Coffee: Miracle Liquid or Addictive Drug?

Grace McKenzie-Smith

Coffee. That wonderful beverage that wakes you up and warms you to your toes. Aromatic and energizing, coffee is a must-have for many people across the United States of America. There is more to coffee than meets the taste buds. Coffee may have health benefits, such as the prevention of depression and lowering of risk for early-onset Alzheimer’s and Type II diabetes. There are also possible negative effects of coffee, including cardiovascular problems, pregnancy issues, and addiction. So, is coffee a fantastic miracle drink, or a harmful drug?

There are many benefits of coffee apart from the increased alertness that all coffee-drinkers know and love. Studies published in the European Journal of Neurology have shown that moderate coffee drinkers (3-5 cups each day) are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and dementia in later life than people who don’t drink coffee or only drink a little. Research has also shown that drinking coffee can reduce the risk of developing Type II diabetes. People who drank seven cups of coffee a day were 50% less likely to develop Type II diabetes. Studies at the Harvard School of Medicine have shown that women who drink at least two cups of coffee a day are less likely to be depressed, although the reasons for this are as of yet unclear. Additionally, coffee has been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, increase the effectiveness of painkillers, and increase short-term memory (note: useful when cramming for tests.)

Unfortunately for coffee-drinkers, the health risks of coffee are as numerous as the benefits. Research at the Baylor College of Medicine have shown that coffee can increase cholesterol concentrations in the blood, which causes plaque buildup that leads to heart attacks and strokes. Drinking coffee may also contribute to high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. Women who drink moderate amounts of coffee during their pregnancies have a higher chance of giving birth to dead babies. The caffeine will get into the baby’s blood while it is still in the womb and cause an increased heart rate. This kills small and weak fetuses. One of the most commonly known risks of coffee is addiction. Many people who drink coffee on a regular basis become addicted to it. Without enough coffee, these people cannot function on the same cognitive level and are unable to accomplish the same amount of work. Similar to alcohol, people can build up a tolerance for coffee, needing even more to satisfy their cravings.

Do the benefits of coffee outweigh its risks? For some people, like doctors and nurses who need to work at odd hours and must always be alert, the answer is yes. For others, such as those with pre-existing heart-conditions, the answer should probably be no. What is it for you?