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The Health Benefits and Risks of Drinking Coffee

Okay, tell the truth: how many cups—and by cups, I mean eight-ounce servings—of coffee are you drinking a week?

According to a study published recently in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, if your weekly cup count is higher than 28 (?!), you’re putting yourself at risk.

Researchers followed approximately 44,000 people over the course of 17 years, and collected data through both questionnaires and medical exams. They came to a shocking conclusion: in those younger than 55, there was a “significant association between high coffee consumption and mortality,” with special attention focused on cardiovascular disease.

But, why? Could an average of four cups of coffee per day overwork the heart, thereby making it more susceptible to heart-related ailments? Could it be that caffeine interacts poorly with most medications in a way that affects the heart negatively? Could it be that the acidity of the coffee causes excessive fat buildup, which negatively affects the heart? Could it be, could it be, could it be…?

We don’t know just yet, but here’s what we do know about caffeine and coffee:

There’s a huge difference between coffee that you brew at home with ground coffee beans (not instant) and the kind of coffee you get from a fast food restaurant. Many fast food coffees are full of additional chemicals that trigger everything from additional cravings to diarrhea thanks to the types of sugars used in the drink.

Coffee consumption, when kept under 24 ounces per day, actually provides numerous health benefits. Coffee can lower one’s risk of almost everything from Alzheimer’s disease to depression to cancer, and the primary benefit – increased energy levels – can actually be safely used to the fitness-focused person’s advantage: consuming a cup of coffee – black, no sugar, no cream, word to Heavy D – prior to beginning your workout can actually help you work out harder, thereby making you burn more calories.

You see, coffee serves as a mood stimulant by slowing the rate of reabsorption of dopamine, a “feel good” chemical in the brain (the same chemical affected by cocaine, heroin, and processed food) and simultaneously gives us a shot of adrenaline. Because of this, the opportunity for addiction is great. As with all things, monitor your consumption – if it starts to disorder your life and how you function, it might be time to tone it down.

What’s more, once the coffee wears off, the brain is overloaded with adenosine, which makes us feel unbelievably tired. This might explain why people become chain-coffee drinkers, drinking cup after cup back to back. If you experience frequent headaches, bouts of irritability, and a bit of jumpiness, chances are high it’s because you’ve had more coffee than your body can handle, and may need to scale it back.

Coffee is fabulous – double chocolate chip mocha chochalat-tah-yah-yahs, on the other hand, that tap out at 700 calories and come complete with sugary syrup, whipped cream and flavored drizzle? Not so much. These drinks are often more calories than a meal, come replete with a day’s worth of sugar, and rarely have as much coffee in them as you might think.

The Mayo Clinic Proceedings’ study definitely has its challenges and shortcomings but aside from the research, there are - as you can see - lots of things to consider when it comes to coffee drinking. Most importantly, listen to your body, find out what works best for you and your routine, and be mindful about your consumption. As I always say, your body will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award winning blog A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she blogs her journey from 330lb couch potato to certified personal trainer and nutritionist. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on Facebook and Twitter.