woman drinking coffee

Coffee is often the first thing people grab for a quick energy and mood boost. If coffee is part of your daily diet, you may be wondering if there’s any connection between coffee and your health.

Turns out, the health benefits of coffee go beyond the pick me up. Learn more about how your daily cup o’ Joe impacts your health — and when you should steer clear.

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Is Coffee Good For You?

Coffee contains beneficial antioxidants and polyphenols, chemical compounds that protect our cells from damage.

Drinking coffee regularly reduces the risk of all-cause mortality. That’s according to meta-analyses published in both the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the European Journal of Epidemiology (EJE). It likely plays a role in reducing the risk of several diseases and conditions, including:

  • Cardiovascular diseases, including coronary heart disease and stroke
  • Metabolic diseases, including type 2 diabetes
  • Neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia
  • Liver and gastrointestinal diseases, including fibrosis, cirrhosis, non-fatty alcoholic liver disease, and gallstones
  • Several cancers, specifically leukemia, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. And prostate, liver, endometrial, and oral cancers.

How much coffee you need to drink to get health benefits remains under debate. BMJ and EJE concluded that three to four cups daily provide the largest risk reduction for various health conditions. That’s compared to people who didn’t drink any coffee.

But if coffee gives you the jitters or messes with your sleep, don’t worry — the benefits extend to decaffeinated coffee too. Three cups of decaffeinated coffee daily was also associated with lower all-cause mortality. Decaffeinated coffee goes through a process that strips 97 percent of caffeine, so it’s not entirely caffeine free.

Is Coffee Bad for You?

That natural boost we get from coffee comes from caffeine—the most widely consumed psychoactive stimulant in the world. Found naturally in coffee beans (and tea leaves, cocoa beans, and kola nuts), caffeine affects your central nervous system.

The caffeine in coffee can cause a number of undesirable side effects if consumed in too large a quantity. People who are sensitive to caffeine can also experience these side effects. In addition, there are certain groups of people who need to be especially careful about consuming caffeine.

Side effects of caffeine

Too much caffeine can cause severe disruptions to your heart and nervous systems. Some people may be more sensitive to caffeine’s effects, even when consuming a lower than recommended amount.

Common side effects of too much caffeine or caffeine sensitivity include:

  • Insomnia
  • Jitteriness
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Fast heart rate
  • Muscle tremors
  • Depression

It takes 4 to 6 hours for your body to metabolize half the caffeine you drink. So if you have coffee with dinner, it could keep you from falling asleep or staying asleep.

If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you might want to reduce the amount of coffee you drink daily or try decaffeinated coffee.

But reduce your daily intake of coffee slowly over time. If you cut back too quickly, you can suffer from caffeine withdrawal, which can lead to headaches, irritability, nervousness, and fatigue.

Who should limit or avoid coffee?

Some people need to be especially careful about consuming coffee and caffeine. This includes:

Women who are trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding

The March of Dimes and the American College of Obstetricians both recommend that these women should limit their coffee consumption to no more than 200 mgs of caffeine. That’s roughly two cups of regular coffee daily. Higher coffee consumption has been linked to miscarriage, low birth weight, and pre-term birth.

People who are taking certain medications

For example, some oral contraceptives can double how long it takes your body to clear the caffeine. Drugs.com lists 4 major caffeine-drug interactions and 35 moderate caffeine-drug interactions. If you take prescription or over-the-counter medications, ask your pharmacist or doctor how much caffeine you can safely drink.

Teens and tweens

Sweetened coffee drinks are popular with the tween and teen set. But there isn’t a proven safe dose for caffeine in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against caffeinated products for children under age 12. For children ages 12 to 18, the AAAP also suggests limiting caffeine to 100 mgs daily (two sodas or one cup of coffee) at most.

Smokers

Smokers metabolize caffeine more quickly than non smokers. Coffee often acts as a smoking trigger, making it harder for you to quit smoking. That’s according to The Monday Campaigns, a smoking cessation program.

People Diagnosed with GERD

Caffeine is something that experts encourage anyone suffering from Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) to limit or avoid.

Safe Daily Limits on Coffee and Caffeine Consumption

While coffee can have some benefits for your health, it’s not for everyone. But even if you can comfortably enjoy multiple cups of coffee each day, it’s important to remember that moderation is key.

Healthy adults can safely consume up to 400 mgs of caffeine daily, according to the Food and Drug Administration. That’s about four to five cups of coffee. Most coffee varieties contain between 80 to 100 mgs of caffeine per 8 ounce cup.

Keep in mind that coffee (and tea) aren’t the only sources of caffeine. Energy drinks and certain over-the-counter pain medications also contain caffeine. Be sure to read the label so you don’t accidentally overdose on caffeine.

Sources

Robin Poole. Coffee Consumption and Health: Umbrella Review of Meta-Analyses of Multiple Health Outcomes. Nov. 21, 2017. British Medical Journal. Link.

Youngyo Kim. Coffee Consumption and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: a Meta-Analysis by Potential Modifiers. May 4, 2019. European Journal of Epidemiology. Link.

Shenaz Wasim. Neuroprotective and Neurodegenerative Aspects of Coffee and Its Active Ingredients. August 2020. Cureus. Link.

Interim NIOSH Training for Emergency Responders: Reducing Risks Associated with Long Work Hours. Using Caffeine Carefully. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

Alcohol and Caffeine. Alcohol and Public Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

Long-Gang Zhao. Coffee drinking and cancer risk: an umbrella review of meta-analyses of observational studies. Aug 7, 2019. BMC Cancer. Link.

Caffeine in the Diet: Country Level Consumption and Guidelines. Nov. 2018. Nutrients. Link.

Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? Food and Drug Administration. Link.

Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Operations. Chapter 2: Pharmacology of Caffeine. National Academy of Sciences. Link.

Deborah Weatherspoon. PhD, RN, CRNA. What Does Caffeine Do to Your Body? Medical News Today. Link.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.