffee. I had about 4 cups/day. I know that you stated that the pH level of coffee is 5 and that the kidney’s are strong enough to regulate the coffee. Anyways, the doctors told me to cut coffee out completely: my infections were diminished. With that being said, do you think that the caffeine could have played a role in my infection? Or would you state that I’m a slow metabolizer? I drink 1-2 cups of coffee a day and am very content with that! I’m just trying to figure out how our body processes caffeine and if the acid COULD be too much for some. thanks!

  • Dave,

    I agree, fatigue is not a coffee deficiency. Coffee is not sleep in a cup.

    Matt,

    I can’t say for sure but I believe I remember looking at a study using decaf coffee or coffee extract and theophylline (a caffeine metabolite) and it did not find the same benefit. In a similar vein some of the research on mice looked at coffee, decaf coffee, or caffeine alone and only coffee provided the benefit. So while your theory is certainly plausible, for now I think the evidence simply shows that fully caffeinated coffee is beneficial. Hopefully continued research elucidates the exact compounds/mechanisms though it does seem very likely that caffeine does play a role.

    As for coffee filtration and oils there is most definitely data that shows that unfiltered coffee can and does increase blood lipid levels. Now whether or not this actually increases CVD risk is certainly a valid question that probably depends on what your levels were before, context of the rest of your diet and other risk factors. However paper filtered coffee (choose unbleached filters) filters out those oils and does not raise levels.

    Neil,

    Good question. I really can’t provide a definitive answer because there isn’t any data on it to my knowledge, but my professional opionion would be some flavored coffee is ok, but I wouldn’t overdo it. If you are drinking two 12oz cups, maybe one is flavored and one isn’t, or you make each cup half regular half flavored. That would probably be a reasonable choice.

    Lindsay,

    Thank you. I will say I am not a diagnostician so that is beyond my scope, however is it possible that there were other lifestyle factors you changed? Did your doctors say the kidney infection was related to your recurrent bladder infections? That is certainly interesting and you may be someone who simply does not tolerate a higher coffee intake. Whether or not it is the acid or some other coffee constituent (or many other possible variables) is impossible for me to say. I do doubt however that it was the pH of the coffee causing that, as there are MANY other foods we consume on a regular basis that are far more acidic, but I could certainly be wrong. Regardless I am glad it is no longer a problem for you with your decreased consumption.

    Brian

  • Derrick

    Man, I had this debate with Boris, from Squat RX (an excellent website, blog). He wrote a very negative article about caffeine consumption, claiming that in time, we would find out that caffeine was the cause of numerous diseases.

    Since I had looked into the issue fairly thoroughly, I rebutted his claims. It seems that the positive attributes of caffeine far outweigh the negatives, but humans can be very irrational when it comes to drugs, and let’s be honest, we are talking about a drug.

    It’s funny in today’s America, when global warming has become a political issue, rather than overwhelming scientific evidence, that we politicize and mythologize everything.

    Is it any wonder that people can get confused?

  • Kristen

    My gramps passed away of alzheimers this year as well.. I can honestly say the only thing I ever saw him drink was coffee ha ha .. He made it to almost 91! Thanks for the articles as always .. will share..

  • Phil

    Hi, Can you suggest a healthy brand of coffee please?

  • How can you know if you have a high metabolism? Hypertension?

  • Steve,

    It’s possible to have it tested with a metabolic cart. For most folks, it’s easiest to just watch weight gain/loss on a given caloric intake relative to what “norms” for energy expenditure are.


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