Ask A Doctor: How Your Morning Coffee Is Affecting Your Health

It should come as no surprise that the vast majority of Americans need a little help waking up every morning. And no, we aren’t talking about an alarm clock.

It turns out that 83 percent of the country drinks coffee, and America's per-capita consumption is 0.931 cups a day.

With new studies being published constantly, we wanted to know if our morning vice is harmful or beneficial to our bodies. HealthiNation talked to Dr. Paul Knoepflmacher to learn more about the pros and cons of coffee.

5 Possible Health Benefits

There have been several observational research studies over the years that have found possible associations between consuming coffee and the reduced risk of developing certain diseases.

While these studies point to some health benefits, research still cannot conclude that these lowered risks are directly related to the consumption of coffee.

There is still a chance that another common factor between coffee drinkers, such as their diets or lifestyle habits, may be the actual explanation for these lower risks.

1. Drinking three to five cups of coffee a day appeared to lower a person’s risk of clogged arteries. This, in turn, helps reduce a person's overall risk of suffering a heart attack.

Researchers determined that coffee was associated with 23 percent less calcium build-up in the arteries, which is one of the first things to occur in the hardening of the arteries.

2. A 2015 study found that adults who drank between four and six cups of coffee a day were "about one-third less likely to develop multiple sclerosis, compared to people who do not drink coffee."

Note: Drinking coffee does not help alleviate the symptoms of MS.

3. An ongoing study (using data from more than 450,000 women) determined there could be a correlation between drinking four cups of coffee daily and reduced risk of developing Endometrial Cancer, which affects the lining of the uterus, by about 18 percent.

4. Coffee can help protect against the deadliest form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma.

A study published in early 2015 from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that people who consumed four or more cups of coffee per day had a 20 percent reduced risk of developing melanoma.

5. Research has also found potential neurological health benefits as a result of drinking coffee.

An Italian study focused on senior citizens noted a decline in their risk for "mild cognitive impairment," which refers to "declines in memory and thinking that are often a precursor to dementia."

Because these studies do not prove any direct cause-and-effect relationships between coffee and reduced risks of diseases, Dr. Knoepflmacher ensures we must take these study results with a grain of salt.

One health benefit of coffee that has been well-documented is the presence of antioxidants.

Did you know Americans get the majority of their antioxidants from coffee than from any other source? Antioxidants help fight free radicals, which damage cells and may play a part in causing diseases such as cancer.

9 Common Side Effects of Coffee

For some people, coffee can also be associated with a number of minor side effects, depending on how many cups they drink, and factors such as their weight, gender and age.

Some of the most common side effects can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Upset stomach
  • Increase in heart rate*
  • Muscle tremors
  • Increase of gastric acid, which can lead to heart burn
  • Negative interactions with select medications such as antibiotics

*Contrary to popular belief, moderate amounts of caffeine do not negatively impact heart health or increase the risk of heart-related conditions.

If you have noticed you are becoming increasingly dependent on coffee, Dr. Knoepflmacher suggests reducing your coffee intake little by little. Going cold turkey won’t cut it.

An abrupt decrease in the amount of caffeine you consume can cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, irritability and nervousness to intensify.

To do this more gradually, start by decreasing the amount of cups of coffee you consume each day by half. Another option is to try replacing coffee with herbal tea, or switch to decaffeinated coffee.

At the end of the day, it is still difficult to say whether or not coffee is good or bad for us.

Just as with many things, coffee can be good in moderation. Research shows that up to 400 mg of caffeine (four cups of coffee) a day should be safe for most healthy adults.

The more coffee you drink, the more you will likely find yourself susceptible to some of the negative side effects of coffee.