10 hidden benefits of coffee, according to science

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Caffeine could do more than just give you a boost. 

Caffeine is no longer the go-to nutritional baddie we once knew it to be. Nowadays, for every study that shows that drinking coffee causes increased blood pressure, anxiety, indigestion and insomnia, there’s another that indicates it reduces depression, improves memory, reduces liver cancer risk and even help to ward off Alzheimer’s Disease.

With data suggesting Britain is a nation of coffee drinkers, it comes as a relief to hear that researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have concluded that coffee drinking doesn’t have any serious detrimental health effects. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its drawbacks - but it may also be seen as a health and beauty-boosting elixir packed with antioxidants that work to promote feel-good hormones, increase metabolism and reduce inflammation.

Coffee drinkers rejoice in the ten hidden benefits that have been associated with your daily caffeine fix, from better skin and hair growth to increased sex drive, cognitive function and ability to work out. Skinny lattes on the house, yeah?

It could reduce your chances of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

According to a new study, consuming coffee could reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in the future. 

“Coffee consumption does seem to have some correlation to a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Donald Weaver, co-director of Canada’s Krembil Brain Institute, which performed the study. “But we wanted to investigate why that is — which compounds are involved and how they may impact age-related cognitive decline.”

The researchers focused on three different types of coffee: light roast, dark roast and decaffeinated dark roast. After carrying out the study, they identified a group of chemical compounds called phenylindanes. In short: phenylindanes can help to reduce the possibility of two proteins, that are common in the brain conditions of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s clumping together. 

“It’s the first time anybody’s investigated how phenylindanes interact with the proteins that are responsible for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” said Dr. Ross Mancini, a research fellow.

“What this study does is take the epidemiological evidence and try to refine it and to demonstrate that there are indeed components within coffee that are beneficial to warding off cognitive decline,“ he said. “It’s interesting but are we suggesting that coffee is a cure? Absolutely not.”

It makes you appear more intelligent

Drinking coffee doesn't make you more intelligent per se - but it does help galvanize most of the functions associated with being brainy, such as reaction time and attention span. "It allows you to use what brain power you have in a much more efficient and focused way," says Time magazine reporter Michael Lemonick, who has conducted extensive research into the effect of caffeine on the brain. Nutritional research psychologist Harris Lieberman agrees. "When you're sleep-deprived and you take caffeine, pretty much anything you measure will improve: reaction time, vigilance, attention, logical reasoning." Caffeine intake has also been linked to greater memory function, with one 2009 study finding that two cups of coffee a day (200mg caffeine) improves word recall compared to a control group.

It exfoliates dry skin and reduces the appearance of puffy eyes

Because coffee is packed with antioxidants - it contains roughly four times the amount found in green tea - it's a great source of nourishment for your skin. Its anti-inflammatory properties will work to reduce the appearance of puffy eyes, dermatologist Dr. Amy Wechsler tells the Huffington Post, and applying a homemade coffee bean scrub will exfoliate and even firm the skin over a short period of time. It's better to use eye cream and skincare products that contain caffeine as opposed to merely drinking it, as the effect is quicker and more targeted.

It helps you perform better in your workout

A number of studies have shown that consuming coffee can increase our resting metabolic rate by 3-11%, mostly caused by an increase in the rate at which our bodies burn fat. This is because caffeine stimulates the production of the plasma epinephrine - or adrenaline - which mobilises fat from fat tissues and pushes up the amount of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream. With your metabolic rate up, you are more likely to step it up during a workout. "Essentially, we found that with the caffeinated drink, the person felt more able to invest effort," Michael Duncan, a senior lecturer in sports science at the University of Exeter who has studied the impact of coffee drinking on exercise, told the New York Times. "They would put more work into the training session, and when the session was finished, in the presence of the caffeinated drink, they were more psychologically ready to go again."

It can reduce depression and suicide risk

In 2013, a team from the Harvard School of Public Health studied 200,000 men and women to identify a link between coffee drinkers and depression. They concluded that drinking between two to four cups of coffee every day appears to reduce the risk of suicide in men and women by 50 percent. The results, published in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, reviewed data from adults who drank at least two caffeinated cups a day and compared it to data from non-coffee drinkers and decaf drinkers. Lead researcher Michel Lucas linked the lowered risks of depression and suicide to the impact caffeine has on neurotransmitters in the brain, including "feel-good" chemicals serotonin and dopamine.

It's linked to an increased sex drive in women

Drinking coffee may heighten sex drive among women, according to scientists from Southwestern University. In a paper published by The Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behaviour journal in 2006, researchers concluded that caffeine increased the female libido in experiments on rats. They found that administration of caffeine shortened the amount of time it took the female rats to return to the males after sex for another mating session. But lead researcher Dr Fay Guarraci cautioned that the effect would likely only be echoed in people who do not regularly drink coffee. "These rats had never had caffeine before," she said. "In humans, it might enhance the sexual experience only among people who are not habitual users."

It reduces the sensation of pain

Just as drinking coffee may increase your libido, it can also work to stem the impact of pain. A 2012 Norwegian study observed 48 people "performing a pain provoking office work task" and found that those who had consumed coffee beforehand reported a lower rate of pain development, compared to those who had abstained from coffee. "These results might have potentially interesting implications of a pain-modulating effect of caffeine in an everyday setting," the authors noted. Another 2009 study from the University of Illinois found that caffeine lessened the pain of exercise. Caffeine works on a system that is heavily involved in pain processing and it blocks the chemical adenosine, which triggers an increase in the "pleasure neurotransmitter" dopamine, said the paper's author professor Robert Motl. "We've shown that caffeine reduces pain reliably, " he said. "So if we could give people a little caffeine and reduce the amount of pain they're experiencing, maybe that would help them stick with that exercise".

It reduces the risk of alcohol-related liver damage

Drinking as little as one cup of coffee a day helps reduce the risk of liver disease caused by alcohol, according to researchers at US healthcare provider Kasier Permanente. In the biggest study yet to look at the link between coffee and liver cirrhosis, scientists found that people who drink one cup of coffee are 20% less likely to have alcoholic cirrhosis compared to those who don't drink coffee. "Consuming coffee seems to have some protective benefits against alcoholic cirrhosis, and the more coffee a person consumes the less risk they seem to have of being hospitalised or dying of alcoholic cirrhosis," said lead author Dr Klatsky. Previous studies into various other forms of liver disease also identified a positive effect of moderate coffee drinking on limiting the progression of the illness.

The smell of it makes you less stressed

Although coffee has traditionally been associated with enhancing feelings of anxiety, a 2008 survey found that the smell of it may relieve stress. Scientists at Seoul University in South Korea studied the effects of coffee aroma on sleep-deprived rats. They found that the smell of roasted coffee beans activated a number of genes in the rats, including some that produce proteins with antioxidant activity. These work against the toxic molecules that cause oxidative stress in the body. For the first time in history, the study provided "clues to the potential antioxidant or stress-relaxation activities of the coffee bean aroma," said its authors. "These results indirectly explain why so many people use coffee for staying up all night... the stress caused by sleep loss via caffeine may be alleviated through smelling the coffee aroma."

It helps protect against skin cancer in women

A 2012 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who drank more than three cups of coffee a day were 21 percent less likely to develop basal cell carcinoma - the most common type of skin cancer - compared with women who drank less than one cup of caffeinated coffee per month. This risk reduction dropped to 10 percent among men who volunteered in the experiment. "Most likely, the protective effect is due to caffeine," said lead author Jiali Han, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

It helps make your hair grow faster

And finally, a study by The International Journal of Dermatology earlier this year revealed the growth-promoting effects of caffeine on human hair follicles in both men and women. Researchers found that caffeine helped to block the effects of DHT, the chemical hormone responsible for hair loss. But, according to the Mail, you'd have to drink around 60 to 80 cups of coffee a day to see the impact on your hair, meaning you're better off sticking to growth-promoting caffeinated hair products such as this shampoo from Alpecin.

Images: Unsplash


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