Positive buzz for coffee

You had better sit down for this news. Better still, pour yourself a cup of coffee before you read on.

If you are a healthy, active adult, there is no good reason to stop consuming caffeine. In fact, there are health benefits associated with drinking coffee. 

Friends, news articles and even some doctors go to great lengths to convince us that coffee should be eliminated from our diet, at all costs. But according to Dr. Ronald Postuma, Professor of Medicine in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University and a researcher at the MUHC, no study has ever demonstrated overall adverse health effects resulting from the consumption of coffee.

“The main toxicity is the sugar or artificial sweetener that you add to coffee and not the coffee itself.”

When it comes to coffee, the key – as with so many other things – is moderation. For healthy adult bodies, up to 400ml of caffeine a day, or the equivalent of three cups of coffee, appears to be safe. Drinking coffee elevates your blood pressure, and consequently will speed up your heart rate; but these effects are relatively benign. If you have a pre-existing heart condition, coffee consumption may exacerbate the symptoms, but it will not trigger the onset of heart disease.

“There are well-known studies showing that coffee drinkers are generally less likely to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease and possibly from dementia, and may also have a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes,” explains Dr. Postuma. “This doesn’t prove that caffeine prevents these diseases; it may be that coffee drinkers are more active people, living full lives. But, in general, caffeine consumption makes no net difference to one’s general overall health.”

So you don’t necessarily have to give up your cup of joe - just be a better informed coffee drinker. Here are some things to remember about your daily caffeine consumption:

  • As a general rule, drinking 20 cups of coffee a day is a bad idea, just as consuming 20 times the recommended amount of any food or beverage is inadvisable. Pay attention to how caffeine affects your body and consume responsibly.
  • The effects of caffeine last for about seven hours, so if you are someone who has a post-dinner coffee, and then stays up all night listening to your heart beat, make sure to have your last coffee around midday. That way, the caffeine will be well out of your system by bedtime. 
  • If you have existing health issues or concerns about how caffeine is impacting your symptoms, talk to your doctor or consult a dietician. The 400ml average may not apply to your particular situation.

Dr. Postuma concludes: “Consuming coffee, in moderation, is not harmful. If you want to do something positive for your health, cut back on sugar, which has known and documented health risks.”

Looks like coffee is not such a bad guy after all.

Dr. Ronald B. Postuma, MD’02, MSc’06, is a clinical researcher focussing on Parkinson's disease, particularly on detecting early stages, examining the impact of non-motor symptoms on disease subtypes and prognosis, and testing new treatments for non-motor manifestations. This work has also involved the study of how caffeine impacts sleepiness, as well as motor symptoms associated with the disease, such as slowness of movement, muscle stiffness, shaking and loss of balance.


McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE)

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