Coffee is the second most frequently consumed liquid in the world behind water. Use of coffee as a concentration aid goes back to the 15th century but today coffee is also touted to improve performance, lengthen healthspan, reduce the risk of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease and depression. The literature supporting these claims is fairly robust and consumption seems to be consistent with health optimization. Caffeine though is a double edged sword with widely variable tolerance. Coffee therefore needs to be thoughtfully considered prior to consumption in unlimited qualities. Like most things in the optimization space there is nuance, misunderstanding and strong opinions to wade through.
In this blog regarding caffeine I wrote about the potential benefits and risks. Coffee contains on average 150mg of caffeine per 8 ounce cup. There is significant variation in this number based on bean sourcing and brewing techniques. Starbucks Grande drip coffee, a 16 ounce cup, contains between 300 and 400mg depending on the roast. Most of the benefits of caffeine consumption begin to level off after consumption of only 100 – 200mg with side effects starting to climb in frequency and severity at the same dose. There is significant variation in response to caffeine based on genetic predisposition to the speed of caffeine metabolism. This explains the bulk of the variability in tolerance to coffee.
The health benefits of coffee probably lie in the rich polyphenol content. Polyphenols are natural compounds that contain anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This diverse group of compounds appears to have the ability to provoke epigenetic changes which can lead to remarkable improvements in the inflammatory signaling pathway and inflammaging. Polyphenols have also been found to promote neurogenesis (brain cell regeneration) which could play a significant role in prevention of dementia. Coffee is the most robust source of polyphenols in the diet worldwide.
Yessenkyzy, A., Saliev, T., Zhanaliyeva, M., Masoud, A. R., Umbayev, B., Sergazy, S., Krivykh, E., Gulyayev, A., & Nurgozhin, T. (2020). Polyphenols as Caloric-Restriction Mimetics and Autophagy Inducers in Aging Research. Nutrients, 12(5), 1344. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12051344
Decaffeinated coffee is one option for enjoying coffee without the risks of caffeine or potentially as a way to reduce habituation to caffeine. The polyphenol content of the bean generally remains consistent between decaf and regular beans from the same crop and therefore the coffee benefits should be preserved! Coffee beans can be decaffeinated by either a chemical or water and carbon filter process. The chemical process can use variable agents which are rarely disclosed and any remaining in the coffee may add to our allostatic load (toxic exposures). Water processing frequently described as “mountain” or “swiss” water processing does not introduce anything toxic into the bean and is reported to remove up to 99.9% of the caffeine content. Regardless of which bean you choose to grind I do recommend that you make sure the company reports to test for contaminants, toxins and mold. Kion, Purity and Bulletproof are three companies that I use personally and report this type of testing.
Tea in all forms is likely the third leading beverage consumed in the world behind coffee. Many countries strongly prefer tea to coffee as seen in the map below. Green, black and oolong teas can have significant quantities of polyphenol content. The composition of which is slightly different from coffee but the research demonstrates similar if not even better health benefits from consumption! While the connection to all cause mortality may not be as strong as coffee there are strong associations with reduced risks of stroke, diabetes and depression. Improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure and abdominal obesity are also seen in tea drinkers. The caffeine content can be between 10 and 70mg per cup but decaffeinated teas are also available. Just like coffee though you have to verify the process of decaffeination. Carbon dioxide or “natural” is preferred to a chemical process for the same reasons listed above. As a substitute for coffee tea can offer similar health benefits per cup but because of the lower caffeine content tea can be consumed in larger quantities and may provide superior benefits as a result.
Both coffee and tea can come in surprise packages. Consider the packaging for both health and environmental reasons. K-cups and individual plastic bags can contribute plastic particles and xenoestrogens to our system. The environmental impact is considerable as well. Consider buying in bulk whenever possible and avoid carrying any food or drink in plastic. Also never heat your coffee or tea in plastic even if the container states that it is safe to do so….
In the end coffee is great and for those that metabolize caffeine rapidly may be consumed in usual quantities on a regular basis. For those of us who metabolize caffeine slowly or don’t tolerate caffeine for other reasons decaf coffee and tea can be considered. Ultimately all caffeine users should periodically detox from the substance to preserve the bodies ability to benefit from this performance enhancer. My personal habits now include a daily cup or two of water processed decaf or regular green tea in the morning. I frequently sip on carbon dioxide processed decaf green tea in the afternoon for added benefit. I live mostly caffeine free which gives me the ability to use caffeine as a performance enhancer when I want it. Leave us a comment and tell us how you prefer to get your polyphenols!