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Coffee and Caffeine – The Confusion on Health Effects

Is caffeine good or bad for you? Ask around and you probably won’t get a consistent answer, and even if the opinion is negative there often won’t be much data to back it up. So what’s the real situation?
As with a lot of things in life, it appears as moderation is everything; a small amount of something can be good for you. There’s some evidence that consumption of small to moderate amounts could lower the chances of developing conditions such as cancer, Parkinson’s or even having a stroke. It’s been suggested that certain types of skin cancer can be reduced by up to 20% in women by drinking three or more cups of coffee a day, while a study from a few years ago reported a 2-3x increase in the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease in people who don’t drink coffee. Although the science behind it is uncertain to say the least, it is supposed that caffeine may reduce nerve cell degeneration. And the ‘20% in women’ stats comes back again with the risk of strokes, as coffee has been seen to reduce the chance of women suffering from a stroke by around 19% – men, however, don’t appear to be quite so lucky. Finally it’s alleged that caffeine and coffee can reduce cognitive decline in women over 65 and more bizarrely, the symptoms of gout.
The issue is, for all the alleged benefits there are a range of counter studies showing negative implications of coffee drinking. The primary function of caffeine is to act as a stimulant – that’s why a nice cup of coffee in the morning perks up thousands of people every day. It’s effect as a heart stimulant however increases blood pressure in the short term (although there are no proven long term effects) and it’s not recommended for those suffering hypertension (high blood pressure). It’s also been linked to raised blood cholesterol, another risk factor for coronary heart disease.
Overall there’s no solid, evidence-based and peer-reviewed evidence that coffee and caffeine causes long term harm. There’s no doubt it will continue to be investigated and researched for years to come as it has become such a cultural ‘vice’ – you’ll hardly find an office in the land without a coffee machine or regular coffee round. However with varying individual sensitivity to the stimulant and the different caffeine content of coffees drunk around the world, it seems that drinking coffee in moderation is key to avoiding any potential risks and reap any potential benefits.

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