Focus on Coffee: helpful or harmful for our skin and overall health?

coffee A&P 54 wmk
coffee A&P 54 wmk
coffee A&P 54 wmk

As a medical student, I’ve had to pull a few all-nighters in my time.. no that is a lie, I’ve never really succeeded at all-nighters, (a thorn in my side of late night exam studying) my demand for sleep is too strong,  and so I tend to pass out from lack thereof a few hours before I have to wake, but I guess, it serves me, in the long run.

I have, however had to drink truckloads of coffee as part of my 6 years in though. It kind of comes with the package I guess; stress-related-alopecia, bipolar-like emotional patterns, and a caffeine addiction, and then, eventually, an MD. God willing. But I don’t only drink coffee to stay awake, mind you, I drink it because I like it, it makes me giddy, and in the early morning hours has a taste of, hmm, what’s the word; opportunity.

I got a ROKer question from Karen Kristiane a while back asking about the effects of coffee on our skin:

“ What are the positive/negative effects of coffee? On skin and health more generally speaking”

I’d love to know more about this topic myself, as there are a lot of contradictory information whirling around out there, both in research and in general opinion by people-in-the-know. My immunologist friend has always advocated for moderate coffee consumption, rather than avoidance, and has been kind enough to provide me with a relevant study. I’m interested to see what I’ll find after my own little (looong) dig out session on pubmed. My initial thought was “it’s dehydrating, so it’s bad!” my next thought was “It has heaps of antioxidants, ergo its good!”  And so I was undecided. Lets have a look at what science says about coffee in regards to skin, and health in general, categorize it, and put our troubled minds to rest.


Ney list for coffee consumption:

1.    Sugar cravings: Caffeine causes your body to release sugar into your bloodstream, which in turn causes the pancreas to release insulin. On an empty stomach this can cause a sharp drop in blood sugar, which can then set up more sugar cravings (and in regards to our skin, we do not want spikes of sugar, nor sugar cravings, read why here)

2.    Increased Cortisol production:Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in your body by the adrenal gland in times of stress, and by certain foods such as caffeine containing coffee. At chronically high levels it can be damaging to our health, and may result in:

•  Blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia – bad for skin ( read why here) •  Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body and slowed wound healing. – bad for skin (slowed wound healing is an indicator of an imbalance in production of skin fibers necessary to close wounds and heal skin).

3.    High blood pressure:Caffeine can raise blood pressure, as well as blood levels of the fight-or-flight chemical epinephrine (also called adrenaline), so if you already suffer from hypertension, opting for decaffeinated options might be beneficial.

4.    Possible higher incidence of miscarriages in pregnant women: research shows that pregnant women who drink many cups of coffee daily may be at greater risk for miscarriage than non-drinkers or moderate drinkers.

5.    Heart Burn: Both regular and decaffeinated coffee contains acids that can make heartburn worse. So its best to stay away if you’re already suffering from this condition, or have a history of stomach ulcers.

6.    Dehydration: Caffeine acts as a mild diuretic that makes you’re body part with its water rather than hold on to it. This can make your skin look dry, and saggy. If you're drinking a lot of caffeine, remember to stay hydrated. We need about six to eight glasses of water per day but if you're drinking a lot of lattes to get through the day, you'll need to drink even more water to keep your skin looking pretty.


7.    Caffeine Sensitivity and allergies:If you are sensitive to caffeine, you may experience headaches, an upset stomach, irritability and an increase in heart rate. If you develop a skin rash from consuming caffeine, you may have a hypersensitivity, or allergy, to caffeine. Histamine is a natural chemical in the body that protects against infections, but during an allergic reaction, too much histamine production causes inflammation and swelling. Your skin may develop hives, which are welts that form in clusters with defined borders. Eczema is a chronic skin condition that causes small blisters to develop on your body. You may simply experience general itching, redness and irritation from an allergic reaction to caffeine.


8.    Tannins: cause further dehydration and impairs cellular nutrient absorption. Tannin blocks the pores of cells, preventing them from receiving nutrients provided by food. Other adverse aspects of tannin are its hydration-removal properties, which can cause your skin to become rough and brittle over time.

9.    Acne: There are whispers of a link between acne and coffee, but not enough research yet to back up the claim. One could always be hesitant, and avoid coffee if acne is something you worry about.

10.     Decreased quality of sleep: As a stimulant, caffeine tends to make you feel more awake, which is often the reason for why we reach for a cup of the brew through squinting eyes at The caffeine found in coffee, can however stay in your system for up to 12 hours, making it more difficult to fall asleep, and it affects your quality of sleep as well.  Adequate sleep is important for skin regeneration, as this is mostly done at night, and so may impair necessary repair mechanisms of the skin.


11.     An upset stomach: Coffee can damage the lining of the gastrointestinal organs, causing gastritis and ulcers. The consumption of coffee is therefore not recommended for people with gastritis, colitis, and ulcers.

12.     Iron deficiency anemia: Coffee consumption can lead to iron deficiency anemia in mothers and infants. Coffee also interferes with the absorption of supplemental iron.

13.    Vitamin depletion: Coffee is associated to decreased metabolism of vitamin D (post on vitamin D), depletion of vitamin B, as well as vitamin C. Vitamin C is especially important in skin health, as it is required for collagen synthesis, and so long term depletion will have an impact on skin-aging.

14.    Dependency:Coffee induces tolerance, and so, you need more and more coffee to feel the same effects. Eventually, your body reaches a point where it can't be without it; otherwise, you will start to experience withdrawal symptoms.

15.     Alopecia:Or, hair-loss has been associated to coffee addiction in a recent study.

16.    Psoriasis:After a year of avoiding certain foods, including coffee, 88.37% of participants in a study on diet and psoriasis noticed reduced scaling and erythema, meaning  that coffee as an inflammatory mediator is an aggravator of inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis, and is therefore best avoided in people with this condition.

Yay list for coffee consumption:

1.    Prevents death ( postpones it rather): Coffee was found to have an inverse relationship in regards to death in a newly published large cohort-study where inverse associations were observed for deaths due to heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections, but not for deaths due to cancer. As compared with men who did not drink coffee, men who drank 6 or more cups of coffee per day had a 10% lower risk of death, whereas women in this category of consumption had a 15% lower risk.

2.    Caffeine in coffee prevents skin cancer: Recently (July 1, 2012, Cancer Research) two large studies showed that people who drank at least three cups of coffee each month had a 17% reduction in risk of basal cell carcinoma development, when compared to people who drank only one cup of coffee each month.

3.    Antioxidants protect against diabetes: Coffee is a rich source of antioxidants, and other bioactive compounds, and studies have shown inverse associations between coffee consumption and serum biomarkers of inflammation and insulin resistance, serving to prevent development of diabetes 2.  Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health states that “We know that coffee has a very strong antioxidant capacity," Coffee also contains minerals such as magnesium and chromium, which help the body use the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar (glucose).


4.    Prevents Parkinson’s: higher consumption of coffee is associated with decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease.

5.    Prevents dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: Coffee has also been linked to lower risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. A 2009 study from Finland and Sweden showed that, out of 1,400 people followed for about 20 years, those who reported drinking 3-5 cups of coffee daily were 65% less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, compared with nondrinkers or occasional coffee drinkers.

6.    Antidepressant:Coffee can also help put you in a better mood. Women who drank four cups a day were 20 percent less likely to be deemed clinically depressed than those who only drank one. 50,739 women who reported they felt more alert, had more energy and were in a better mood post-coffee than those who didn’t get a caffeine fix, a study in the Archives of Internal medicine, finds.


7.    Anti-aging: Coffee has high levels of phenolic acid (an antioxidant). One cup of coffee has 350 milligrams of phenolic nutrients, and 12% of the coffee bean itself is full of chlorogenic acids. Out of all foods tested, adults get more antioxidants from coffee than from other phenolic-rich foods. As we now know, antioxidants are essential in reversal of damage created by free radicals in the body. Oxidative stress and damage is a common reaction in the body due to metabolic processes. This can lead to inflammation, degenerative diseases, and aging.

8.    UV protective effects: It has been shown that caffeine has UV protective effects by inducing apoptosis of skin-cells that have undergone DNA damage as a cause of UV radiation. This is the main reason for its skin-cancer prevention.

9.    High grade prostate cancer prevention: Good news to you men out there with an affection for your daily cup o' Joe. Higher coffee consumption was inversely associated with risk of high grade but not with overall risk of PC. Men consuming 3 or more cups of coffee per day experienced 55% lower risk of high Gleason grade disease compared with non-coffee drinkers.

To summarize there are a number of reasons both for an against drinking coffee. Even though there seems to be a lot of findings pointing to negative effects, the positive discoveries are of newer date, and so I'm guessing more research outlining the good of coffee is to be expected in the future.

The most important findings are of the May 2012 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, demonstrating that coffee decreases mortality! There's not much that beats that. This is great news for coffee-lovers. The other skin-related positive is the fact that caffeine provides UV protective effects, that in addition to skin-cancer prevention also decreases the aging effects of the sun on the skin.

It is however associated to a number of skin harmful effects as well, the most predominant being dehydration. I would advise people with psoriasis and eczema to be coffee-conscious, as it is a noted aggravator of psoriasis, and may induce itching and worsening of symptoms in eczema sufferers. The same goes for you with heart burn or a history of gastrointestinal illness. Lastly- pregnant ladies: STAY AWAY.

For the rest of us, I think the safest bet we can do as coffee-people is to decrease consumption to 2 cups a day, and hydrate in-between cups (and throughout the day) so as not to dry out. That way you ensure you get your wake-up-boost, and the beneficial effects of caffeine and the coffee-antioxidants that may increase your life expectancy.

I will follow up with a post on how to get the most out of our addiction.

Until then, I hope you found this somewhat enlightening, Karen, and all the rest of you lovely people!


May 17th 2012, N Eng J Med: Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality Neal D. Freedman, Ph.D., Yikyung Park, Sc.D., Christian C. Abnet, Ph.D., Albert R. Hollenbeck, Ph.D., and Rashmi Sinha, Ph.D. N Engl J Med 2012;366:1891-904.

"Psychosomatic Medicine"; Caffeine Stimulation of Cortisol Secretion Across the Waking Hours in Relation to Caffeine Intake Levels; William R. Lovallo, Ph.D., et al.; February 2008Marjo, H. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease,January 2009; pp 85-91.American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Committee on Obstetric Practice, Obstetrics & Gynecology. August 2010, vol 116: pp 467-468.

Elizabeth Somer MA RD, Food & Mood : The Complete Guide To Eating Well and Feeling Your BestCoffee consumption as a factor in iron deficiency anemia among pregnant women and their infants in Costa Rica14 Leda MMufloz, PhD; Bo L#{246}nnerdal, PhD; CariL Keen, PhD; and Kathryn G Dewey, Am J Clin Nutr September 1988 vol. 48 no. 3 645-651

Caffeine Blues By Stephen Cherniske MSHealthc Inform Res. 2011 Dec;17(4):253-9. Epub 2011 Dec 31.An Analysis of the Correlation between Alopecia and Chief Complaints.Lee SW, Jang YH, Jeong EY.SourceSeven Rhema Medical Science Research Institute, Seoul, KoreaAn Bras Dermatol. 2011 Nov-Dec;86(6):1103-8.Pilot study on which foods should be avoided by patients with psoriasis.[Article in English, Portuguese]Festugato M.Neurologia. 2012 Jun 13. [Epub ahead of print]Parkinson disease and Alzheimer disease: environmental risk factors.[Article in English, Spanish]Campdelacreu J.SourceServicio de Neurología, Hospital Universitari de Bellvitge, L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, España.Nutr J. 2012 Jun 13;11(1):42. [Epub ahead of print]Coffee consumption and prostate cancer risk: further evidence for inverse relationship.Shafique K, McLoone P, Qureshi K, Leung H, Hart C, Morrison D.