1800s headline: Coffee will make you go blind – Postum’s ads against coffee were especially negative, claiming coffee was as bad as morphine, cocaine, nicotine or strychnine and could cause blindness.
1916 headline: Coffee stunts your growth
Medical concerns and negative public beliefs about the benefits of coffee rose in the early 1900’s. Good Housekeeping magazine wrote about how coffee stunts growth.
1927 headline: Coffee will give you bad grades, kids
In a 1927 Science Magazine, 80,000 elementary and junior high kids were asked about their coffee drinking habits. Researchers found the “startling” fact that most of them drank more than a cup of coffee a day, which was then compared to scholarship with mostly negative results.
1970’s headline: Coffee is as serious as a heart attack
In 1978, the same year that Baseball Hall of Fame’s Joe DiMaggio began selling Mr. Coffee on TV, a New England Journal of Medicine study found a short-term rise in blood pressure after three cups of coffee.
And an earlier 1973 study found drinking one to five cups of coffee a day increased risk of heart attacks by 60% while drinking six or more cups a day doubled that risk to 120%.
2000 era headline: Time for meta-analysis
Now begins the era of the meta-analysis where researchers look at hundreds of studies and apply scientific principles to find those which do the best job of randomizing and controlling for compounding factors, such as smoking. . The results for coffee? Mostly good.
But first, a couple of negatives: a 2001 study found a 20% increase in the risk of urinary tract cancer risk for coffee drinkers, but not tea drinkers. That finding was repeated in a 2015 meta-analysis. So if this is a risk factor in your family history, you might want to switch to tea.
And a 2010 meta-analysis found a correlation between coffee consumption and lung disease, but the study found it impossible to completely eliminate the confounding effects of smoking.
2007-2013 headlines: Coffee reduces risk of stroke and some cancers
A meta-analysis of 11 studies on the link between stroke risk and coffee consumption between 1966 and 2011, with nearly a half a million participants, found no negative connection. And a 2012 meta-analysis of studies between 2001 and 2011 found four or more cups a day had a preventative effect on your risk for stroke.
As for prostate cancer, this 2011 study followed nearly 59,000 men from 1986 to 2006 and found drinking coffee to be highly associated with lower risk for the lethal form of the disease.
A similar analysis of studies on heart failure found four cups a day provided the lowest risk for heart failure, and you had to drink a whopping 10 cups a day to get a bad association.
And overall heart disease? A meta-analysis of 36 studies with more than 1.2 million participants found moderate coffee drinking seemed to be associated with a low risk for heart disease; plus, there wasn’t a higher risk among those who drank more than five cups a day.
2015 headline: Coffee is practically a health food
How about coffee’s effects on your overall risk of death? One 2013 analysis of 20 studies, and another which included 17 studies, both of which included more than a million people, found drinking coffee reduced your total mortality risk slightly.
And as a sign of the times, in 2015 the U.S. Department of Agriculture now agrees that “coffee can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle,” especially if you stay within three and five cups a day (a maximum of 400mg of caffeine), and avoid fattening cream and sugar. You can read their analysis of the latest data on everything from diabetes to chronic disease here.
Coffee’s health history: Where do we stand now?
It’s thumbs up today, but the news on coffee has not always been positive. Take a look at the arguments for and against coffee through the centuries.