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Thursday, April 7, 2022

Why Coffee Is a Health Food for Older Adults

Quit feeling guilty over your morning cup(s) of joe. Research shows that coffee can help prevent dementia, improve cardiovascular health, and increase lifespan.  

Coffee can help seniors maintain a healthy lifestyle. That is the conclusion of a plethora of studies on the steamy liquid that is synonymous with waking up for many Americans over 60. In fact, the morning brew has been shown to reduce a number of health issues. The main active ingredient in coffee, caffeine, is an antioxidant. Antioxidants help block damage related to aging:
  • Coffee can keep cells more elastic, reducing the hardening of arteries that takes place over time that weakens the cardiovascular system. 
  • The risk of stroke is reduced by up to 22%. Even one cup of coffee per week was found beneficial to reduce stroke and improve heart health.
  • Caffeine may prevent or delay age-related cognitive impairment, including dementia. One study that tracked people from middle age to the 70s found a reduced lifetime risk of dementia.
  • Drinking caffeinated coffee cuts the risk of mouth and throat cancer in half and reduces the risk of many other types of cancer, as well as Type 2 diabetes.
  • The mood boost associated with coffee can increase motivation and alertness, in turn lowering the risk of mental health issues like depression.
  • People who drink coffee on a regular basis have an overall lower risk of death than those who do not. 

How Much is Too Much?

Most studies have centered on consumption in the range of three to five eight-ounce cups, or up to 400 milligrams of caffeine. This amount reduces the risk of suicide for both men and women by 50%, and the overall risk of early death by 15% (this latter statistic holds true even for decaf drinkers).

Have You Been Drinking Coffee Wrong?

Want to give your productivity a boost? You can optimize your coffee consumption by making three simple changes:
  1. Hold off on that first cup. The ideal time to have your initial sip is 60 to 90 minutes after waking up. Why? Coffee disturbs the production of cortisol, which tells you to wake up and be alert. Let your cortisol peak before you augment it with a slug of caffeine, experts say.
  2. Do not forget that a lot of the flavor in your coffee comes from the water. “Over 98% of a cup of drip coffee is water, so if you have bad water, you’re going to have bad coffee,” Balderrama says. “Make sure the water you’re putting in your drink — even the ice cubes in your iced coffee!  —  is filtered, because it will infinitely improve the quality of your cup.”
  3. Go for a “nappuccino.” Ah, there is nothing like a quick catnap to restore your energy levels. You may even follow it up with a cup of afternoon coffee. Wrong! Studies show that drinking coffee before you take a quick nap is optimal. Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to kick in and give you the boost you need after a little rest.

But not all coffee is created equal. The method used to make the brew can have a big impact on LDL cholesterol, which can damage the arteries, and triglycerides levels. Filtered coffee, which passes through a paper filter prior to consumption, filters out potentially dangerous oily chemicals called diterpenes. Seniors who use a French press instead of filters are at risk of raising their cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It may not be enough to affect their health, but if either of those values is high for you, consider switching to filtered coffee.

You may be relieved to know that, with warm weather approaching, iced coffee lovers can safely turn to cold brew. This holds true for both caffeinated and decaffeinated brews. Cold brew coffee is made by steeping the grounds in cold water for a period of hours, after which the coffee is strained through a paper filter. 

Downside of Coffee 

Michael Pollan, the author of This Is Your Mind on Plants, has called caffeine “the enemy of good sleep.” He relates how, after weaning himself from coffee, he “was sleeping like a teenager again.” Caffeine has other undesirable side effects for some people:
  • Diarrhea and gastrointestinal issues due to high acid content.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Dehydration, possibly putting stress on the kidneys.
  • Elevated blood pressure, which is a temporary condition. 

When in doubt, ask your doctor if you should switch to decaffeinated coffee and if there are any other side effects you should be aware of. Seniors with migraines, insomnia, urinary incontinence, muscle tremors, stomach problems, or anxiety are more likely to have trouble with caffeine. Drug interactions are most likely to occur with ephedrine, echinacea, and theophylline.

When attempting to reduce the caffeine content of their coffee, many older adults reach for a lighter roast. Wrong! “The darker you roast the beans, the more caffeine burns away,” explains Mike Balderrama, regional educator for Counter Culture Coffee.

Another caveat: be aware of what you are stirring into your coffee. For all the benefits of the brew itself, many people negate them by adding cream, sugar, or processed alternatives that add calories and fat. 

Coffee can be a key component in the healthy lifestyle of older adults. Enjoy it in moderation, knowing you are reducing your chances of getting cancer, dementia, and a host of other diseases. Coffee can augment healthy food choices and daily activity to help you live your best life.