One of the government’s stodgiest organizations–the new Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee–made a big announcement about drinking coffee. They say moderate coffee consumption doesn’t adversely affect your health. In fact, they admit good evidence shows drinking three to five cups of coffee each day reduces your risk of developing heart disease and Type II diabetes.
But coffee hasn’t always enjoyed such good standing.
During my medical training, I remember routinely working 60, 80, and 100 hours a week, with night and weekend coverages. On a salary that worked out to less than minimum wage. In fact, we earned less for practicing medicine than the highly-skilled workers whose biggest challenge is asking, “Do you want fries with that?”
Many of my peers drank coffee–lots of coffee–to make it through our training.
At the time, I was concerned about the prevailing advice to avoid coffee, like many other health-conscious people. We listened when experts told us coffee and caffeine were “bad,” potentially addictive, and produced unwanted results. They said people used coffee as a “crutch.”
But who can blame people for using a crutch?
We live in a chronically sleep-deprived society. Artificial lighting, long hours, and industrialization all throw off our biological clocks or circadian rhythms. (I explain more about this urgent problem in next month’s issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.)
Now I know that advice against coffee was all a crock.
In fact, I now understand how medical prejudice and bias created its own “scientific” results. For example, some of those early studies showed men and women who drank no coffee (or just one cup) had better health. But these studies suffered from the “healthy volunteer effect.” In other words, the health-conscious study volunteers’ other “healthy behaviors”–not their lack of a coffee habit–caused these healthy benefits.
Health-conscious vegetarians are another example of the “healthy volunteer effect.” Once upon a time, vegetarians appeared to have better health than meat eaters in some studies. But it turns out the benefits were due to other truly healthy behaviors–not cutting out meat. Quite the opposite, we now know most vegetarians are deficient in key fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, and E, as well as B vitamins, and protein.
Thankfully, the science prevailed when it comes to coffee.
Today, researchers understand how to control for the “healthy volunteer effect” and find the real results. One way is to observe a dose-response effect, as I often discuss in my Daily Dispatches.
Caffeine has clear dose-response benefits. In fact, research links higher daily doses of coffee/caffeine with lower risks of cardiovascular diseases and Type II diabetes. Plus, studies also show a dose-response effect for coffee/caffeine in reducing the risks of colon cancer, endometrial cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.
Besides, dose-response effect, I always consider the biological plausibility. In other words, how does coffee/caffeine “work” in all these different health problems–cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and overall death rates?
The modern medical paradigm has a hard time wrapping its mind around anything that appears to act like a panacea or “cure-all.” They design one specific drug for one specific condition. But caffeine has a number of potent effects throughout the body–including in the brain, the blood, the heart, the GI tract, and the kidneys.
Of course, as a natural product, coffee contains many beneficial, biologically active ingredients other than caffeine. For example, studies show decaf coffee reduced the risk of breast cancer, lung cancer, and Type II diabetes. So we can’t attribute those benefits to caffeine.
Coffee and caffeine are safe in moderation.
So feel free to drink three to five cups per day. It can help you maintain a consistent, regular waking time. And this amount shouldn’t interfere with sleep, unless you’ve been diagnosed with a sleep disorder by a sleep specialist. Just make sure to skip all the flavored creamers and sugars.
- “Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. February 2015.” The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (www.health.gov) 8/3/2015