When I’m asking my patients about what they eat and drink through the day, they often shamefully ‘confess’ that they are coffee drinkers. The good news is that coffee in reasonable amounts might be one of the healthiest things you can do.
Scientific research shows that in the short term, caffeine increases alertness, concentration, vigilance, improves mood, reduces perception of pain and increases time to fatigue when exercising.
For long term health benefits, coffee has anti-cancer, anti-obesity, anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory properties.
New research shines some light on the mechanisms behind these health benefits – it seems that there are links between coffee and the health of the gut microbiota. Higher coffee consumption is associated with increased richness and evenness of the gut microbiota in the lining of the digestive system, and higher relative abundance of anti-inflammatory bacteria.
8 fascinating coffee and caffeine facts:
- Caffeine is absorbed rapidly and totally in the small intestine in less than 1 hour
- Caffeine is broken down in the liver by an enzyme called cytochrome P450 oxidase. Depending on your genetics, some people have more of this enzyme than others, therefore this affects sensitivity.
- It can help the bowel to contract – helpful for constipation, not so helpful if you are prone to diarrhoea!
- In women, the metabolism of caffeine is slower during pregnancy, as well as when taking oral contraceptives. This means that the effects of caffeine isn’t broken down by the liver as quickly, so the effects are felt for longer.
- Cigarette smoking doubles the rate of caffeine clearance by increasing the liver enzyme activity. This means that the effects of caffeine wear off more quickly. This may be one of the explanations for the higher rate of caffeine consumption among smokers.
- Coffee reduces the absorption of Levothyroxine – this is a common medication for hypothyroidism which should ideally be taken on an empty stomach
- Excessive caffeine intake may increase ‘unstable’ bladder in women i.e. suddenly being desperate for a wee
- The belief that coffee is dehydrating is not true for habitual coffee drinkers. If your body is used to drinking coffee the effect on urine output should be minimal (unless your bladder is sensitive to caffeine – see previous point). Obviously if you drink a lot of any fluid you are going to wee more).
Any negatives of caffeine to be aware of?
- Increased anxiety – many people with depression/anxiety/stress find that coffee can make it much worse
- Insomnia – if you are sensitive to caffeine, you may need to to keep coffee for the morning
- Abdominal cramping and diarrhoea – common in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
So, it’s best to know your own body and how much caffeine you can tolerate. If you have a good tolerance, limit yourself to 4-6 cups per day (maximum of 2 cups if pregnant). If you suffer with diarrhoea, anxiety or insomnia, then try cutting coffee out for a few days to see if this helps!
Right, time for a cuppa!!!!!