The skinny on drinking coffee: The good, the bad and the bottom line

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...If you’re one of the myriads of college students who need their morning caffeine fix before you can have a coherent conversation, you’re part of a national trend of rising coffee drinkers. While experts have gone back and forth over the good and the bad effects of coffee, the latest studies show that college students over the past 10 years have increased their coffee drinking by nearly 14%. In addition, many college students are ditching soda for coffee, which has a higher caffeine content. When it comes to academic performance, however, caffeine may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Find out here what the real skinny is on drinking coffee. 

The trend

Let’s face it, drinking coffee isn’t just about the caffeine. It’s trendy. Coffee shops are everywhere – on and off campus. They are convenient stops to meet friends and chat about your day, have study groups, or go on a first date. One cup can easily turn to two, or three, or…who’s counting?

According to a January 14, 2013 post to NPR, “Young Adults Swapping Soda For The Super Buzz of Coffee,” writer Allison Aubrey reported that the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who reported drinking coffee jumped from 25% in 2002 to 39% in 2012. If all this coffee drinking has done miracles with helping you stay alert, but hasn’t helped you improve your test scores, what gives? Increased coffee consumption, Aubrey also reports, is linked to decreased REM sleep, and this is what could prevent you from doing well on exams.

“We know that REM sleep is needed and has positive implications for memory consolidation and learning,” says Amy Wolfson of the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts in the report. “And if college students are getting too little sleep, or poorer quality sleep, it’s likely to have negative implications for academic  performance.”

The good

Those in the “coffee is good for you” camp believe coffee and caffeine have an unnecessary bad rap. Caffeine advocates, such as Lindsay Abrams, argue that people who drank coffee lived longer than those who didn’t, as she reported in a November 30, 2012 post to the Atlantic, “The Case for Drinking as Much Coffee as You Like.”

Numerous studies have shown that there are health benefits to drinking coffee, some of which include:

  • Preventing Alzheimer’s disease
  • Protecting the liver
  • Reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Reducing depression in women
  • Fighting colorectal cancer

The bad

Coffee and caffeine have also shown to have negative effects on the body, which over time could have a more serious impact on your health. Some of the negative health effects as reported in “The negative health effects of drinking coffee,” to Livestrong.com include:

  • Increased cholesterol (the bad kind, mainly associated with unfiltered coffee)
  • Raised blood pressure levels
  • Increased risk factors for stroke, heart disease and peripheral vascular disease
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches, fatigue, anxiety and drowsiness — caused by caffeine withdrawal

The bottom line

Roasted coffee beans Español: Granos de café t...

Roasted coffee beans

While the verdict is still out on coffee’s health effects, a good rule of thumb is to use common sense: drink coffee in moderation and don’t drink it in the evening when it will keep you up all night.

In addition, remember that most research on coffee is done on black coffee, not the 24-ounce vanilla Frappuccino at Starbucks with whipped cream, which with all the sugar and cream, can ruin your diet and your health more than the coffee itself. In “Ask the Expert: Coffee and Health,” a post to the Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Rob van Dam, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says this is where the health concerns really begin with coffee. “People may not realize that having a beverage like that adds so much to their energy intake, and they may not compensate adequately by eating less over the course of the day,” van Dam said. “This could lead to weight gain over time, which could in turn increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, and that’s a major concern.”

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