Far from being the "devil's drink," as coffee was once called by Christians in the 1500s, study upon study has proven that coffee can have health benefits.
At one time, coffee was thought to have negative cardiovascular effects, including heart attack and abnormal heart rhythms. Although it does cause minor and temporary increases in blood pressure, according to an Iowa Women's Health study that tracked 27,000 women for 15 years, those who consumed one to three daily cups of coffee reduced their overall risk of cardiovascular disease by 24 percent [source: Brody]. It was also once thought that coffee could be a major contributing factor in pancreatic cancer due to a 1981 Harvard study. However, coffee's role as a carcinogen has since been disproved and current research has shown it can help ward off breast and uterine cancer in women [sources: Science Daily, Reuters].
Coffee and alcohol drinking are often related in one way or another -- and it seems to be a beneficial relationship. A study of 125,500 members of the Kaiser Permanente health plan showed that heavy alcohol drinkers cut their risk of cirrhosis by 20 percent per cup of coffee per day [source: McCullough]. And even among non-tipplers, coffee has been shown to slash liver cancer risk [source: Science Daily].
Heading to your corner coffee shop instead of the pharmacy might be a good idea if you're at risk from type II diabetes. Two global studies have shown that it reduces the risk of the disease -- sometimes up to 50 percent [source: Foreman]. This is especially good news for those who get jittery from too much caffeine, because the beneficial effects are related to chlorogenic acid, which is found in both decaf and regular brews.
That caffeine boost is obviously a boon to athletes, though -- so much so that it was once considered a controlled substance by the International Olympic Committee. Previous thinking was that caffeine induced the release of sugars in muscles, but new research indicates that it is calcium that actually gets released, which allows more forceful muscular contractions.
Doctors are always quick to point out that excess consumption of caffeine is never a good idea and the magic number for coffee's benefits seems to be between one and four cups a day. So while the old wives' tale about coffee stunting your growth isn't really true, another piece of traditional wisdom certainly is -- all things in moderation.