Is too much coffee bad for your health?

November 28, 2012

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

If you're like me, when you wake up your first thought is, "Nooooo, I want to sleep longer," followed immediately by, "I need coffee now!"

It turns out that more than half of adults in the U.S. are habitual coffee drinkers and have come to rely on coffee as their saving grace to getting through the day. I have always felt that I couldn't be as productive if I didn't have my morning java, and there is always the counterpart to that"¦. If I drink too much of it, I tend to be the jittery, over-energized worker who can't sit still or focus. When coffee makes me feel like that I often ask myself, "Is coffee actually bad for my health?" and, "How much coffee is too much?"

It turns out that, just like all other things, coffee has its health benefits and of course it has its pitfalls.

According to WebMD, a growing body of research shows that coffee drinkers compared to nondrinkers are less likely to have type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, dementia, fewer cases of certain cancers, heart rhythm problems, and strokes. However, coffee has not been proven to prevent those conditions.

A research study published by the New England Journal of Medicine states that increased coffee consumption is linked to having a longer lifespan. Frank Hu, a nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public health, says, "There is certainly much more good news than bad news, in terms of coffee and health." Coffee is full of antioxidants, which could be the reason we see the potential positive results of drinking coffee.

Dr. Alberto Ascherio, another professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, adds: "Antioxidants are one potential reason that good outcomes are seen from coffee. Our bodies produce oxygen radicals, which are damaging to DNA. Antioxidants prevent them from doing damage."

So it seems it's not whether you should stop drinking coffee, it's about when you should.

Caffeine is included in so many of our drinks and foods these days that we often have too much of it. If you're consuming too much caffeine, the side effects include: rapid heart rate, tremors, trouble sleeping (caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours), urinating frequently (can cause dehydration), vomiting and nausea, anxiety and restlessness, and feeling depressed. That doesn't sound very healthy, does it?

People metabolize caffeine differently, so one cup of coffee may be too much for one person, and another person could be just fine drinking six cups a day. The key thing to remember is that coffee is not bad for you as long as you don't over-consume the amount your body can handle. All of these "possible" benefits are all I need to keep my coffee addiction going strong. Cheers!

I believe humans get a lot done, not because we're smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee. ~Flash Rosenberg

Originally published Nov 28, 2012 10:00:35 AM.