Coffee runs are a regular practice here at the Vogue office. Porcelain mugs and paper cups are always in hand at early morning meetings, and the soundtrack of the coffee maker remains at a constant hum. Yet we’re not alone in our loyalty to the morning brew. According to a survey conducted by Drive Research, 87 per cent of Americans consider themselves somewhat or full-on coffee-obsessed, while in the UK, 70 per cent drink at least two cups a day. So, given how many coffeeholics are out there, we’ve decided to launch a full-fledged investigation into the matter.
To gain a better understanding of the pros and cons of a cup of joe, we searched far and wide, contacting top professionals from neurology to nutrition. Nashville-based personal trainer, Gunnar Peterson, (whose starry clientele includes pro athletes like David Beckham and reality star Khloe Kardashian) shared the benefits of coffee. As a self-described “morning” person with a perpetual 4 am alarm, caffeine is Peterson’s go-to fuel. Harvard Medical School’s professor of neurology, Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi—who coincidentally was enjoying a cup of Kona coffee in Hawaii when we spoke—told us his surprising view on how coffee can affect your memory.
Dermatologist Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, a.k.a. Tiktok’s CEO of Lasers, let us in on how coffee affects the skin and ageing, while Lily Mazzarella of Farmacopia suggests dialling back on the beans and offers Reishi mushroom as an alternative with added immune-boosting and nervous system benefits. Celebrity nutritionist Dr. Oz Garcia agrees: There are other ways to achieve healthy caffeine intake. Cardiologist Dr. Icilma V. Fergus, MD, FACC, meanwhile, highlights the benefits of coffee, which include reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and hypertension. The key takeaways of coffee’s impact on our health quickly became apparent—some good, some bad—and as always, moderation is key.
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Still, the question remains: Can coffee be good for you? We’ll leave it to the experts to give us their freshly-brewed take.
Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi, neurologist
“Numerous studies have shown that drinking coffee can help reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Others have suggested that excessive coffee drinking (more than five to six regular cups per day) can increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. So, in any event, moderation is the key.
It is also important to remember that “correlation does not equal causation”. In other words, there may be something in coffee, for example, caffeine or cafeic acid or other coffee bean ingredients, that slows down Alzheimer’s pathology. Just this past week, espresso bean extracts were shown to reduce the formation of tangles that kill off nerve cells in Alzheimer’s.
On the other hand, it may be that the type of person who drinks more coffee is more intellectually stimulated, socially interactive, or physically active, all of which can reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.”
Gunnar Peterson, personal trainer
“I’m a huge fan of caffeine. It is good for so many things—overall health is one. It slows the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Caffeine also helps improve circulation. I talk to my clients all the time—circulation is key. That’s why we move first thing when we get in the gym because when the circulation is moving it’s flushing toxins. It’s a triple threat. You get oxygen to the muscles, you get nutrients and you flush out the toxins. For me—that’s where I make the connection.
Now looking if it’s bad for you, obviously, the devil is in the dose. If you’re consuming 1200 milligrams a day, you’ll probably see some negative side effects. Another negative, different types of coffee can affect cholesterol levels. One coffee sure, two, that’s fine, but if you want five you may want to pump the breaks.
For caffeine, you have to look at the dose and the time of the dose to maximise efficiency. I personally use a pre-workout when I lift early… To answer your question—yes, it has health benefits. Obviously if taken too much, too often it can have less desirable side effects. It’s a known performance enhancer when used judiciously when timed right and when dosed right.”
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Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, dermatologist
“Coffee is good! It’s the largest source of polyphenols and hydrocinnamic acids in the human diet. These are powerful antioxidants that fight harmful free radicals, protecting our cells from damage. Studies also show black coffee lengthens telomeres, a reliable marker of healthy ageing. In a study of Japanese females, coffee drinkers showed reduced photo ageing. As the saying goes, everything is in moderation and coffee is no exception. Overconsumption can lead to dehydration and loss of beauty sleep. Just don’t overdo it.”
Lily Mazzarella, MS, CNS, herbalist and nutritionist
“Coffee, especially one that’s been properly sourced to address environmental and social impacts of the trade, and prepared to filter out LDL-raising diterpenes, is associated with a host of health benefits—though the research on this is ongoing and variable. The benefits and downsides of coffee are not one-size-fits-all.
In my clinical nutrition practice, I see a host of people who are not suited for coffee intake, including those experiencing anxiety, sleep issues, acid reflux, dense breast tissue and irregular ovulation, adrenal fatigue, high blood pressure and IBS.
Slow caffeine metabolisers (who have a variation of the coffee-metabolising CYPA12 liver gene) tend to experience more of coffee’s potential ill effects, but for anyone feeling tired and wired, it is worth trying a coffee substitute. Look for one formulated with well-sourced adaptogens, nervous system tonics, and medicinal mushrooms. A daily botanical brew can be a great opportunity to work in traditional restorative herbs that have been shown to normalize our HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) or “stress axis” response. Most people love the ritual and sensory experience of coffee, and these functional beverages offer flavor and energy without caffeine crashes.”
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Dr. Oz Garcia, nutritionist
“While I don’t recommend coffee, I can’t discount that there are several health benefits. Coffee can be a great antioxidant, it can help cognitive function and cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, many of the commercial brands of coffee also happen to be acidic, contain pesticides and have mould contamination. I also don’t suggest regular coffee consumption because it can trigger anxiety, stress the thyroid and adrenals, deregulate blood sugar as well as cause an upset stomach. It’s also dehydrating. If you can’t live without it, look for an organic, low acid brand that is free of mycotoxins.
Decaf coffee is not necessarily better. While it won’t give you the jitters, it can still negatively impact your health. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, I’d say drink decaf recreationally.
Better alternatives are green tea or matcha which contains caffeine but have the benefit of L-theanine which gives you a smoother buzz without the jitters or coffee crash. I also developed a coffee alternative called ATP Boost which is a functional nutrition powder that helps energy production and mental clarity without any of the negative side effects of drinking coffee.”
Dr. Icilma V. Fergus, MD, FACC, cardiologist
“Since coffee is so widely consumed, the benefits vs adverse effects have been debated over time. It is the most widely consumed beverage in the US after water, per data from National Coffee Association, NY 2012. Coffee consumption may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and hypertension. It may be beneficial for weight maintenance and depression but may adversely affect cholesterol as per O’Keefe et al published in JACC 2013. Overall, it has neutral to beneficial effects on heart disease and all-cause mortality. Some studies also suggest benefits for neurodegenerative diseases, asthma and gastrointestinal diseases.
A daily intake of two to three cups of coffee appears to be safe. The adverse outcome is usually related to very high caffeine concentration and may include insomnia, tremulousness and palpitations, as well as bone loss and possibly increased risk of fractures. However, most data is drawn from observational studies and not large randomised clinical trials.
Consequently, coffee intake within moderate amounts and without extremely high caffeine content is satisfying and associated mostly with beneficial outcomes. Those with anxiety and palpitations, et cetera, should minimise consumption.”
This story was originally published on British Vogue.