The Coffee Craze: Pro and Cons of Guzzling Java

By Anthoney J. Andersen –

It’s 6 a.m. The alarm buzzes menacingly in your ear. You groan loudly, rolling onto your back – contemplating hitting the snooze button. “I’ll just hit it once today,” you tell yourself. But you know if you hit snooze, you’ll either be late for work, or quite possibly miss it altogether.

This morning scenario probably seems quite familiar for most people. If you find yourself waking up groggy most mornings, you might reach for a cup of coffee to help give your body the pep it needs to get your brain functioning and your weary limbs out of bed.

However, like with most things in our ever-changing society, drinking coffee every morning can be both beneficial and sometimes damaging, to your overall health.

Let’s find out why.


If you’re one of the people who craves caffeine to get you through the day, you’re not alone. According to the National Coffee Association, more than 68 percent of Americans in 2006 said they were hooked on coffee.

“Caffeine exaggerates the stress response,” said James D. Lane, PhD, professor of medical psychology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and a long-time caffeine researcher. “At the cellular level, caffeine locks the receptor normally used by adenosine, a brain modulator that provides feedback to avoid overstimulation of nerve cells. If adenosine is locked up, nothing keeps the nervous system from getting too excited at a cellular level.”

People often joke about being hooked on caffeine, but is it truly addictive? Researchers have debated that question for years.

“There’s no question: caffeine is addictive for some people,” said Roland G. Griffiths, PhD, professor in the department of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and a veteran researcher in the area. “Caffeine does produce dependence, and caffeine withdrawal is a real syndrome.”


Caffeine can improve memory, decrease fatigue, and improve your mental function. It can improve your short-term memory and speed up your reaction times, according to a study presented in 2005 at the Radiological Society of North America.

Coffee contains antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and a few dietary proteins. Research shows coffee consumption has reduced the risk of some diseases and ailments, including:

  • Parkinson’s disease. Regular coffee consumption reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease. A number of studies from the National Center of Biotechnology Information have demonstrated that people who drink coffee are a regular basis are significantly less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
  • Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have concluded that regular coffee consumption seems to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. According to the National Center of Biotechnology Information, a recent mouse study showed that caffeine equivalent to five cups of coffee per day reduced the build-up of destructive plaques in the brain.  
  • Type 2 diabetes. Coffee consumption is potentially protective against the development of type 2 diabetes. A prospective cohort study as part of the U.S. Nurses’ Health Study found that moderate consumption of both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in younger and middle-aged women.
  • Asthma. Caffeine in coffee is related to theophylline, an old asthma medication. Caffeine can open airways and improve asthma symptoms.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver. Coffee consumption may protect against liver cirrhosis, especially alcohol cirrhosis.
  • • Caffeine also acts as a stimulant and increases the effectiveness of certain types of painkillers.

Moderate coffee consumption – defined as three or four 8-oz cups a day, providing 300 to 400 milligrams of caffeine – carries “little evidence of health risks and some evidence of health benefits,” concludes researchers from Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University in Corvallis, an article in ‘Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition’ in 2006.


Caffeine does have the ability to boost blood pressure, Lane and others have found. Although the rise is temporary, Lane questions whether it’s good for you when it occurs over and over. After much research, he concluded that repeated elevations in blood pressure and increases in your reactions to daily stress that occur with caffeine intake could boost the risk of heart disease. Lane worries, too, about the boost in blood glucose levels that accompanies caffeine intake.

Even though caffeine intake can have positive effects, overconsumption may include the possible negative effects:

  • Changes in sleep pattern. Most of us are aware of the stimulatory effects of caffeine. High amounts of caffeine taken before going to sleep, can cause restlessness and difficulty falling asleep, tendency to be awakened more readily by sudden noises, and a decreased quality of sleep. However, some people can drink coffee and fall right to sleep.
  • Dehydration. Mild diuretic could lead to dehydration and a loss of vitamins B and C, as well as calcium, iron and zinc.
  • Heartburn. A cup of coffee can trigger heartburn.
  • Osteoporosis. Coffee intake may induce an extra urinary excretion of calcium. Heavy coffee consumption (4 cups: 600 mg or more) can modestly increase the risk of osteoporosis, especially in women with a low calcium intake.
  • Heart rhythm disturbances. Coffee can cause rapid or irregular heartbeats, known as cardiac arrhythmias.
  • Blood vessels. Coffee negatively affects the blood vessel tone and function, increasing arterial stiffness and wave reflections.


The thing to take away from this is that the old principle concept holds true to coffee: “everything in moderation.” Yes, coffee has its downsides, but as long as you don’t abuse it, it can offer a surplus of health benefits, while making it a worthwhile drink.

Bottoms up.