More than 60 percent of Americans drink one or more cups of coffee daily, according to the National Coffee Association USA. (Photo: Volker Möhrke/Corbis)
Go ahead, indulge your love affair with steaming hot Joe. In addition to having the superpower of transforming cranky morning-monsters into pleasant, friendly monsters that vaguely resemble well-functioning human beings, coffee has some pretty amazing science-backed health benefits.
In fact, a government advisory committee recently said that three to five daily cups can be part of a healthy diet, citing evidence that java is linked to a reduced risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Some of the research findings outlined below are well established, while others are less understood or may lead to breakthroughs in years to come. But they all have one thing in common: They’ll give you plenty of good excuses to enjoy a second (or third) mug of liquid heaven. So fill that filter, flip the brew switch, and settle in to learn some new facts about this beloved morning ritual.
1. Coffee may help prevent multiple sclerosis
In a new study presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that coffee drinking may help decrease the likelihood of developing multiple sclerosis. When the researchers compared people with MS to people without the disease, they found that java abstainers were about 1.5 times more likely to develop MS, compared to people who drank four or more cups daily.
"There are many compounds in coffee that could be contributing [to the findings]," study researcher Ellen Mowry, MD, of Johns Hopkins Medicine, tells Yahoo Health. “Caffeine is a compelling connection given it may be protective against Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, it does affect the functioning of immune cells in the brain but has impacts on other potentially relevant processes too.” Mowry says that if the results from this study are confirmed, the findings could lead to new treatment approaches for MS.
2. Coffee might reduce the risk of developing a dangerous type of skin cancer
Researched released in January 2015 found that people who drank four cups of coffee a day had a 20 percent lower risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The study, which was published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, followed approximately 500,000 older adults for 11 years. The study authors write that coffee might prevent cancer growth by guarding against DNA damage.
Hopefully obvious disclaimer: Preventing excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays by slathering on a high-SPF broad-spectrum sunscreen, avoiding too much direct sun exposure, and shunning indoor tanning is the best way to prevent skin cancer. We’re not suggesting that sipping an iced coffee while baking under the sun will protect you from skin cancer.
3. Coffee is associated with a lower risk for breast cancer
Although the research is mixed, “the bulk of previous studies suggest that high coffee consumption is associated with a modest reduction of breast cancer risk,” Swedish researchers write in a study published in Breast Cancer Research. That study found that older women who drank more than five cups of coffee daily had a significantly lower risk for a certain type of breast cancer — although lifestyle factors may also partly explain the association.
4. Coffee can prevent death
OK, coffee can’t ward off death forever — as one astute researcher pointed out in this journalist’s early career, the risk of death is always (eventually) 100 percent. But in a large study of 400,000 Americans ages 50 and older published in the New England Journal of Medicine, coffee drinkers were significantly less likely to die during the 13-year study period. And the more coffee consumed, the lower the risk of death. (Again, during the study period. Even miracle beverages have their limits.) An earlier study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which followed people for either 18 or 24 years, found similar associations.
5. Coffee (well, caffeine) makes you like exercise more
In a small study published last year, cyclists reported that an hour-long workout was more enjoyable and less difficult when they had ingested caffeine versus a placebo. The study authors told Yahoo Health that the caffeine-induced boost in “happy chemicals” such as dopamine and serotonin may explain the results.
Caffeine is also a popular athletic performance–enhancer. Research shows it can help you work out longer during endurance exercise, such as jogging or cycling, and also boosts performance during shorter, high-intensity workouts. Even a moderate amount of caffeine — the equivalent of about two to three cups of coffee, depending on your body weight and the strength of the brew — is enough to have an effect, studies suggest. The NCAA even prohibits caffeine use above certain urine concentrations, according to the organization’s current banned drug list.
A caution for healthy coffee consumption…
Bear in mind that loading up your coffee with creamer and sugar (or worse, ordering a choco-frappa-whatever from a fancy chain) can add calories quickly. So keep the flavorings to a minimum. Or try whipping up some delicious Cuban-style coffee — learn the secret ingredient in the video below: