We already know that coffee can provide you with a boost of energy, and that its antioxidants may be good for you in various ways. But a new study out of Cornell University found that coffee’s strong antioxidant, chlorogenic acid (CLA), is actually therapeutic for our eyes, protecting the retina and preventing retinal degeneration in mice.
Researchers treated the eyes of mice with nitric oxide, which leads to retinal degeneration by developing free radicals and oxidative stress. The mice that were penetrated with coffee’s antioxidant, chlorogenic acid, actually did not end up developing any retinal damage. It’s “important in understanding functional foods, that is, natural foods that provide beneficial health effects,” Chang Y. Lee, professor of food science and the study’s senior author, said in a press release. “Coffee is the most popular drink in the world, and we are understanding what benefit we can get from that.”
Other studies have found that coffee can help prevent diabetes, Parkinson’s, prostate cancer, and even Alzheimer’s and other chronic diseases. Research has also found that overall, coffee can even decrease mortality rates. But there are a lot of factors involved in how coffee affects health; for example, the way your body metabolizes caffeine has an impact on whether it’s good for you. Meanwhile, people with a certain genetic disposition to heart conditions may be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease if they drink coffee.
A study out of Harvard University found that drinking up to six cups of coffee per day (which is quite a lot) did not have any adverse health effects on people in their fifties and sixties; they were at no higher risk of death. Dr. Rob van Dam, assistant professor at Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, writes that coffee is actually a relatively complex thing to study:
Often people think of coffee just as a vehicle for caffeine. But it’s actually a very complex beverage with hundreds and hundreds of different compounds in it. Since coffee contains so many different compounds, drinking coffee can lead to very diverse health outcomes. It can be good for some things and bad for some things, and that’s not necessarily flip-flopping or inconsistent. Few foods are good for everything.
However, most research points to the fact that coffee isn’t bad for you, despite previous assumptions that it was something of a bad habit, like smoking cigarettes. Van Dam notes: “For the general population, the evidence suggests that coffee drinking doesn’t have any serious detrimental health effects.” But it’s important to remember that most of this research is based on coffee that’s either black, or has only a little bit of milk or sugar in it. Coffee filled with sugar, or fancy coffee drinks like whipped cream mocha Frappuccino’s, are a totally different story and are probably just as bad as soda.
The eye researchers hope that with further investigations, they’ll be able to find out whether chlorogenic acid crosses the blood-retinal barrier. If consuming coffee is able to deliver CLA directly into the retina, scientists may someday be able to create specific coffee brews as treatments that can actually prevent eye damage, making your daily cup of coffee more therapeutic than ever.