To say that Americans enjoy their coffee is to engage in the grossest understatement. The nation consumes 400 million cups of Joe a day – that equates to 146 billion cups of coffee per year.
However, sometimes coffee gets a bad rep. It is responsible for the jitters, the staining of teeth, and the ever-present possibility of addiction to caffeine.
But when one looks at coffee, the benefits of moderate indulgence in the beverage do seem to outweigh the dangers – but is that true for seniors as well as for those in the prime of their life?
Is is best for seniors put away their coffee makers? Or maybe should they just use them less?
Let’s take a closer look.
Coffee and Heart Health
One of the world’s most respected scientific journals, PLOS Biology, recently released a study on the effect that caffeine had on the heart health of mice.
Now, of course, mice are not human beings – but the research revealed just how caffeine affects heart health – something that was very much a gray area prior to the results of the research.
It appears that a protein called p27 was able to move into the cells of the heart with greater efficiency when exposed to caffeine.
The result of this enhanced migration is more elasticity. Another finding is that this protein helped heart cells survive heart attacks and/or strokes.
With heart disease being one of the most serious health issues facing the elderly (and, it must be said, the population at large), caffeine can certainly be of benefit to seniors. However, as with all things, moderation is the key.
Immune System Benefits
As one ages, the immune system may simply degrade, leading to a variety of health-related issues.
The immune system can be bolstered through the intake of a variety of nutrients and trace elements such as vitamins B1, B2, B5, and B3. Folate, magnesium, and phosphorus, as well as manganese and potassium – and coffee is rich in these sorts of nutrients.
These nutrients have been associated with the body’s ability to combat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and gout.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
The incidence of both Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia rises dramatically as one ages.
Although there is no cure for these conditions (although research is ongoing), coffee – and a healthy dose of caffeine – can help prevent or delay the onset of these conditions.
One of the ways that coffee can help is to reduce inflammation of the brain and help to prevent the accumulation of proteins in the brain that has been associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
A study entitled “The Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia (CAIDE)” focused on the lifestyles and coffee consumption of those in middle age until they passed the threshold of 70 years old.
A 2009 University of Florida study also showed that between three and 5 cups daily may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s (and dementia) by up to 70 percent.
Another study by the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke indicated that those who regularly drank coffee were between 4 and 8 times less likely to suffer from Parkinson’s disease as they age.
A statement by Walter Willett, M.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, indicated that coffee is a source of a multitude of biologically active compounds – and that these compounds can be of enormous benefit to the health of seniors.
Coffee is known as a powerful antioxidant. Caffeine’s antioxidant properties have been implicated in the lowering of risks associated with type 2 diabetes, as well as cognitive impairment.
There is also evidence to suggest that regular coffee consumption can cut down on the risk of oral cancers.
One of the most serious risks faced by the elderly is depression. There are a number of reasons for this. Increased isolation and a loss of control over day-to-day tasks as well as declining health can have seriously detrimental effects on mental health.
A decline in positive outlook can result in suicidal thoughts. Caffeine has been widely recognized as a mood enhancer.
In fact, a 2013 study by Harvard’s School of Public Health revealed that two to three cups of caffeinated coffee a day cut down suicide risk by 45 percent.
Coffee and Obesity
As we age, maintaining a level of mobility can provide challenges. In fact, many seniors suffer from obesity due to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.
Coffee helps the body to burn fat. It converts that fat into a ready supply of energy, and some studies have shown that this can increase energy levels by up to 12%. This, in turn, allows seniors to enjoy a more active lifestyle and avoid obesity.
Moderation is Key
As mentioned previously, the key to enjoying the benefits of coffee lies in moderate intake.
Too much coffee can have a number of negative impacts on a senior’s health. These can include a myriad of conditions such as heartburn, insomnia, hypertension, osteoporosis, and anxiety. It is even though that too much coffee can age the skin.
It should not be forgotten that caffeine is a drug – and dependency can be a real problem. Those who overindulge can find it extremely difficult to cut back on consumption. Trying to cut back can lead to feelings of fatigue and impaired cognition.
Caffeine can also interfere with the proper functioning of certain medications, such as those used to treat certain psychiatric conditions, some heart medications, and medication for the treatment of thyroid conditions.
The effectiveness of antibiotics such as Cipro and the heartburn drug Tagamet can also be affected.
There is very little reason for seniors to be concerned about their consumption of coffee, once again if enjoyed in moderation. There is increasing evidence that it can provide enormous benefits – including elevated levels of alertness.
However, if seniors suspect that their coffee consumption may be in excess of that which medical practitioners consider beneficial, then they are urged to consult with their doctors.
It is always best to err on the side of caution. That being said, a cup or two of coffee can be one of the great pleasures of life, no matter what our age.