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Healthful Writing

How much coffee is too much? (Hormesis explained)

Did you know there's an optimal amount of most foods and drinks, after which point they might be harmful?

This concept is called hormesis (hor-mee-sis). There is a point at which most beneficial [foods, drinks, supplements, herbs] become harmful. This dose-dependent relationship with foods and nutrients is the threshold at which that which is helpful at smaller doses becomes harmful at larger doses.

Coffee is good for you?

Maybe. When it comes to coffee, if you can tolerate this source of caffeine, you may benefit from it, and go forth happily drinking it.

Caffeine has neuroprotective effects up to certain doses, and has been studied for decades in diseases like Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. In one rat study, caffeine appeared to help preserve neurons in the substantia nigra, (the area in the brain affected in Parkinson's disease).

What about prevention?

Can coffee be used to support healthy nervous-system and cognitive function? Yes. A 2016 study found there was a"..."J-shaped" curve relationship of the risk of developing cognitive disorders with coffee consumption...", concluding that 1-2 cups of coffee was protective.

Caffeine supports healthy mitochondria, protects cells from oxidative stress, and supports brain health. BUT the key is not to drink it like my relatives do at family gatherings. 1-2 cups, if it feels good.

Organic vs non-organic

If you are enjoying coffee (and please, enjoy each cup like it's the only thing you've got going on that day), choose organic and fair-trade if possible. Why? Coffee has harmful effects when it's laden with pesticides. Supporting local farmers, healthy crop and soil production, and ensuring the compensation for their yields is fair, is an ethical standard you may choose to consider. Find a trusted, preferably local brand that guarantees quality roasts.

The optimal amount?

This has been shown via hormetic curves in research to be between 1-3 cups a day. The best idea is to note how your digestion feels, how well you sleep, your mood, and ability to cope with stress, when you consume 0-3 cups of coffee. Find your sweet spot. Most importantly, enjoy your coffee.


Grosso, Giuseppe, et al. "Coffee, tea, caffeine and risk of depression: A systematic review and dose–response meta‐analysis of observational studies." Molecular nutrition & food research 60.1 (2016): 223-234.

Wu, Lei, Dali Sun, and Yao He. "Coffee intake and the incident risk of cognitive disorders: A dose–response meta-analysis of nine prospective cohort studies." Clinical Nutrition 36.3 (2017): 730-736.

Mishra, Jitendriya, and Anil Kumar. "Improvement of mitochondrial NAD+/FAD+-linked state-3 respiration by caffeine attenuates quinolinic acid induced motor impairment in rats: Implications in Huntington's disease." Pharmacological Reports66.6 (2014): 1148-1155.

Soliman, Amira M., Ahmed M. Fathalla, and Ahmed A. Moustafa. "Dose-dependent neuroprotective effect of caffeine on a rotenone-induced rat model of parkinsonism: A histological study." Neuroscience letters 623 (2016): 63-70.

Calabrese, Vittorio, et al. "Cellular stress responses, hormetic phytochemicals and vitagenes in aging and longevity." Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-Molecular Basis of Disease1822.5 (2012): 753-783.

Bukowski, John A., and R. Jeffrey Lewis. "Hormesis and health: a little of what you fancy may be good for you." Southern medical journal93.4 (2000): 371-374.

Hayes, Daniel P. "Nutritional hormesis and aging." Dose-Response 8.1 (2010): dose-response.

Raubenheimer, David, and Stephen James Simpson. "Nutritional PharmEcology: doses, nutrients, toxins, and medicines." Integrative and comparative biology 49.3 (2009): 329-337.

Lushchak, Volodymyr I. "Dissection of the hormetic curve: analysis of components and mechanisms." Dose-Response 12.3 (2014): dose-response.

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