A Cup Of Coffee Is Healthy, But 4 Isn't: EU Guidelines Suggest New Limit To Daily Intake

cups of coffee
The magic number between healthy and unhealthy coffee consumption has been identified as four. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Coffee is good for you, to a certain point. The problem is, coffee drinkers tend to have a hard time figuring out exactly where that point is. Now, thanks to a recent request from the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority has come up with sufficient evidence to suggest that the “healthy” limit of coffee healthy adults should be consuming each day is only about four cups.

Four cups of coffee is the recommended amount for a healthy adult. The number is just half that for pregnant women and even less for children. And although four cups may seem like a lot, it’s slightly below the recommended three to five cups recommended by the U.S 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Also, the four-cup limit decreases if you’ve had other sources of caffeine in your daily diet, such as dark chocolate or an energy drink.

The average cup of brewed coffee has between 95 and 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, while an average cup of instant coffee has only between 27 and 173mg of caffeine, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The 120-page report found a number of health risks linked to caffeine consumption. For example, according to the report, just 100mg of caffeine consumed close to bedtime reduced sleep duration. Consumption of higher doses, either on a single occasion or within a short period of time, have been reported to “increase anxiety upon oral consumption, mostly in patients with psychiatric anxiety disorders, but also in healthy adults, particularly if they are non-habitual caffeine consumers.” The report also found that single doses of  200 to 250mg were able to induce cardiac arrhythmias in healthy non-habitual coffee drinkers. Repeated doses of 250mg of caffeine taken four hours apart were found to increase daylight blood pressure for up to nine to 12 hours following consumption. Other unpleasant side effects, such as stunted fetal growth and damage to the central nervous system, associated with consuming large amounts of caffeine, were also pointed out in the report.

Although there are health consequences to consuming too much caffeine, that doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite drink entirely. There are plenty more studies that suggest drinking coffee in moderation is actually quite good for your health. For example, earlier this month a study conducted by researchers in Australia found that coffee proves an excellent source of antioxidants, chemicals which fight harmful elements and toxins that play a role in causing cancer. The report found that the amount of antioxidants in the Arabica coffee bean was even higher than some fruits and vegetables.

Earlier this month coffee was also found to help relieve erectile dysfunction (ED) in overweight and obsese men. In the study, the researchers found that all but diabetic men were able to reduce their risk of ED by drinking two to three cups of coffee a day. Although it’s not clear why coffee had this interesting side effect on overweight men, the researchers believe it may be because caffeine “triggers a series of pharmacological effects” that can increase the flow of blood through the penis.  

Coffee was even recently found to reverse liver harm caused by alcohol consumption. "Both coffee and coffee extracts have also been shown to reduce the expression of genes involved in inflammation, and the effects appear to be most pronounced in the liver," explained the study authors. Regular coffee consumption diminished liver damage and lowered the risk of liver cancer in individuals who drank more than three alcoholic beverages a day.  

Source: European Food Safety Authority. Scientific Opinion on the safety of caffeine1EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies. 2015.

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