Alternative Medicine

Coffee - Just Plain Good For You

For centuries, coffee has been borne high on the backs and shoulders of humanity, and cheered aloud for its precious invigorating properties. But not all people throughout history have reveled in coffee's popularity, nor believed its effects beneficial.

One oft-repeated myth concerning coffee is that it causes sterility. An account of travels in Persia by Adam Olearius in 1635 describes the effect of coffee "to sterilize nature and extinguish carnal desires." About forty years later, London women, unhappy that their husbands spent more time in the coffeehouses than at home, railed against coffee for taking their men away. In 1674, a poster printed in London stated the following_ "The Women's Petition Against Coffee Representing to public consideration the grand inconveniences accruing to their SEX from the excessive use of that drying, enfeebling LIQUOR. Presented to the Right Honorable the Keepers of the Liberty of VENUS."

A purportedly authoritative paper presented to faculty physicians the University of Marseilles in 1679 declared that burned particles in coffee "sweep along all the lymph...and drain the kidneys." Furthermore, the paper claimed, "the ash contained in coffee induces such persistent wakefulness that the nerve fluid dries up; when it cannot be replaced, general prostration, paralysis, and impotence ensue." In 1715 in France, coffee was "proven" to shorten life. Later the beverage was said by physicians to cause inflammation of the liver and spleen.

In 1910, print ads for C.W. Post's bland-tasting grain beverage Postum read "Coffee wrecks some persons." The flamboyant Post called coffee a "drug drink," and tried to win a large following by scaring people about coffee. Since that time, various health food gurus including Paul Bragg, Gaylord Hauser, Bernard Jensen and Paavo Airola, have also eschewed coffee, describing it variously as unhealthful, toxic, poisonous to the system, and on and on. Yet despite these worrisome claims, coffee consumed in moderation is not associated with any health problems.

Let us now with sober minds consider the unexpurgated, scientifically-scrutinized, true lowdown on coffee, without vagary, mumbo - jumbo, fanaticism, knee-jerk reactionary hysteria, deception or pseudo-science. First of all, let us wrestle to the ground the historical claim that coffee promotes sterility, impotence, loss of libido or any other manner of erotic withering. This simply is not so. Coffee does not cool ardor, lower one's staff, defuse seed, nor dry the viscid, lusty juices.

Coffee's greatest effects are exerted upon the brain and mind, for coffee is the great, bold awakener. As a caffeinated beverage, coffee stimulates the brain, facilitating cognitive function overall. Coffee stimulates the flow of blood in the brain, and invigorates the mind. It enhances alertness and motivation, facilitates thought formation and concentration, and decreases mental fatigue. Coffee rouses the mental faculties as surely as streaming sunshine and hilarious birdsong awaken the sleeping.

Within a dosage range of 300 milligrams of caffeine per day (roughly two large coffees) , coffee improves negative moods which occur in the morning upon waking, dispelling the sullen and gloomy clouds which fog the mind upon rising. Coffee, as the most flavorful and potent caffeine-bearing beverage of all, increases general happiness and feelings of pleasure, and increases positive mood overall. Coffee promotes an upbeat positive sense of self, and an overall feeling of well being. Baron Ernst Von Bibra referred to coffee as a "pleasure drug." He hit the nail right on the head. For coffee's reverie is delightful. Simple, cheap, easy to prepare, readily available and very fast-acting, coffee makes you feel good. And what's wrong with that? Nothing.

Coffee drinking even appears to reduce the risk of Parkinson's Disease. Coffee drinkers have between 3 to 6 times lower risk of developing Parkinson's as compared with non-coffee drinkers. The reduction in risk improves as consumption increases from 4 ounces daily to 24 ounces.

Research into the natural chemical properties of coffee shows that the daily brew is a potent protective antioxidant potion. Antioxidants inhibit the rusting of cells in our body. Just as metals rust due to exposure to oxygen, so too cells in the body become damaged by exposure to certain reactive oxygen species. Oxidative damage is associated with diabetes, arthritis, cancer, degenerative brain disorders, and numerous aspects of aging and degeneration. Antioxidants in foods help to prevent this cellular damage, thereby reducing the risk of some diseases and extending cell life.

Coffee is especially high in one group of antioxidants called flavonoids. These compounds exhibit protective power against cardiovascular disease by reducing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol. By inhibiting oxidation of LDL cholesterol, coffee helps to protect against atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. Large population studies suggest that coffee does no harm to the heart, and does not increase the risk of any cardiovascular disease when consumed in moderation.

Major epidemiological studies show no correlation between coffee consumption and hypertension. The same is true for cardiac arrhythmia. While excessive coffee intake may set the heart fluttering, moderate coffee consumption does not cause irregular or rapid heartbeat.

Coffee exerts well-known effects upon the digestive system. Coffee stimulates gastric secretion, and for this reason a cup of coffee after lunch or dinner may be consumed to punctuate and help digest a meal. The morning cup of coffee not only awakens the body and mind, but stimulates bowel activity as well. A strong cup increases peristalsis, the wave-like motion of the intestines. This stimulates intestinal elimination. While coffee shouldn't substitute for a good amount of fiber in a healthy diet, its contribution to proper intestinal elimination is beneficial.

Coffee also plays a role in preventing some digestive disorders. Drinking two to three cups of coffee daily can reduce the risk of developing gallstones by as much as 40%. Coffee consumption also shows a strong protective effect against cirrhosis of the liver. Daily intake of 3 to 4 cups of coffee can reduce the risk of cirrhosis by as much as 80%. Even more impressively, coffee exhibits a protective effect against colon and rectal cancers, reducing the risk by as much as 24%.

If you worry that drinking coffee is going to result in some form of cancer that will take you down, you can relax. For with regard to coffee and its association with other types of cancer, again the news is good news. Several major studies have failed to show any link between coffee consumption and prostate cancer, breast cancer or bladder cancer. Nor has any link been found between coffee consumption and fibrocystic breast disease. Coffee consumption is not known to increase the risk of any type of cancer.

What about coffee and bones? Caffeine has a negative effect on calcium metabolism. And one study has found that women who consume more than 817 milligrams of caffeine per day are at three times greater risk of hip fractures than women who consume no caffeine. But other studies show that moderate consumption of coffee is not associated with bone loss, increased risk of osteoporosis, or any higher rates of bone fractures. The message of the studies seems clear, that within a moderate range of consumption, coffee has no negative effect upon bone health.

Women have long felt concern over their consumption of coffee and its effects on fertility and pregnancy, and any possible increased risk of miscarriage or birth defects. Again the news appears to be good. Most studies do not show any link between coffee and decreased or delayed fertility. There is no evidence of increased risk of miscarriage as a result of moderate coffee consumption, nor any known association with either delayed fetal growth or increased rates of birth defects. In other words, a woman can enjoy coffee daily, and still become pregnant and give birth to a healthy baby.

Athletes who eschew coffee may think again. A few studies have shown that caffeine enhances the body's ability to utilize body fat for exercise, and increases the body's ability to work out before fatigue. A cup of coffee before working out can do you good, enhancing both performance and endurance.

"A cup of coffee is a miracle. A miracle like a musical harmony, a wonderfully compounded assemblage of relationships."- H.E. Jacobs, Coffee

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at