Coffee: Overview

Alternative names: Java, Joe, Caffea

Many studies have shown that regular, controlled coffee consumption is a remedy for a variety of common health problems.  However, not all coffee studies have produced positive results.

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Caffeine is the world's most widely-used stimulant, with approximately 80% being consumed in the form of coffee.  Drinking coffee produces a surge of alertness and energy, but this comes at a price: sleeplessness and, when deprived of coffee, withdrawal symptoms including headache, fatigue and anxiety.

One negative aspect of coffee drinking is that it replaces other healthy drinks that we could be drinking instead.


Coffee is one of the most widely available herbs, being found in almost every food store around the world.

Caffeine is often blended with a traditional analgesic such as aspirin, to prepare non-prescription painkillers or analgesics.

Function; Why it is Recommended

Coffee is a strong stimulant, mainly because of its high caffeine content.  Caffeine is the main active element in coffee and it has been used therapeutically in the form of a diuretic, an analgesic as well as a digestive tonic.  It also invigorates the central nervous system, being a nerve stimulant and antispasmodic.

Other constituents of caffeine include volatile/aromatic oil, tannic acid, protein, dextrin, glucose, oil, wax, and gum.

Caffeine is a digestive stimulant, an appetite depressant, and an antioxidant.  It is a powerful diuretic, but loses its effect with continued use.

Caffeine is an inotropic agent, which means it changes the force of your heart's contractions: it increases the heart's action (heart rate) and produces a rise in arterial tension (blood pressure).  Although caffeine increases sympathetic nervous system activity, decaffeinated coffee produces similar effects.  This suggests that other factors are at work in triggering the cardiovascular response.

Coffee/caffeine has beneficial effects on a number of conditions, including:

  • Drowsiness: During sleep, our brains produce the chemical adenosine, which slows down nervous system activity and calms the brain's arousal centers.  When we wake up, the adenosine starts to wear off, allowing regular activity to resume.  Caffeine is a quick "wake me up" that blocks the adenosine receptors, removing this regulation and bringing us up to full speed quickly.
  • Fatigue: Caffeine is a mild stimulant, reducing fatigue and drowsiness, and allowing college students to stay awake during all-night study sessions.
  • Short-term alertness, focus, attention, and memory
  • Long-term cognitive decline
  • Stroke
  • Prostate cancer
  • Depression
  • Asthma: Caffeine is a chemical cousin to the asthma drug theophylline, and can help calm an asthma attack and stop coughing spasms.  It can be used instead of asthma medication, in cases where none is available.
  • Weight loss: Coffee consumption has long been associated with long-term weight loss, likely from the thermogenic effects of caffeine raising the metabolic rate.  Green coffee extract is another component that is believed to work as a fat burner.
  • Poisoning: Coffee is used as a stimulant to antidote the effects of narcotic poisons and even snakebite.
  • Heart disease Some studies have shown that coffee may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Ascites and pleuritic effusion
  • Alcohol intoxication
  • Bronchial conditions
  • Migraines and other headaches: Caffeine is used therapeutically in combination with ergotamine for migraine headaches.  The effects of caffeine on the vasculature may contribute to the relief of some headaches.  Ayurvedic medicine makes use of raw beans to cure headaches.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): Studies at Cornell University have indicated that coffee blocks adenosine receptors which, in turn, prevents the body from displaying symptoms of MS.
  • Constipation: The increased stomach acid resulting from a daily cup of coffee has a laxative effect on the bowels and can help maintain regular bowel movements.
  • Allergies, sinusitis, Hay fever: Coffee is a stimulant that acts in a similar way to pseudo-ephedrine, a nasal decongestant.  Just one cup a day can bring relief to the sinuses.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Coffee helps reduce insulin resistance by increasing blood glucose levels, and the concentration of plasma adiponectin, a protein regulating glucose levels.  Coffee is also high in antioxidants, which lower the risk of developing diabetes by preventing free radicals from causing cellular damage and helping to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.
  • Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease: Some studies have shown that coffee may help reduce the risk of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
  • Liver cirrhosis: Some studies have shown that coffee may help reduce the risk of developing cirrhosis.
  • Gout: Some studies have shown that coffee may help reduce the risk of developing gout.
  • Gallstones: Coffee reduces the risk of developing gallstones.
  • Colon cancer: Coffee reduces the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Slow recovery from exercise: Having two cups of coffee can reduce muscle pain from exercising by half.
  • Depression: Coffee lifts the mood and can even prevent depression.  According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, coffee may have beneficial effects on the suicide rate.
  • Diarrhea: Ayurvedic medicine uses roasted coffee beans to treat diarrhea.

In homeopathy, coffee is prescribed for an overexcited mind, rapid/uncontrollable ideas, restlessness, and nervous anxiety.  It is also very useful for treating insomnia, headaches and toothaches.

Many studies confirm that caffeine increases the effectiveness of certain drugs such as aspirin and other analgesics against headaches.


Dosage may be a key factor in determining whether caffeine produces health benefits or health risks.  The dosage most frequently associated with decreased risk is 1-3 cups per day, which translates to about 350mg of caffeine per day.

Side-Effects; Counter-Indicators and Warnings

Coffee has long been recognized as being both helpful and harmful.  Consuming coffee in excess often results in nausea, headache, sleep disturbances, digestive disorders, calcium and magnesium depletion, restlessness, nervousness / nervous anxiety (the 'jitters'), hand tremors, muscle tension, and/or rapid or irregular heartbeat.  Even moderate intakes of coffee can produce a jittery feeling.

Over time, excess coffee consumption can result in genitourinary cancer.  Some studies suggest that there may also be memory problems associated with excess coffee intake.  It may worsen stomach ulcers or cause heartburn.

Drinking coffee at night may cause insomnia.  It's difficult to get a deep sleep if blood pressure is raised and the brain doesn't have proper oxygen levels; caffeine constricts the blood vessels in the brain, increasing blood pressure and decreasing the amount of oxygen available to the brain.

Caffeine can be a risk for coronary heart disease.  Caffeinated coffee may create a temporary increase in the stiffness of the arterial walls.  Coffee also contains chemicals that increase low-density lipoproteins (LDL) in some people – the 'bad' cholesterol that leads to cardiovascular disease and contributes to artery clogging.

Poisonous doses of coffee or caffeine can cause delirium, semi-consciousness, a slow and irregular pulse, cold extremities and cold, clammy perspiration, lowered temperature, anesthesia, cramps, tremors, staggering (a drunken gait), head nodding, convulsions, dimness of vision, increased urine production.  Extended periods of excessive coffee intake often causes symptoms such as (acid) indigestion, cardiac irritability, vertigo, headache, irritability, and despondency.

Several studies have reported increased mortality associated with consumption of 4 or more cups per day.

There is conflicting evidence about whether caffeine levels may cause miscarriage.  What is known is that caffeine does cross the placenta into the fetus, so cautious consumption by pregnant women is advised.  Nursing mothers who drink coffee might transfer the caffeine to their babies, giving them insomnia.

The high acidity of coffee can trigger stomach upset and decrease the body's ability to absorb iron.  This acidity will also disrupt the pH balance in the mouth and the tannic acid in coffee can eat away at tooth enamel, which also allows traces of coffee's brown pigment to stain the teeth.  It is recommended to rinse your mouth with water after every cup.

Having said that, coffee can help prevent dental cavities due to its antibacterial and anti-adhesive qualities.

Coffee is addictive: coffee raises dopamine levels, and anything that increases dopamine levels runs a high risk of being addictive.  Overuse can cause the body to require more coffee to obtain a similar effect.

Coffee is not appropriate for people with heart conditions or ulcers.

Coffee is not recommended for people with ocular hypertension or glaucoma.

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Coffee can help with the following:


Hypotension (Low Blood Pressure)

If tolerated, you may try drinking coffee in the morning.  The amount of caffeine normally found in two cups of coffee (200mg) can decrease postural hypotension in young adults and can be safely used by older adults as well.


Migraine/Tension Headaches

Researchers at the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, Illinois have found that caffeine may make your headache feel better.  Already an ingredient in some over-the-counter headache medications, caffeine may do more than speed the other
ingredients through your system to alleviate your headache faster.

Caffeine, given by itself, was given to headache sufferers.  The result was that 58% said it was completely successful; the same number reported ibuprofen alone was completely successful.  Many said that they felt better, faster taking just the caffeine.  When standard painkillers were combined with caffeine, 70% of patients reported complete relief.

Caffeine does, of course, have its down sides.  It is a stimulant and some studies have actually found that high caffeine consumption is linked with suffering from more headaches, perpetuation of the headache cycle and a temporary rise in blood pressure.

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