If you are a dedicated coffee drinker (like yours truly), you were probably thrilled the first time you heard coffee might be good for you.
One reason? Antioxidant polyphenols abundant in coffee – chlorogenic acids (CGA) have many rumored (and some well-studied) health benefits.
Is your curiosity piqued?
In this post, I'll zoom into this delightful topic and take a look at the whys and the whats of CGA – grab a cup and let's dive in.
What is Chlorogenic Acid?
Chlorogenic acid is a phenolic acid found in coffee. It's absorbed in the body through the intestines after consuming it in coffee or via several other sources.
The CGA family is fascinating because they appear to have significant biological activity. For starters, here are a few things we believe CGAs can do:
- Regulate glucose and gut microbiota in the body
- Decrease the risk of heart disease
- Diminish the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- (Appropriately for National Cholesterol month!) reduce hypercholesterolemia and help reverse nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Primary Sources of Chlorogenic Acid
Chlorogenic acid isn't only found in coffee – although coffee weighs in with the highest concentrations, especially in green coffee. You will also find it in many other herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Some minor sources include (but are not limited to!):
- Tobacco leaves
A few other plants which contain CGA in particularly high quantities (although not approaching coffee) include:
- Siberian Ginseng
Health Effects of Chlorogenic Acid
As mentioned, chlorogenic acid's most famous effect is to help the body with glucose absorption and gut regulation. However, the effects of chlorogenic acid are vast – and wide-reaching.
Let's explore just a few of the exciting biological effects of CGA.
Tests have shown that CGA helps to lessen anxiety responses, seeming to confirm its anxiolytic effects. It seems to work its magic through protecting against oxygenation, as well as activating benzodiazepine receptors.
Chlorogenic acid has antihypertensive properties – it can reduce high blood pressure. That's a pretty useful counter to caffeine's acute stimulant effect.
On its own, it's a promising micro-nutrient that might reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease. Of course, you'll want to wait for more science on this before extrapolating too far – it's promising, but we certainly deserve more research.
CGA is Anti-inflammatory
The substance helps reduce inflammation in the body, which minimizes the risk of developing (or ameliorates) a myriad of health problems, including autoimmune diseases, arthritis, and diabetes.
Improves Mood and Cognition
Studies show that caffeinated coffee with sufficient CGA boosts your mood and amps up your cognitive processes. And it's not just the caffeine – decaffeinated coffee also enhanced these factors, though to a lesser degree.
May Help With Weight Loss
As you probably expect – if you are trying to lose weight, drinking coffee may help. Beyond the stimulant effect of caffeine, chlorogenic acid has anti-obesity properties all of its own. Used for a long enough time, the compounding effect of consistent CGA and caffeine intake can help you lose weight – and keep it off.
DNA Protective Effect
As mentioned, CGA is an antioxidant, which means it fights free radicals and slows oxidative stress in the body. To that end, chlorogenic acid can help reduce the effects of aging.
It can help the skin appear younger and might stave off age-related conditions such as dementia. That's right – CGA has neuroprotective effects.
You always need to be careful with promising compounds and cancer – but keep your fingers crossed, CGA's DNA protective properties might yet bear fruit here as well.
Some theories suggest CGA can reduce the risk of getting cancer by lessening the chance of DNA cell mutations, possibly preventing tumor development.
Side Effects of Chlorogenic Acid
As the old yarn goes – if it doesn't have side effects, it can't work. (A great line to keep in your back pocket!)
While it may have numerous benefits in moderation – consuming too much chlorogenic acid can cause problems. Most prominently, the Gastroenterology field is still debating the digestive risks. However, many drinkers claim coffee with excess chlorogenic acids can trigger acid reflux or (worse) gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Like caffeine, CGA reduces the risk of heart disease but can also increase heart rate if over-consumed.
Other side effects to watch out for include:
- Indigestion or gastric reflux
Drinking coffee – in general – ramps up your stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine. So keep a close eye on your body, especially if starting a new regimen.
Chlorogenic Acid and Coffee
Chlorogenic Acid and Coffee Brewing
As it has the highest content of CGA, coffee is an excellent source of the acid. However, it's not a constant. Many factors affect your mug's CGA content—everything including your roast, brew, sweetener, and even your beans' growing conditions.
As you know, there are many ways to roast coffee, all of which hold onto chlorogenic acid differently through the brewing process. The main roasts are green, light, medium, and dark roast.
The concentration of CGA is highest in green coffee – coffee made with unroasted beans. Most CGA loss comes in the heating process. Paradoxically, cold brew’s slow and steady method also results in fewer acids in the final product.
The location and altitudes where the coffee grows also impact the eventual flavor and the CGA concentration in ready-to-drink coffee.
The general rule of thumb is: the lighter the roast, and the higher the beans' growing altitude, the more CGA you can expect.
(The grind type – course, paper filter, fine – does not impact CGA levels much.)
Effects and Interaction with Caffeine
CGA and caffeine go hand in hand. The lighter the roast, the greater amount of caffeine will be in the coffee. The same can be said for CGA content; just as you would want a lighter (or medium roast for higher caffeine content, you will also generally want to match for higher CGA content.
However, caffeine does not impact CGA content – these two compounds generally coexist and happen to correlate with the same beans and roasts.
Interactions of Chlorogenic Acid
Here's a funny one for you – chlorogenic acids react with the casein proteins in dairy products.
Studies show that milk proteins may be an excellent binding compound, reducing the amount of unbound CGA in the cup. If the acidity in the coffee bothers you, dairy actually can neutralize some of it – it's not just a placebo effect. However, if you're looking for the full dose from an extract or a cup, it's best to space it out from dairy.
Benefits and Concentration in Coffee Bean Extract
We've looked at a lot of theory and research in this post. However, if you're like me, you're excited about the benefits chlorogenic acid can offer.
If you are serious about getting CGA into your system in a predictable way, you can get coffee bean extract full of CGA (and other awesome bioactive compounds). Of course, as a bioactive extract – heed the warnings and check with a doctor, especially if you are on prescription drugs, pregnant, or nursing.
Chlorogenic Acid: One to Watch
As you can see, the effects of chlorogenic acid are vast and – for the most part – positive. You can consume CGA in a variable form through some fruits or vegetables, or get it through regular or green coffee. If you want a metered-dose or want to skip the cup, check out a green coffee extract.
In a world of promising-yet-eventually-disappointing supplements, CGA is one to watch. With a broad array of great effects system-wide (in a world which could use them), I expect we'll be hearing a lot more about it over the next few years – I'm keeping my ears open!
Gerard Paul writes about food & drink at ManyEats, nearly always with a coffee cup by his side. He's a big fan of chlorogenic acid – and, of course, the effects of caffeine .