The Truth about Coffee

14/06/2013

Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world behind oil, with an industry that stretches from South America to Italy and everywhere in-between.  Introduced in the 15th century in the Sufi shrines of Yemen, coffee spread throughout the Middle East and into the busy European trade port of Venice in the 16th and 17th centuries.  While coffee is often maligned today for its negative effects on health, the first ever description of the drink by a European saw it in a much more positive light. 

In 1583, a German physician by the name of Leonhard Rauwolf discovered coffee on a trip to the Near East, calling it "A beverage as black as ink, useful against numerous illnesses, particularly those of the stomach."  Attitudes towards coffee have been through a number of changes since then, however, with the beverage once again gaining favour with many health experts after being criticised over the last few decades.

The negative effects of coffee consumption are well known, and include an increased risk of coronary heart disease, iron deficiency anemia, increased blood pressure, and anxiety.  Chronic coffee use can also cause headaches, with numerous other negative effects associated with caffeine withdrawal.  There are also a number of benefits associated with coffee consumption, including a reduced risk of prostrate cancer, type II diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease.  Coffee is also loaded with nutrients and antioxidants, has also been shown to burn fat, and can improve physical performance. 

Despite these benefits, if you asked most people why they drank coffee, they would most likely say it increases their energy levels and focuses their mind.  According to a recent study by Bristol University, however, a big part of the pick-me-up effect associated with coffee can actually be attributed to the alleviation of caffeine withdrawal symptoms.  On the other side of the coin, some of the negative health effects associated with coffee, such as headaches, are actually more likely to be symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

"People who consume caffeine regularly will become dependent on it - if you take caffeine away from them, they will function below par," says Peter Rogers, professor of biological psychology at Bristol University and a leading expert on caffeine.  "They just don't function normally without the drug on board. If it's your first tea or coffee of the day, it gets you back to normal, but beyond that you don't get much more of a kick."  Despite this study, millions of coffee lovers around the world would surely disagree.

While moderation and self awareness are key for avoiding caffeine dependency, the general consensus of the medical community is that moderate coffee drinking in healthy people is either benign or mildly beneficial.  The recent conclusion of a 22-year study into coffee use by the Harvard School of Public Health even stated that "the overall balance of risks and benefits [of coffee consumption] are on the side of benefits."