Many people are now switching from drinking regular coffee to decaf for health reasons or because they are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Other people want to cut back on their caffeine intake because they are sensitive to caffeine. For example, regular coffee increases some people’s heart rate and anxiety levels. It may also cause heartburn, increase the risk of ulcers, or interfere with some medications.
To minimize these side effects, many choose to drink decaf coffee instead.
Decaf coffee or decaffeinated coffee is coffee that has 94-98% of its caffeine content removed. However, it still contains a little caffeine.
One small cup of regular coffee contains 70-140 mg of caffeine, while a small cup of decaf coffee contains 7 mg of caffeine at most. Although it has less caffeine, decaf coffee is slightly more acidic than regular coffee.
A German man named Ludwig Roselius invented decaf coffee in 1905. To decaffeinate the coffee, he used benzene, a compound used in paints, to extract caffeine from coffee beans. Coffee manufacturers later stopped using benzene to decaffeinate coffee because scientists discovered that benzene caused cancer.
Today, there are many different ways to decaffeinate coffee. One process uses liquid carbon dioxide at high pressures to separate the caffeine from the coffee beans. Another decaffeination method uses activated charcoal and water to remove caffeine.
Some coffee manufacturers use water to make decaf coffee. Plus, one of the most common decaffeination processes uses chemicals like ethyl acetate or methylene chloride to extract caffeine.
While most doctors agree that decaf coffee contains trace amounts of methylene chloride, they argue it does not affect health. They also point out that decaf coffee has many health benefits, including having protective effects against several diseases.
However, there have been rising concerns about the dangers of drinking decaf coffee. Some experts argue that exposure to these chemicals in decaf coffee may pose health risks because methylene chloride affects the central nervous system. Other doctors believe that decaf coffee may increase the risk of heart disease.
What Do Different Health Experts Think of Decaf Coffee for Health?
Opinion 1: Decaf Coffee is Safe and Good for Health
Most healthcare experts maintain that decaffeinated coffee is beneficial for overall health. Decaf coffee contains lower amounts of caffeine, so it may be a better option for those who cannot drink caffeinated drinks for health reasons.
Joe Leech, MSc, a nutritionist at Healthline, believes decaffeinated coffee has many benefits. Decaf coffee contains antioxidants like regular coffee, so it might protect against disease because it fights off free radicals, molecules that damage cells in the body.
Dr. Rob van Dam, PhD, a clinical neurologist at Harvard, argues there is no evidence to show that decaf coffee increases the risk of some diseases.
He maintains that it has many health benefits. He explains, “Decaffeinated coffee includes polyphenols, including chlorogenic acid and lignans.” These molecules help prevent diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Leech also suggests decaf coffee may reduce the risk of some diseases. He refers to one study published in Diabetes Care in 2014, which found that “both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee was associated with reduced diabetes risk.”
Another study published in 2014 in the journal Hepatology found that both regular and decaffeinated coffee had protective effects on the liver. Both coffee types reduced the level of liver enzymes that cause different types of liver disease.
Coffee manufacturers also point out that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only allows decaf coffee to contain 0.001% of methylene chloride. The FDA asserts that the trace amounts of methylene chloride in decaffeinated coffee pose no health risk.
In addition, during some decaffeination processes that use methylene chloride, the chemical is exposed to extremely high temperatures. It evaporates completely, so the coffee beans have no chemicals in them.
Today, doctors reassure people that the decaffeination process is safe. If people worry about chemicals in their coffee, they can look for alternative decaffeination methods that are chemical-free.
Opinion 2: Decaf Coffee is Harmful and Has no Health Benefits
Meanwhile, some doctors and nutritionists believe that decaf coffee is harmful to overall health because the decaffeination process isn’t safe. Others point out that decaf coffee doesn’t have the benefits of regular coffee and may increase the risk of chronic illness like arthritis or heart disease.
Dr. Partha Nandi, a gastroenterologist, does not recommend drinking decaf coffee. He argues that some decaffeination processes use toxic chemicals that may affect human health. One such chemical is methylene chloride.
He says, “This colorless liquid does not occur naturally in our environment and is used in industrial products like paints, adhesives, and pesticide products.” Breathing in small amounts of methylene chloride “can affect your attention and slow down your central nervous system, so you might also cough, wheeze, or feel drowsy, lightheaded, and possibly develop a headache.”
One study published in 2002 in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatology found that women who were drinking at least 4 cups of decaffeinated coffee per day increased their risk of developing arthritis by 95%. In contrast, women who drank caffeinated coffee were not at risk of developing arthritis.
Other studies show that drinking decaf coffee increases the risk of heart disease. In 2005, the American Heart Association (AHA) found that drinking decaf coffee elevated cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease.
In February 2021, the AHA conducted a new review that found that drinking regular coffee reduced the risk of heart failure. Drinking decaf coffee did not yield the same results.
To prevent any health risks associated with decaf coffee, some doctors suggest swapping it for regular coffee. If they cannot drink caffeine for health reasons, they can switch to water or other caffeinated beverages which pose no health risk, such as tea.
Do You Think Decaf Coffee is Safe and Beneficial or Bad for Health?
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Vote “YES” if you think decaf coffee is beneficial for health and doesn't cause any harm. "NO" if you think it is bad and harmful.