In a survey conducted in 2013 by the National Coffee Association it was found that 83% of Americans had consumed coffee within the past year. One of the top reasons for consuming coffee was the assumption of more than 70% of the participants that coffee increases alertness and reduces sleepiness. The assumption that coffee acts as a stimulant is correct since it contains a chemical called caffeine, a psychoactive drug that acts on the central nervous system by increasing alertness and focus.
But the story of coffee and its stimulant properties is not a recent one and has been known for centuries, since it began approximately in the ninth century in the Ethiopian providence of Kaffa (hence the name coffee). It then spread through Africa to Arabia where reports of the first coffee beverages can be found in Yemen in the 15th century and then, with the help of the Dutch, to Europe and then rest of the world.
Coffee was therefore widely acknowledged through the centuries for its stimulant properties of reducing symptoms of physical fatigue and increasing alertness, but does it have any other medicinal effects?
The medicinal properties of coffee can be divided into short and long term effects since coffee (or more precisely caffeine) can act either directly on blood vessels causing immediate health effects, such as increasing blood pressure or curing a headache, and also through the antioxidant properties of coffee long term effects have been reported according to the daily consumption and the duration of consumption.
Short term health effects and medicinal uses of coffee
Headaches especially headaches after a spinal or epidural anesthesia
Most women who have given birth either naturally or with a cesarean section have received an epidural or spinal anesthetic. One of the complications of these anesthetic techniques is a post-dural puncture headache that although harmless does cause a lot of discomfort and may last for days or even weeks. One of the treatment options in this case is the consumption of coffee because of its caffeine content. Caffeine seems to affect pain pathways therefore helping in the cure of these headaches
For this reason and the ability to cause the blood vessels to constrict (the blood vessels become narrower) caffeine is often added to pharmaceuticals containing Non-Steroid Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen since not only does caffeine help in the better absorption of these drugs but also caffeine has healing properties of its own. This leads to a smaller amount of the NSAIDs being necessary in order to achieve pain relief. These type of medication have been especially helpful in the treatment of migraines that are caused by the dilation (the blood vessels become wider) of the blood vessels since caffeine-containing pain killers reverse this effect.
But can caffeine also cause headaches? If on average too much coffee is consumed daily a sudden withdrawal from coffee can cause what is known as ‘caffeine withdrawal headaches’. So yes too much of something good can be bad for you.
Increases blood pressure
Because of the vessel constricting properties of caffeine, coffee consumption helps increase blood pressure and should therefore be avoided if you have high blood pressure. Nevertheless symptoms such as dizziness caused by low blood pressure can be cured by drinking a cup of coffee!
Caffeine helps against constipation because it has laxative properties. So instead of medicating for constipation drinking a cup of coffee is just as effective! Coffee helps bowel movements and induces the release of stool but again too much coffee can cause diarrhea.
Improves short-term memory
Caffeine increases brain activity so drinking a cup of coffee improves both short-term and working memory, improving also reaction times in adults.
Long term health effects and medicinal uses of coffee
A correlation has been found between the consumption of coffee and the reduction of colorectal cancer, liver cancer and breast cancer. These properties may be primarily attributed to the antioxidant substances found in coffee that reduce oxidative cell damage and therefore protect against certain types of cancer.
Despite containing antioxidants a positive correlation has been found between carcinogens (substances that cause cancer) found in coffee and pancreas cancer.
So although coffee helps in the prevention of some types of cancer it seems to have an opposite effect on other types of cancer.
Preventing or delaying Parkinson’s disease
Consumption of coffee, especially in men, has been correlated with both a delay in the development and the prevention of the development of Parkinson’s disease. Interestingly men are more affected by the daily consumption of coffee and the prevention of Parkinson’s disease than women.
Prevention of diabetes mellitus Type 2
A study conducted in 2009 with 40,000 participants showed a correlation between the consumption of 3 cups of coffee or more a day and a reduced risk for developing diabetes. The anti-inflammatory properties of coffee mainly because it contains anti-oxidants called polyphenols seem to be responsible for reducing the possibility of the development of diabetes type 2 in adults.
Preventing gallbladder stones
The risk of developing gall stones is also reduced by the intake of 4 cups of coffee or more a day.
Protects the heart
Although coffee consumption has been associated with increased cholesterol levels and an increased risk for a heart attack, a study conducted in 2012 came to the conclusion that moderate coffee consumption lessened the risk for developing heart failure especially if 4 cups of coffee were consumed daily.
It must be nevertheless noted that information regarding the protective properties of coffee on the heart are contradictory and to a great extend inconclusive.
Interestingly coffee has positive effects also on affect and mood. In a study conducted on more than 50,000 women in the United States in 2011 it was found that the risk of developing depression decreased with increasing coffee consumption.
Delays Alzheimer’s disease
Adults over 65 years of age who consume 3 cups of coffee or more a day seem to develop Alzheimer’s disease 2 to 3 years later than non-consumers. It seems therefore that coffee not only has a positive effect on short-term memory but also on the development of dementia later on in life.
It is important to stress that despite the many positive effects or even medical uses of coffee there is on strict contra indication to the consumption of coffee consumption and that is during pregnancy and breast feeding since coffee increases the risk for abortion and is not metabolized as quickly by the fetus causing adverse side effects.
The information provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only and is not advise also provided without any representations and no warranties whatsoever. The provided information should never substitute the consultation, opinion , diagnosis, and treatment options provided by a professional healthcare provider.
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