Written on November 29, 2022 by Lori Mulligan, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Many kinds of chronic diseases are linked to inflammation, and coffee has been shown to have both anti-inflammatory as well as inflammatory effects. To get to the bottom of these contradictory findings, an understanding of the potential effects of coffee consumption on inflammation is necessary. Whenever you’re trying to prove a causal relationship, like whether or not coffee causes inflammation, you’re going to have to sift through a lot of scientific literature. Thankfully, some meta-analyses (large comprehensive studies that summarize the literature on a given topic) help eliminate the need to wade through the vast numerous empirical studies.
As with most scientific inquiries, the literature review shows contradictory effects. One thing that is certain is the need for robust randomized controlled trials to understand whether the observed associations are causal.
Let’s take a look at what the literature revealed regarding coffee consumption and inflammation so we can propose next steps. We will examine studies that demonstrate a positive association between coffee and inflammation, and we will include studies that do not support the connection.
Regular coffee contains a complex mixture of active compounds, including caffeine, chlorogenic acid, cafestol, trigonelline, and kahweol. These compounds are thought to have significant potential as antioxidants and free radical scavengers, two mechanisms that fight against cancer. Animal experiments were very positive and showed reduced inflammatory markers with coffee consumption. For example, researchers observed a reduction of tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin-1 beta, and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 with coffee consumption. However, results for humans were mixed with a recommendation for more randomized clinical trials .
Another meta-analysis explored coffee consumption and health. Researchers reviewed 201 meta-analyses of observational research with 67 unique health outcomes and 17 meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials in six articles with nine unique outcomes. They found that overall findings showed coffee had done more good than harm. Specifically, the meta-analyses showed regular coffee drinking was linked to lower incidence of cancers and neurological, metabolic, and liver conditions and in all clinical manifestations of inflammation .
The association of regular coffee consumption with a lower risk of diseases, like type 2 diabetes mellitus, chronic liver disease, and certain cancer types, or with reduced all-cause mortality, has been confirmed in prospective cohort studies in many regions of the world. However, the radical-scavenging and anti-inflammatory activity of coffee constituents are too weak to account for such effects. The molecular mechanism that accounts for this association is still unresolved.
As such, other researchers posit that coffee as a plant food has similar beneficial properties to many other vegetables and fruits. Recent studies have identified a health-promoting mechanism common to coffee, vegetables, and fruits. Chemicals in plants (phenolic phytochemicals) actually turn on specific genes in cells that make a variety of protective proteins, including key repair enzymes .
While the literature revealed some of the harm of too much caffeine in coffee, there was little evidence of its harm, outside of some studies about caffeine and blood pressure. While all coffee contains anti-inflammatory properties, whether or not it affects the inflammatory response can depend on the concentration of caffeine, how your body reacts to it, your genetics, and your age.
Some evidence suggests that coffee may increase inflammation in some people. Therefore, differences in individual genetics or other factors likely influence coffee’s effect on inflammation. More studies in non-Caucasian ethnicities are needed to complete our understanding of genotype effects in response to caffeine .
As the saying goes, “everything in moderation,” and that applies to coffee consumption as well. Moderate drinking is likely to cause more benefit than harm with its protective qualities of your immune system. However, because we are all different, healthcare providers cannot generalize whether or not one should drink coffee. If you’re concerned about coffee intake, see your primary care provider.
To try an inflammation test and check in on a key inflammatory marker, consider the Everlywell at-home Inflammation Test today.