Coffee, a widely distributed and globally consumed beverage, raises keen interest in the medical community for its potential health effects. For many people, it is a fundamental component of everyday life, not only as a sensory pleasure but also a source of energy and vitality.
Beyond its stimulating qualities, coffee is debated for its impact on health. While some studies suggest benefits such as improved cognitive function and reduced risk of some diseases, others raise concerns about the potential risks associated with its consumption and its long-term effects on human health.
In this article we will attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of coffee and caffeine.
So what is inside a coffee?
A wide range of chemicals coexist within a coffee. The best known is definitely caffeine, an alkaloid responsible for most of the stimulant effects associated with the consumption of this beverage. Caffeine acts as an antagonist of adenosine receptors in the brain, preventing its activation and increasing the activity of neurotransmitters such as adrenaline and dopamine.
In addition to caffeine, several other bioactive compounds are present, including numerous antioxidants, such as chlorogenic acid. Coffee also contains a small amount of lipids, mainly fatty acids, which may vary depending on the method of preparation and the quality of the coffee itself. In addition, coffee is a significant source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B3 (niacin), phosphorus, and potassium.
Overall, the substances contained in coffee represent a unique blend of bioactive compounds with potential effects on human health. Let’s look at them in detail.
Positive and negative effects on the body
Moderate coffee consumption has been associated with a number of potential health benefits, supported by numerous scientific studies over the years. The main ones are:
- Antioxidant effects: coffee is rich in antioxidant compounds, which may help protect cells from oxidative stress and reduce the risk of chronic age-related diseases.
- Improved cognitive performance: thanks to caffeine, known for its stimulating effects on the brain, coffee can improve concentration, attention, short-term memory and responsiveness.
- Reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases: several studies have suggested that regular coffee consumption reduces the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It is hypothesized that this benefit is due to the neuroprotective effects of caffeine and antioxidants.
- Cardiovascular protection: antioxidants in coffee may contribute to the health of the cardiovascular system, helping to reduce inflammation and the risk of blood clots, reducing the risk of diseases such as myocardial infarction and stroke.
- Protective effects on the liver: according to some studies, bioactive compounds in coffee may have protective effects on the liver, reducing the risk of developing liver disease, including cirrhosis.
Despite its high number of positive effects, coffee is much more often associated with its negative effects. Especially for people suffering from hypertension, excessive coffee consumption can temporarily increase blood pressure and heart rate, putting the individual’s cardiovascular health at risk.
Another risk category is pregnant women, who are recommended to limit caffeine consumption to reduce the risks of miscarriage, fetal growth retardation and low birth weight.
In ordinary people, coffee consumption can cause gastrointestinal upset, anxiety symptoms and especially interfere with sleep, especially if it is drunk in the evening hours. However, the effects are related to the doses ingested, so how much coffee is too much?
The recommended dose of coffee
To arrive instead at a “lethal dose” of caffeine, consumption should be around 10 grams in a single intake, or between 100 and 150 cups of espresso coffee. We can therefore exclude that this could happen within the normal use of the beverage.
According to EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), daily consumption of caffeine up to 400 milligrams poses no particular risk to healthy adults. This amount corresponds to about five cups of espresso coffee or slightly more than four cups of American coffee. However, such doses should be consumed responsibly to reduce the risks of temporary or long-term complications related to the toxic effects of caffeine.