Is coffee bad for you? The pros and cons of caffeine

Wondering if coffee is bad for you? The answer(s) might surprise you

Is coffee bad for you?
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Is coffee bad for you? For many of us, a morning without a cup of coffee is almost unimaginable. Coffee helps us wake up and propels us forward throughout the day, giving us energy. However, there are increasing calls in various health and wellness communities to give up on caffeine for all sorts of reasons, such as: 'coffee makes you depressed', or 'coffee is bad for your skin', or 'coffee prevents you from sleeping'. 

It turns out that many of these claims are backed by solid scientific research; however, before you vow to give up on coffee, you may wish to consider its health benefits, which also have been backed by science. As with most other things, the truth about coffee lies somewhere in the middle, and whether to drink it or not will have to depend on your own preference and individual constitution. 

Find more information and advice about all things health and wellbeing related at our hub page.

Drinking coffee: the benefits

The following health benefits of coffee have been backed up by solid scientific research, provided that you drink no more than three to four cups a day:

  • Coffee has been found to help prevent type 2 diabetes;
  • Coffee increases metabolism and helps your body burn fat more efficiently;
  • Drinking coffee has been found to have protective effects for the liver. Although scientists aren't sure how exactly, caffeine has been shown to reduce the risks of cirrhosis and even liver cancer. So, if you enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, a cup of coffee in the morning seems to help neutralise the effects;
  • Coffee makes you mentally more alert and seems to protect the brain in the longer term, helping prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease;
  • Can help prevent depression in adults (very different from anxiety, however, about which see below);
  • Coffee is a good source of magnesium and B vitamins.

Drinking coffee: the drawbacks

This highly active substance isn't without its drawbacks, however, which need to be weighed against the benefits:

  • Coffee is a laxative and isn't suitable for people with IBS or digestive problems;
  • Caffeine can make anxiety worse: if you a prone to anxiety or panic attacks, you should avoid caffeine altogether;
  • If consumed in large quantities, coffee can impede the absoprption of some nutrients, notable calcium and iron; this can be an issue especially for older people,
  • Coffee is bad for you teeth and contributes to enamel erosion;
  • That claim about coffee and skin? Sadly, it's true: coffee inhibits the body's production of collagen, which is the vital building block of skin;
  • Can exacerbate teenage depression, though not adult depression;
  • Consumed in large quantities, coffee increases blood pressure.

Conclusion: should I give up caffeine?

You can see by just looking at the points listed above that coffee will have different effects on different people. If, for example, you know yourself to be anxiety-prone or have trouble sleeping, or you have digestive problems, or you aren't particularly attached to coffee but are concerned about skin ageing, you have a very good case for giving up caffeine.

On the other hand, if you don't suffer from anxiety and like the stimulating effect of coffee, and especially if you also enjoy a glass of wine on a regular basis, then there's really no reason you should give up coffee. Just make sure you drink it in moderation, no more than four cups a day (if drinking espresso, make it even fewer).

Alternatively, consider drinking decaf coffee: it has been shown to have many of the same benefits as regular coffee, but without some of the drawbacks. 

  • You might want to consider reducing your coffee intake if you can't sleep. Find out more about sleeping well in our guide.