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What the Fuck Is Up with Coffee?

Is coffee slowly killing us, or turning us into an army of invincible warriors with iron dicks?

by Drew Millard
May 21 2015, 1:21am
As you know, coffee is a dark, murky liquid that can be served either hot or over ice. It supplies the person who consumes it with a dose of caffeine. I firmly believe that caffeine, and the coffee that contains it, is great. And I'm not alone. Over half of Americans drink the stuff on a daily basis. I drink so much of it that if I'm describing something as tasting "brown," I actually just mean it tastes like coffee. It is the reason I am able to type these words without falling asleep. If real life were Dune, coffee—which is also a publicly traded commodity—would be spice.

Because of its ubiquity, coffee is a thing that people enjoy researching, and then publishing the results of said research. Yesterday, the results of a new study were published, discussing the link between coffee and erectile disfunction. The verdict? Caffeine helps relax the muscles in and around your dick and makes them work better, thereby staving off the scourge of erectile disfunction. That's great. I always knew that coffee would save my penis.

But there are also an assload of studies that suggest coffee is bad for you, that it can increase the risk of miscarriages, raise cholesterol, and cause spikes in blood pressure, to name a few downsides. Also, anecdotally, I hear people saying on a near weekly basis that they're giving up coffee "for their health." On the other hand, it makes your dick work good, contains antioxidants, and may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. So much conflicting information begs the question: exactly what the fuck is up with coffee? Is it killing us or making us immortal? Let's take a dive into these muddy waters and try to figure it out.

First, the bad news: In 1976, a study concluded that the ingestion of "coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and pure caffeine in humans significantly stimulated gastric secretion." In other words, coffee acts as a cue for your body to pump acid into your stomach. That increased acidity can lead to all sorts of unfun stuff, including heartburn and acid reflux (though it's worth noting that this has been disputed—one researcher told the New York Times, "The evidence that coffee is injurious to the stomach isn't there." Caffeine can also increase the levels of calcium in your kidneys, which gives coffee drinkers a slightly higher risk of developing kidney stones.

Coffee has been associated with glaucoma, and caffeine has been shown to slow the body's development of collagen, which is the stuff that keeps your skin healthy. A while back, a bunch of people died from taking too much caffeine, which led us to try to determine how much caffeine could kill you. (Also, we smoked it, but that was mainly just for fun.)

Due to certain pesticides used on the soil coffee beans are grown in, lots of coffee beans contain carcinogens. A 1998 study determined, "There are more rodent carcinogens in a single cup of coffee than potentially carcinogenic pesticide residues in the average American diet in a year." That's the sort of thing that can inspire someone to freak the hell out, until you remember that rats are not people, and people have all sorts of immunities to the stuff that can make a rat keel over.

It's also been observed that naturally anxious people can be especially sensitive to caffeine, which is a bummer since in 1974 it was shown that high amounts of caffeine can trigger "symptoms that are indistinguishable from those of anxiety neurosis, such as nervousness, irritability, tremulousness, occasional muscle twitchings, insomnia, sensory disturbances, tachypnea, palpitations, flushing, arrhythmias, diuresis, and gastrointestinal disturbances."

Up until a few years ago, conventional wisdom stated that regularly drinking coffee could lead to cancer and heart disease. However, it turns out that many of these conclusions were based on studies that failed to take into account the other unhealthy lifestyle factors of those it was tracking—in other words, it's hard to determine if coffee is killing somebody when they're also smoking cigarettes and not exercising very much.

And now for the good stuff.

In addition to strengthening our boners, it's been suggested that coffee helps protect men from prostate cancer. Specifically, noted one study, "Coffee contains many biologically active compounds... that have potent antioxidant activity and can affect glucose metabolism and sex hormone levels. Because of these biological activities, coffee may be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer."

Coffee also increases metabolism, keeping you thin and gives you a boost during physical activity. It's been linked to decreased pain when performing tasks at a computer. It also keeps you awake (duh), all of which adds up to the fact that coffee allegedly has tremendous short-term benefits, especially if you work in an office (also duh).

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Coffee has also been linked with longevity— one study found that coffee drinkers were less likely to die than non-coffee drinkers. Apparently, you can't die if you don't go to sleep. However, the study in question admitted that it had no idea if its findings were causal (if coffee was helping people live longer) or simply associational (if people who drank coffee just happened to be not dying).

Whatever the case, antioxidants are good for people who are alive, and it's been suggested that the amount of antioxidants present in three to five cups of coffee per day can help stave off dementia. Studies also indicate that there's something in coffee that helps protect against Type II Diabetes.

Additionally, there seems to be something in coffee that may protect against liver damage as well as liver cancer, which is great news if you happen to be an alcoholic. Coffee has also been shown to have an "inverse association" with colon cancer, specifically in the development of tumors.

If, at the end of all that, you're still thinking what the fuck is up with coffee? I'm with you. The idea that coffee is some sort of miracle serum protecting us against dangers far and wide is false. People have been dying from stuff for years, and it's not like coffee has been actively protecting them from the icy grip of the afterlife. In a New York Times article discussing one particular study concerning coffee and the liver, the paper's lead author said that the study could be boiled down to a "reassurance that coffee and decaf are not harmful to liver function." And ultimately, that's what science has determined about coffee. It's not that it's all that great for you. It's just that it's not all that bad for you.

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