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Coffee and Antioxidants

Q: I saw a news report that said that coffee was actually good for you and full of antioxidants. Is that true?

A: Since one report estimates that more than 50 percent of Americans drink an average of two cups of coffee per day, it is important to the scientific and medical communities that you understand more about the contents of coffee and how it affects your health. A report by researchers from the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, suggests that Americans can obtain most of their antioxidants from coffee compared to any other food or beverage source. Researchers studied the antioxidant content of more than 100 different food items, including fruits and vegetables, and found that coffee had the highest antioxidant content.

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are substances that help protect cells in the body against damage. Specifically, antioxidants fight off "free radicals," which are unstable oxygen molecules that naturally occur in the body as a response to normal bodily processes or outside environmental factors such as pollutants, smoke, or radiation for instance. Ultimately, antioxidants might protect the body against diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Should I Drink More Coffee?

Researchers are quick to point out that coffee should not be a substitute for healthier foods, such as fruits and vegetables that offer many more nutrients than coffee. They also comment that high levels of antioxidants in foods don't necessarily match the levels found in the body, and that more needs to be understood about how these antioxidants are absorbed and used by the body.

There have been other reports of coffee's potential health benefits. An article in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported the potentially healthy benefits of drinking coffee including the fact that long-term consumption of caffeinated coffee may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. That same article points out that coffee has many ingredients – including potassium, niacin, magnesium, as well as antioxidants – that could be of benefit to the body.

Good and Bad News

But while coffee might have some potential health benefits, coffee can also have a negative effect on your health. It is high in caffeine, which can cause anxiety and headaches, and can contribute to health problems such as high blood pressure and a rapid heart rate. Researchers point out that coffee should be consumed only in moderation and that more research is needed to understand how coffee could help or hurt our health.


1. Coffee is number one source of antioxidants. American Chemical Society News Service.
2. Salazar-Martinez E. Coffee consumption and risk for Type 2 diabetes mellitus. Annals of Internal Medicine; 140:1-8.

Written by:: Jane Hart, MD
Reviewed:: 8/20/2012

This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis of specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt professional medical attention if you have a particular concern about your health or specific symptoms. Wellsource, Inc. is not liable for any health consequences resulting from your use of this site.