Coffee is becoming an increasingly large part of our everyday lives, where in the UK recent figures suggest that around 70 million cups are consumed daily. In recent years, there has been a huge surge of new coffee shops – but what is it that makes coffee so popular, and how does it affect our mental and physical health?
Coffee drinking can be dated back to the 15th century, where individuals in Yemen would use it to stay awake during religious ceremonies. Nowadays, many use coffee for its energising properties, due to being notably high in caffeine. This caffeine works on the brain by boosting the effects of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine, which all act to reduce tiredness. Caffeine also increases the release of chemicals such as adrenaline, which makes the heart beat faster and cues greater blood flow to the muscles. This can have positive effects on mood and energy, and thus for many people coffee may help reduce feelings of sluggishness associated with mental health issues like depression. However, in large quantities caffeine can also stimulate the body to respond much as it would in a dangerous situation (aka “fight or flight”), such that coffee may increase or cue feelings of anxiety.
In Arabic, coffee is called “qahiya” which means “to lack hunger” thanks to its appetite-suppressing qualities. Coffee also speeds up the metabolism, meaning that (without sugar or cream) coffee may be used as a supplement to weight loss, as well as a helpful energiser for exercise. According to experts, the best time to drink coffee is around 1 hour before exercise, as this is the point when it has the most effect, and may help boost performance. Its physical effects therefore are obvious, however this subsequent exercise may also help to improve many mental health issues, such as depression or OCD.
Research has also found a link between coffee and Parkinson’s disease, which suggests that drinking coffee may actually reduce one’s risk of developing this condition in later life. This has been consistently replicated, and the effect appears strong even when coffee is decaffeinated, suggesting that there is something very special about coffee itself. Parkinson’s disease is characterised by stiff slow movements and involuntary shaking, and is believed to be caused by a loss of nerve cells within the brain which are responsible for the release of dopamine. Drinking a cup of coffee a day may reduce the chance of these cells dying, and therefore increase health and subsequent happiness in your later years.
However, excessive coffee consumption may also lead to health complications, such as high blood pressure, headaches and sleep disorders. Evidently, there are pros and cons associated with this drink, however one thing which must be taken into account are the effects of caffeine. Like any other drug, caffeine can have both long and short term effects on the body, and not all of these are clear. Caffeine can also become addictive, and if overused can cause complications, however one or two cups a day shouldn’t do any harm for most people. However, without caffeine coffee still has many of its health benefits, including reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease and speeding up the metabolism, without any of the nasty side-effects. Therefore, if you’re looking to get the most benefit from your morning brew, switch to black, unsweetened decaf – however that vanilla latte may also have the potential to boost your mood.

Source: Dr Julian Existing Website feed

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