Is black coffee healthy? That is, is it good for you to drink your coffee black? What are the benefits of drinking black coffee? While dairy milk added to coffee is a source of important nutrition and benefits for health, raw honey exerts a beneficial immunomodulating effect, and coffee with tea such as black tea doubles on the benefits, there are quite a few good reasons to drink your coffee black.
What are the benefits of black coffee?
1) Increased alertness and productivity
Dairy and plant milk taste great with coffee and add nutritional value to the brew, as well as benefits for health. At the same time, they also water it down. That is, you will get fewer benefits from the coffee itself if you choose to not have it black. One of the biggest benefits of drinking your coffee black is that you get a good dose of caffeine. A nervous system and cardiovascular system stimulant, caffeine combats sleepiness and increases alertness, raises heart rate and blood pressure as well as promotes cognitive performance. This boosts energy levels and supports sustained work productivity.
2) Rich source of antioxidants and other bioactive constituents
We all know that blueberries, aronia or chokeberries, Amelanchier or serviceberries, raspberries, mulberries and blackberries are rich in antioxidants. But did you know that coffee is too? Black coffee in particular has a ‘rich phytochemistry’, according to research (source), and excels as a source of antioxidants.
Among the health-promoting constituents in the brew are caffeine, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, cafestol, kahweol, hydroxyhydroquinone, trigonelin, diterpenes as well as other secondary metabolites (source) which have been shown to scavenge free radicals in the body and ameliorate oxidative stress conducive to chronic disease. Not just this, but bioactive constituents in black coffee modulate detoxifying enzymes in the body exerting anticancer activities.
Studies have observed coffee consumption to be associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes, various cancer lines, degenerative diseases of the nervous system such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, among other forms of chronic disease. In part, such benefits are owed to the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxifying activities of biologically active components in the brew.
3) Lower risks of several cancers
Coffee itself is an anticancer food product. Studies show biologically active components in coffee such as cafestol and kahweol modulate detoxifying enzymes and ‘act as a safeguard against some malignant cells’ (source). ‘Diterpene alcohols have many health benefits such as antioxidant and chemo-preventive’.
The anticancer effects of regular black coffee extend to include multiple systems and organs. ‘Many research investigations, epidemiological studies, and meta-analyses regarding coffee consumption revealed its inverse correlation with that of […] various cancer lines’ (see source above). Research notes that coffee drinking may have a protective effect ‘in case of colorectal, liver and breast cancers’ (source).
In an umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes, coffee consumption ‘was associated with an 18% lower risk of incident cancer’ and ‘also associated with a lower risk of several specific cancers’ (source).
For example, ‘coffee intake more than 2 cups per day in patients with preexisting liver disease has been shown to be associated with lower incidence of fibrosis and cirrhosis, lower hepatocellular carcinoma rates, as well as decreased mortality’. The largest relative risk reduction was observed at intakes of three to four cups of coffee a day (source).
‘Coffee drinking is associated with a reduced risk of liver cancer’ in particular. The benefits of coffee for liver cancer are largely owed to ‘a favorable effect on liver enzymes and cirrhosis’. ‘Another meta-analysis showed an inverse relation for endometrial cancer risk’, and also a ‘possible decreased risk was found in some studies for oral/pharyngeal cancer and for advanced prostate cancer’ (source).
Regular black coffee further ‘contains several bioactive compounds relevant to colon physiology’, and drinking coffee has been proposed as a protective factor for colon cancer. In a study, coffee consumption was associated with 26% lower risks of developing colorectal cancer, with effects being dose-dependent (source).
4) Good for liver health
Of the many benefits of drinking coffee, one of the most surprising is it’s good for the liver. In a review of recent research on the effects of coffee on health, ‘the results of epidemiological research suggest that coffee consumption may help prevent several chronic diseases, including (…) liver disease (cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma)’ (source).
There is also ‘clinical evidence of benefit of coffee consumption in Hepatitis B and C, as well as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic liver disease’. According to research, ‘coffee consumption is associated with improvement in liver enzymes (ALT, AST, and GGTP), especially in individuals with risk for liver disease’.
‘Coffee intake more than 2 cups per day in patients with preexisting liver disease has been shown to be associated with lower incidence of fibrosis and cirrhosis, lower hepatocellular carcinoma rates, as well as decreased mortality’ (source).
5) Benefits for constipation
Black coffee provides a significant dose of caffeine, more than coffee with milk, coffee with cream and even coffee with tea. Caffeine is one of the main biologically active components in the brew. Caffeine is classified as a cardio-stimulant, neuro-stimulant, and irritant.
At the level of the gastrointestinal tract, caffeine exerts both a stimulant and irritant effect on the muscles and causes the premature and urgent emptying of the bowels. This is essentially what helps initiate bowel movements and relieve constipation.
6) Good for muscles
Of all the things coffee is good for, its benefits for muscles are the last thing anyone would think of. ‘Summary of current literature suggests that coffee has beneficial effects on skeletal muscle. Coffee has been shown to induce autophagy, improve insulin sensitivity, stimulate glucose uptake, slow the progression of sarcopenia (loss of skeletal muscle mass with aging), and promote the regeneration of injured muscle’ (source).
In animal studies, ‘coffee supplementation was observed to increase skeletal muscle hypertrophy’, stimulating muscle growth. Not just this, but coffee was found to attenuate expression of myostatin, a protein that regulates growth and inhibits muscle growth, further exerting benefits for muscle growth (source).
In vivo studies indicate consumption of coffee, as in regular black coffee, is good for age-related loss of skeletal muscle. More exactly, coffee attenuates the decrease in muscle weight and grip strength, increases the regenerating capacity of injured muscles, and decreases levels of serum pro-inflammatory mediators’ (source).
7) Improves mood
One of the many reasons why people drink coffee daily is its mood-lifting effects. Research confirms coffee has strong behavior modulating effects that can be attributed to both caffeine and other bioactive components in the brew such as chlorogenic acid. Black coffee in particular supplies high amounts of bioactive components and, as a result, shows the strongest behavioral effects.
Caffeine in regular black coffee exerts a neuro-stimulating action which results in increased alertness and decreased reaction time, as well as decreases tiredness. This alone boosts motivation and productivity and translates into better disposition. The generous amounts of caffeine in regular black coffee also help with headaches which directly contributes to better mood. All of these effects combined lift mood and improve disposition measurably.
8) Supports intellectual effort and boosts cognitive performance
Having your coffee black will scare away any sleep by stimulating the nervous system and boosting alertness via a high content of caffeine. Increased alertness not only boosts productivity, but also contributes to clearer thinking that is conducive to effective learning and helps memory. The neuro-stimulating action of black coffee along with its effects on cognition support intellectual effort and drive learning performance.
9) Lower risks of diabetes
Drinking coffee, as in regular black coffee, lowers your risks of diabetes, according to science. Studies report that ‘consumption of coffee in adults up to three cups a day reduces the risk of type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome’ (source).
The antidiabetic effects of coffee are owed to bioactive constituents such as chlorogenic acid and caffeine – chlorogenic acids and caffeine are ‘the two constituents of coffee in higher concentration after the roasting process’ (source).
According to research, the protective effect of coffee on the development of type 2 diabetes can be explained by the fact that coffee reduces glucose uptake, that is, absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Not just this, but bioactive constituents in coffee such as chlorogenic acid and caffeine exert antioxidant effects, inhibiting and ameliorating oxidative stress and reducing inflammation markers which further reduces risks for type 2 diabetes (source).
What’s interesting is that coffee consumption ‘also favors gastrointestinal tract and gut microbiota establishment’ (source), contributing to ‘microbiome content and diversity’ (source). The prebiotic activities of coffee, a rather novel prospective benefit, are another proposed mechanism behind the antidiabetic action of the brew.
10) Protective effects against Parkinson’s disease
Data collected so far indicates that coffee consumption may help prevent several chronic diseases, including Parkinson’s disease (source). According to research, ‘coffee and its components have several neuroprotective properties that lower the risk of cognitive decline and other neurodegenerative diseases’ (source).
Biologically active components in the brew such as caffeine, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, trigonelline, kahweol, cafestol and others are proposed to be behind the neuroprotective effects of coffee that result in benefits such as a reduced risks of Parkinson’s disease.
11) Protective effect against early cognitive decline and dementia (Alzheimer’s)
Studies have observed regular coffee consumption to exert protective effects on the nervous system and result in lower risks of degenerative diseases of the nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Coffee holds important benefits for cognition, supporting cognitive functions and improving cognitive performance. This is achieved by exerting a stimulating effect on the nervous system that results in increased alertness and decreased reaction time, reduced mental fatigue, clearer thinking and memory support. The neurostimulating effects of coffee are well documented.
Studies further document that ‘regular coffee consumption seems to be also correlated with a decreased risk of developing some neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia (source)’.
While the proposed mechanisms of action are poorly understood, studies have clearly identified neuroprotective activities in several constituents from coffee.
Caffeine, one of the main biologically active constituent in coffee, averts memory impairment and improves recognition memory. Moreover, studies on caffeine show it provides cognitive protection ‘across a multiple of cognitive domains, such as spatial learning, memory, identification, strategy switching, and working memory’. Also, ‘a long-term moderate caffeine consumption has also a desirable effect on already existing Alzheimer’s disease symptoms’ (see source above).
Chlorogenic acid, another main bioactive element of coffee, further exerts significant neuroprotective effects via ‘its ability to reduce oxidative stress’. Chlorogenic acid scavenges free radicals and chelates metals, demonstrating protective effects against neuronal damage caused by oxidative stress (see source above).
Caffeic acid in coffee exerts a strong antioxidant effect, stronger than that of most other constituents. According to research, ‘ caffeic acid displays a broad-spectrum neuroprotective profile’: it attenuated neuronal cell injury, suppresses the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (free radicals), and protects against neurotoxicity and associated cell death (see source above).
12) Anti-obesity activities
Coffee is scientifically proven to modulate metabolism and reduce risks of cardiometabolic disease such as obesity. According to research, coffee consumption at a daily intake of 2-3 cups is both safe and improves cardiovascular risk factors, including obesity (source).
Coffee ‘as a plant food has similar beneficial properties to many vegetables and fruits’: it activates adaptive cell responses that upregulate proteins involved in cell protection, specifically antioxidant, detoxifying and repair enzymes. Moreover, coffee also exerts prebiotic effects, modulating gut microbiota, which further results in anti-obesity effects (source).
The anti-obesity benefits of coffee are modest, but measurable, and can be traced back to its rich phytochemistry. Chlorogenic acids, caffeine, trigonelline are other highly biologically active constituents in coffee have scientifically proven anti-obesity activities.
Animal studies have shown that ‘supplementation with chlorogenic acid reduced body weight, visceral fat mass, and triglyceride content in adipose tissue in high-fat-fed mice’ (source). ‘In an in vitro study, trigonelline inhibited adipocyte proliferation and lipid accumulation in differentiating adipocytes’ (source), indicating clear anti-adipogenic effects which explain the
13) Lower risks of cardiovascular disease
Consumption of coffee, notably regular black coffee and espresso, as well as high daily intakes have been observed to cause cardiovascular side effects both short and long term. A rise in blood pressure numbers, heart rate, palpitations and extrasystoles driven by cardio and neuro-stimulation are all very real side effects of drinking coffee.
At the same time, coffee, regular black coffee to be more exact, is also good for the heart. Because yes, it’s possible for something to be both good and bad for you. And it’s even backed up by research.
Type 2 diabetes, excess weight, obesity are common risk factors for cardiovascular disease. But coffee has scientifically proven anti-diabetic and anti-obesity activities. According to research, ‘coffee consumption is associated with improvements in some cardiovascular risk factors, including type 2 diabetes, depression, and obesity’.
‘Habitual coffee consumption is associated with lower risks for cardiovascular death and a variety of adverse cardiovascular outcomes, including coronary heart disease (CHD), congestive heart failure (CHF), and stroke (source)’. Studies report that ‘consumption of coffee in adults up to three cups a day reduces the risk of type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (source)’.
The takeaway is that drinking regular black coffee is good for cardiovascular health long-term via its effects on metabolism. Black coffee also helps raise blood pressure numbers that are too low, one of the short-term benefits of the brew.
However, coffee consumption is contraindicated in instances of pre-existing cardiovascular disease such as severe high blood pressure where the side effects outweigh the benefits. Limiting intake to one cup, considering an infrequent intake, avoiding black coffee and espresso and watering coffee down with equal amounts of milk have all been proposed as solutions for preventing cardiovascular side effects related to coffee consumption.