If you’re a coffee junkie and you’ve ever tried to kick the stuff, you probably noticed the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms: headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and sometimes even flu-like nausea and muscle pain.
While the benefits and dangers of caffeine, the most commonly used stimulant, have been widely debated, recent studies show some rather interesting benefits associated with coffee consumption.
Coffee and Exercise
Since caffeine puts some extra pep in your step, it would make sense that it could perk up your workout, right?
A scholarly review published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism looked at the research associated with the performance-enhancing qualities associated with carbohydrate and caffeine ingestion versus carbohydrates alone. The authors concluded that a combination of caffeine and carbs ingested before and/or during endurance exercise “significantly improved performance” compared with carbohydrates alone.
Does this mean getting all jacked up on coffee before you hit the gym will make you, well, all jacked up? Not necessarily. While the caffeine did show an impact, the effect was considered small overall, and more relevant for endurance-sport competition, particularly at the elite level, where small performance differences are deemed meaningful.
Interestingly, the authors noted that the magnitude of the performance benefit of adding caffeine to carbohydrates was less than when caffeine was added to water (placebo). This suggests that the benefits derived from a combination of the substances are not “additive,” but instead independent from each other when co-ingested.
So, while it may not turn you into a fitness junkie, if you need a little pre-workout boost, you don’t need to feel bad for hitting up Starbucks first.
Coffee and Stroke
In addition to providing you with your daily pick me up, coffee may also be helpful in warding off certain health conditions.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that women who consumed one to five-plus cups of coffee daily had a statistically significant lower risk of stroke (22% to 25%) compared with women who consumed one or fewer cups a day. However, there was no dose-response relationship between coffee consumption and risk of total stroke, meaning a greater number of cups per day did not necessarily lower risk; instead, the risk appeared to be increased among women with low or no coffee consumption.
As for the potential reasons behind this, the study authors cited possible “attenuation of subclinical inflammation, reduction in oxidative stress, and improved insulin sensitivity.”
Other research on the relationship between coffee use and stroke has yielded similar results. In a study of male smokers, the risk of stroke was 23% lower among men who drank eight or more cups of coffee per day compared with those who consumed less than two a day. (Additionally, drinking two or more cups of tea per day was shown to lower stroke risk by 21% in this population.)
Coffee and Neurodegenerative Diseases
Finally, several studies have indicated that caffeine consumption was negatively correlated with the incidence of some neurodegenerative diseases, and suggest that caffeine has neuroprotective effects on a variety of neurotoxins. Also known as degenerative nerve diseases, these can impair a number of bodily activities, including balance, movement, talking, breathing and heart function. Common ones include Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
In the case of Parkinson’s, a disorder of the brain that leads to tremors (shaking) and difficulty with walking, movement and coordination, caffeine intake is one of the most known environmental and/or social factors that have a negative correlation with the onset of Parkinson’s.
Interestingly, cigarette smoking is another of the more well-documented factors to have a negative correlation, but that opens up a whole other can of worms. We certainly don’t advocate that you run out, buy a pack and light up, but if you’re a coffee lover, you may be decreasing your risk for developing a debilitating neurodegenerative disease down the road.
 Conger, S.A., Warren, G.L., Hardy, M.A. and Millard-Stafford, M.L. Does Caffeine Added to Carbohydrate Provide Additional Ergogenic Benefit for Endurance? International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (2011) 21:71-84.
 Larsson, S.C., Virtamo J. and Wolk, A. Coffee Consumption and Risk of Stroke in Women. Journal of the American Heart Association (2011), DOI: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.110.603787.
 Larsson, S.C., Mannisto, S., Virtanen, M.J., Kontto, J., Albanes, D. and Virtamo, J. Coffee and Tea Consumption and Risk of Stroke Subtypes in Male Smokers. Stroke (2008) 39:1681-1687.
 Aoyama K., et al. Caffeine and uric acid mediate glutathione synthesis for neuroprotection,” Neuroscience (2011), DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.02.047.
 Morelli, M. and Simola, N. Can dietary substances protect against Parkinson’s disease? The case of caffeine. Experimental Neurology (2010) 225,2: 246-249.