Does Coffee Cause Inflammation? Insights From Health Experts

Millions of people kickstart their day with a cup of coffee. Despite its popularity, there’s growing concern that coffee causes inflammation, potentially resulting in health concerns like joint pain, digestive problems, and fatigue. In this article, we investigate the link between coffee and inflammation and how you can enjoy your regular coffee without guilt.

Does coffee cause inflammation?

For most people, coffee doesn’t cause inflammation. In fact, coffee contains many anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants that may reduce inflammation in the body and could benefit overall health. On the other hand, coffee also contains compounds such as caffeine, which is hypothesized to have a pro-inflammatory effect in certain individuals, possibly increasing systemic inflammation.

According to studies, some individuals may be more sensitive to the pro-inflammatory effects of coffee. Researchers theorize that certain factors may contribute to the heightened inflammatory actions of coffee, such as age, genetics, and lifestyle. How you make your coffee may also contribute to inflammation.

Inflammation is a normal immune response to injuries and illnesses, triggering the body’s repair process. In the short term, inflammation is beneficial and necessary for healing. However, chronic inflammation that goes on for months can damage the body, potentially leading to health problems such as joint pain, digestive problems, fatigue, and more. It’s also linked to diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and even mental health concerns.

Food choices may trigger or inhibit inflammatory mediators, the chemicals responsible for the immune reaction that lead to inflammation.

The good: anti-inflammatory properties of coffee

Roasted coffee contains a mix of bioactive compounds that benefit health, most notably polyphenols. Polyphenols are compounds found in plants that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Among these, chlorogenic acid is the most abundant polyphenol in coffee and one of the most well-known antioxidants. Chlorogenic acids in coffee may reduce inflammation by blocking the production and release of inflammatory mediators and protecting cells from free radical damage.

In a broader context, drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of diseases linked to chronic inflammation, like type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease. It’s believed that the anti-inflammatory properties in coffee protect against disease.

Research indicates that regular coffee drinkers have lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers than non-drinkers. There are even hypotheses that drinking more coffee can lower these biomarkers further. However, research is mixed. A meta-analysis study that included more than 60,000 participants from 11 studies concluded that current study results are inconsistent and that more research is needed to understand whether coffee has an effect on inflammatory biomarkers.

The bad: when coffee might contribute to inflammation

The evidence supporting the anti-inflammatory properties of coffee is strong but not conclusive. Other factors may influence the coffee’s anti-inflammatory benefits, like lifestyle, overall health, and coffee preparation.

Caffeine is one of the key bioactive compounds in coffee. The stimulating effects of caffeine are one of the reasons the drink is so popular. However, if you drink coffee late in the day, the added stimulation may make it hard to get high-quality sleep. Poor sleep habits may increase inflammation, potentially canceling out the anti-inflammatory benefits of coffee. Switching to decaffeinated coffee may prevent sleep disruptions and still provide health benefits.

What you put in your coffee may also contribute to inflammation. Excessive intake of sugar or artificial sweeteners is linked to systemic inflammation. Though most studies only looked at the health benefits of black coffee, some research shows that coffee with added sugar and cream continues to provide benefits. However, the benefits may wane if you drink several cups of sweet and creamy coffee a day.

Drinking boiled or unfiltered coffee may also affect the health benefits. This preparation method increases levels of bioactive compounds called diterpenes in coffee. Diterpenes are organic compounds that are reported to disrupt cholesterol metabolism in the body, potentially increasing blood cholesterol levels. You can reduce the amount of these diterpenes from your coffee using a paper filter.

Tips for coffee lovers

The jury’s still out about whether coffee is good or harmful to health. However, you may gain more benefits from your regular coffee by following a few tips from a dietitian:

  1. Limit added sugar. Adults should limit added sugar to about 12 teaspoons a day. A 16-ounce frozen coffee drink can have as much as 16 teaspoons of sugar. Drink unsweetened coffee or cut added sweeteners in half to reduce intake.
  2. Use non-nutritive sweeteners in moderation. Non-nutritive sweeteners are very low-calorie sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and stevia. These sweeteners are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) when used in moderation. If you have concerns about artificial sweeteners and health, try natural non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit.
  3. Add milk or fortified plant milk. Coffee is a great vehicle for getting more calcium and vitamin D in the diet. Instead of cream, use non-fat or low-fat milk or fortified plant milk to lighten your coffee to boost nutrition.
  4. Watch your caffeine intake. Adults should limit daily caffeine to 400 milligrams a day, the amount found in three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee. Excessive caffeine intake may affect sleep or aggravate health conditions like acid reflux. If you drink several cups of coffee a day, switch to decaffeinated coffee to limit caffeine intake.
  5. Try coffee alternatives. If you think coffee is causing some unwanted symptoms, consider alternative beverages that provide similar benefits like green tea, matcha, or mushroom coffee.

Remember, coffee doesn’t cause inflammation in most people. It is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that may actually reduce inflammation.

You can indeed enjoy your morning cup and all the benefits that come with it. However, don’t cancel out those benefits by drinking only unfiltered coffee with a lot of sugar and cream. And, if coffee is your go-to drink as you move through your day, switch to decaf before lunch to prevent disruptions in sleep.

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