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Enjoy that coffee break: why your favourite pick-me-up has several health benefits

Popular beverage can help prevent cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s — and more

By Heather Ead
July 31, 2023
Research shows that, in moderation, the components within coffee can provide health benefits.

Takeaway messages:

  • Enjoyed in moderation, coffee can provide many health benefits.
  • Regular intake of coffee can be part of a healthy diet in helping to prevent cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and more.

In the hectic and demanding world of nursing, it is not uncommon to hear a colleague say, “I need a coffee.” But is regular consumption of coffee an unhealthy habit? The research shows that, in moderation, the components within coffee can provide health benefits. As we are creatures of habit, it is wise to take a look at our daily routines and how they may be impacting our health.

Coffee is a popular beverage and a key source of our daily caffeine intake. Although caffeine is the main component in coffee, polyphenols such as catechins, theaflavins and chlorogenic acid (CGA) are both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant in nature (Chieng & Kistler, 2022).

CGA is a major component of coffee and has been identified to reduce the risk of a number of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancers and type 2 diabetes (Montenegro, Freitas-Silva, & Teodoro, 2022; Tajik, Tajik, Mack, & Enck, 2017). CGA acts to improve insulin sensitivity while also providing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and other benefits. Studies suggest that these mechanisms can help prevent the onset of the inflammatory response that is linked to cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases (Tajik et al., 2017).

There is extensive literature on the benefits of caffeine for enhancing athletic performance, as well as alertness for managing daily personal activities (Carvalho, Marticorena, Grecco, Barreto, & Saunders, 2022). After ingesting caffeine, the central nervous system (CNS) is stimulated. Signs of stimulation are elevated mood, decreased fatigue, increased capacity for work, and enhanced attention (Carvalho et al., 2022). This effect can be helpful to manage the physical and intellectual demands of nursing care, particularly with lengthy shifts and rotating shift schedules.

See Table 1 for a summary of the effects that caffeine has on the body’s health systems.

Is coffee a healthy choice?

Caffeine intake such as one to two cups of coffee per day is associated with a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (Doepker, Movva, Cohen, & Wikokk, 2022). Regular caffeine consumption is thought to provide neuroprotective effects against the neurodegeneration seen with Alzheimer’s disease (Doepker et al., 2022). Clinical research also demonstrates a significant risk reduction of Parkinson’s disease (Ren & Chen, 2020). It is thought that the caffeine content in coffee counteracts the neurodegenerative effects that lead to loss of dopaminergic neurons, which is seen in Parkinson’s disease (Ren & Chen, 2020).

Coffee can also provide relief for headaches and muscular aches. Caffeine acts as an adjunct to analgesics by its sensory-blocking (antinociceptive) actions. Furthermore, caffeine blocks the peripheral actions of adenosine, which increases the release of serotonin and norepinephrine and reduces the transmission of painful impulses (Ren & Chen, 2020).

For the caffeine naive, even one coffee may trigger transient tachycardia or elevations in blood pressure. However, with regular consumption, tolerance develops, and moderate intake can actually decrease the risk of hypertension in the long term (Chieng & Kistler, 2022). It is proposed that the components of prostacyclin and nitric oxide lead to vasodilation, preventing high blood pressure, particularly for patients with underlying hypertension (Chieng & Kistler, 2022).

See Table 2 for a summary of the potential benefits of regular coffee consumption.

How much is too much?

To see the benefits of caffeine intake, 3 mg/kg per day is effective to enable its health benefits (Gomes de Souza et al., 2022). For many adults, depending on their weight and tolerance, that represents a daily intake of up to 375 to 500 mg of caffeine (about three to four cups of brewed coffee). While the benefits of mild to moderate intake of coffee have been observed in studies, excessive intake of coffee can be associated with insomnia and gastric upset. Such adverse reactions are extensions of caffeine’s systemic effects on the body. Furthermore, excessive caffeine (particularly with high cream content) can increase low-density lipoprotein and triglycerides (Chieng & Kistler, 2022). This effect is more pronounced for individuals with preexisting hyperlipidemia. As the saying goes, everything in moderation.

Safe and healthful in moderation

Although moderate coffee consumption can provide benefits, some individuals are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine (i.e., complaints such as gastric upset) and may need to limit their coffee intake (Gomes de Souza et al., 2022). It’s also wise for us to consider the timing of consuming coffee in relation to planned sleep, which can vary with shift work. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours and excellent bioavailability (Chieng & Kistler, 2022). With that in mind, you should avoid coffee if planning to sleep within that time frame.

So the next time you feel guilty about having a coffee, consider the benefits of this popular drink. As you are enjoying the taste and start to observe some enhanced alertness, your body may also be thanking you for the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of catechins, theaflavins and CGA. In a time where we may feel inundated hearing about foods that are “bad” for us, this may be welcome news to reflect on.

Table 1: Effects of caffeine on the body’s health systems
CNS Increased arousal and capacity for work, elevated mood, decreased fatigue, improved reaction time, endogenous pain-suppressing system activated
Respiratory Increased sensitivity of medullary respiratory centre to increases in CO2 levels; relaxed bronchial smooth muscle, leading to increased vital capacity; increased respiratory rate and bronchodilation
Cardiac Slight increase in blood pressure related to sympathomimetic actions
Renal Mild diuresis and excretion of water, sodium and chloride enhanced from direct action on the renal tubule
Muscular Increased capacity of skeletal muscle for work
Hepatic Improved efficiency in glucose homeostasis, tolerance, physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms with abrupt cessation of caffeine intake
Gastric Increased secretion acid and pepsin in the gastrointestinal tract; may cause gastric upset in sensitive individuals or at high doses


Table 2: Potential benefits of regular coffee consumption
Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease CGA provides antioxidant activities, and clears free radicals, helping to reduce oxidative damage and neuronal dysfunction; caffeine provides protection through the adenosine receptor — that is, it avoids neuroinflammation, is neuroprotective and prevents dopaminergic neurodegeneration
Prostate cancer Anti-inflammatory (suppresses cyclooxygenase) and antioxidant activity (protection against DNA damage, cell proliferation and mutation in cells)
Hypertension, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease Increased endothelial nitric oxide release, leading to vasodilation, reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and reduced aortic stiffness
Metabolic syndrome Polyphenols and microelements modulate metabolism and improve gut microbiome
Arrhythmia, stroke Antiarrhythmic through cardiomyocyte adenosine inhibition and improved endothelial function from polyphenols, improved circulation

Sources: Chieng and Kistler (2022), Montenegro et al. (2022), Ren and Chen (2020), and Tajik et al. (2017).


Carvalho, A., Marticorena, F. M., Grecco, B. H., Barreto, G., & Saunders, B. (2022). Can I have my coffee and drink it? A systematic review and meta-analysis to determine whether habitual caffeine consumption affects the ergogenic effect of caffeine. Sports Medicine, 52, 2209–2220. doi:10.1007/s40279-022-01685-0

Chieng, D., & Kistler, P. M. (2022). Coffee and tea on cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention. Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine, 32(7), 399–405. doi:10.1016/j.tcm.2021.08.004

Doepker, C., Movva, N., Cohen, S. S., & Wikokk, D. S. (2022). Benefit-risk of coffee consumption and all-cause mortality: A systematic review of disability adjusted life year analysis. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 170, 113472. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2022.113472

Gomes de Souza, J., Del Cosco, J., de Souza Foneseca, F., Corrêa Silva, B. V., Brito de Souza, D., da Silva Gianono, R. L., … Claudino, J. G. (2022). Risk or benefit? Side effects of caffeine supplementation in sport: A systematic review. European Journal of Nutrition, 61, 3823–3834: doi:10.1007/s00394-022-02874-3

Health Canada. (2022). Caffeine in foods. Retrieved from

Montenegro, J., Frietas-Silva, O., & Teodoro, A. J. (2022). Molecular mechanisms of coffee on prostate cancer prevention. BioMed Research International, 1–13. doi:10.1155/2022/3254420

Ren, X., & Chen, J.-F. (2020). Caffeine and Parkinson’s disease: Multiple benefits and emerging mechanisms. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 14, 602697. doi:10.3389/fnins.2020.602697

Tajik, N., Tajik, M., Mack, I., & Enck, P. (2017). The potential effects of chlorogenic acid, the main phenolic components in coffee, on health: A comprehensive review of the literature. European Journal of Nutrition, 56(7), 2215–2244. doi:10.1007/s00394-017-1379-1

Heather Ead, RN, MHS, is a clinical educator at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont. She can be reached by email at: