Tag: Health Benefits

Coffee is practically a health food: Myth or fact?

24 Jul 17
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Myth or fact? Coffee is good for you.

If you chose fact, you’re right. New studies this week add to dozens more reporting the health benefits of coffee, including protection from type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver diseaseprostate cancer, Alzheimer’s, computer back pain and more.

But if you chose myth, you’d also be right. There are times when coffee is bad for you, and it depends on your genetics, your age and even how you make your coffee.

Good to the last drop

Coffee lovers rejoice! There are more studies than ever encouraging you to sip for your good health.

A huge study of more than 25,000 coffee drinkers in South Korea shows that moderate daily consumption — that’s three to five cups a day — is associated with a decreased risk for coronary artery calcium. CAC is a great predictor of future heart disease and hasn’t been studied much in the past.

Four cups of coffee a day was also recently found to moderately reduce one’s risk for melanoma, a highly dangerous skin cancer. It has to be leaded, though; in the study decaffeinated coffee didn’t provide any protection. The study supports a previous finding of a link between coffee and a reduced risk for basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer.

Another recent study looked at coffee consumption and multiple sclerosis. It found high coffee intake — that’s four to six cups a day — reduced the risk of getting MS. So did drinking a lot of coffee over five to 10 years. Researchers now want to study coffee’s impact on relapses and long-term disability in MS.

Add this to the existing research on Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and investigators now believe coffee could be neuroprotective, meaning that it is possible the drink is suppressing the production of inflammatory markers in the brain. And it may be more than the caffeine in coffee that’s responsible. Researchers are starting to look at other compounds in coffee that may help as well.

Before you run off to your favorite coffee spot for a double mocha latte, note one thing about these studies.

Most research defines a “cup” of coffee at 5 to 8 ounces, about a 100mg of caffeine, and black or maybe with a bit of cream or sugar. It is not one of those 24-ounce monsters topped with caramel and whipped cream.

Chock full o’ studies

Coffee has been studied a lot, and not just recently.

The Harvard Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which began in 1986, and the Nurses’ Health Study, which started in 1976, have been following coffee consumption habits of healthy men and women for decades.

“We did not find any relationship between coffee consumption and increased risk of death from any cause, death from cancer, or death from cardiovascular disease. Even people who drank up to six cups of coffee per day were at no higher risk of death,” writes Dr. Rob van Dam of Harvard’s School of Health.

So why was coffee given a bad rap for so long?

Earlier studies didn’t always factor out serious health behaviors that used to go along with coffee, such as smoking and a lack of physical activity. Today’s coffee drinker doesn’t necessarily fit that mold and researchers are more likely to screen for those behaviors in their results.

Make mine a tea

While the health benefits of coffee keep rolling in, the complete story isn’t so rosy. In some studies, very high consumption — six or more cups a day — reduced the benefits.

Some populations can find coffee consumption potentially harmful. People with sleep issues or uncontrolled diabetes may need to ask their doctors before adding caffeine to their diets. There’s also a concern about caffeine use among youths.

And there’s a genetic mutation many of us have that can affect how fast our bodies metabolize caffeine. The gene is called CYP1A2 — if you have the slow version, it would explain why you crawl the walls after only a cup or two or why it might contribute to your high blood pressure.

Women should take particular note. Coffee may increase menopausal hot flashes. And pregnant women might be more likely to miscarry — the jury is still out — but caffeine does reach the fetus and might restrict growth. Doctors recommend only a cup a day during pregnancy.

And interestingly enough, the way you make your coffee could also make a health difference — there’s a compound called cafestol in the oily part of coffee that can increase your bad cholesterol or LDL. It’s caught in the paper filters, so as long as you use those to make your morning joe, you should be fine. But if you’re a lover of French press, Turkish coffee or the boiled coffee popular in Scandinavian countries, you could be putting your health at risk.

For many of us, coffee is a blessing. And as long as you avoid its pitfalls, current science seems to be saying you can continue to enjoy it, guilt free.

Drinking more coffee leads to a longer life, two studies say

20 Jul 17
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Greater consumption of coffee could lead to a longer life, according to two new studies published Monday.

The findings have resurfaced the centuries-old conversation on coffee’s health effects.

One study surveyed more than 520,000 people in 10 European countries, making it the largest study to date on coffee and mortality, and found that drinking more coffee could significantly lower a person’s risk of mortality.

The second study was more novel, as it focused on non-white populations. After surveying over 185,000 African-Americans, Native Americans, Hawaiians, Japanese-Americans, Latinos and whites, the researchers found that coffee increases longevity across various races.

People who drank two to four cups a day had an 18% lower risk of death compared with people who did not drink coffee, according to the study. These findings areconsistent with previous studies that had looked at majority white populations, said Veronica Wendy Setiawan, associate professor of preventative medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, who led the study on nonwhite populations.

“Given these very diverse populations, all these people have different lifestyles. They have very different dietary habits and different susceptibilities — and we still find similar patterns,” Setiawan said.

The new study shows that there is a stronger biological possibility for the relationship between coffee and longevity and found that mortality was inversely related to coffee consumption for heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease.

The study on European countries revealed an inverse association between coffee and liver disease, suicide in men, cancer in women, digestive diseases and circulatory diseases. Those who drank three or more cups a day had a lower risk for all-cause death than people who did not drink coffee.

Both studies were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“We looked at multiple countries across Europe, where the way the population drinks coffee and prepares coffee is quite different,” said Marc Gunter, reader in cancer epidemiology and prevention at Imperial College’s School of Public Health in the UK, who co-authored the European study.

“The fact that we saw the same relationships in different countries is kind of the implication that its something about coffee rather than its something about the way that coffee is prepared or the way it’s drunk,” he said.

The biological benefits — and caveats

Coffee is a complex mixture of compounds, some of which have been revealed in laboratories to have biological effects, Gunter said.

Studies have shown that certain compounds have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce risk for illnesses like Parkinson’s disease.

In the European study, people who were drinking coffee tended to have lower levels of inflammation, healthier lipid profiles and better glucose control compared with those who weren’t. It is still unclear which particular compounds provide health benefits, but Gunter said he would be interested in exploring this further.

Both studies separated smokers from nonsmokers, since smoking is known to reduce lifespan and is linked to various deceases. However, they found that coffee had inverse effects on mortality for smokers too.

“Smoking doesn’t seem to blunt the effects of coffee,” Gunter said. “It didn’t matter whether you smoked or not. There was still a potential beneficial affect of coffee on mortality.”

However, Dr. Alberto Ascherio, professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said people should be wary of this finding.

“Even if it was in some way true, it doesn’t make sense to me, because by smoking, you increase your mortality several-fold. Then, if you reduce it by 10% drinking coffee, give me a break,” said Ascherio, who was not involved in the study.

“I think it’s a dangerous proposition because it suggests that a smoker can counteract the effects of smoking by drinking coffee, which is borderline insane.”

The studies complement work that has been done on coffee and mortality, he said, and it has been reasonably documented that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of death.

With all observations from previous studies, however, it’s difficult to exclude the possibility that coffee drinkers are just healthier to begin with, Gunter said.

People who avoid coffee, particularly in places like the US and Europe where drinking the beverage is very common, may do so because they have health problems. Their higher mortality rate could be a result of them being less healthy to begin with.

“I think that the solid conclusion is that if you’re a coffee drinker, keep drinking your coffee and be happy,” Ascherio said. And if you’re not? “I think you can go on drinking your tea or water without a problem.”

Meanwhile, Gunter and Setiawan stand a bit more firmly on coffee as a health benefit.

“The takeaway message would be that drinking a couple cups of coffee a day doesn’t do you any harm, and actually, it might be doing you some good,” he said.

“Moderate coffee consumption can be incorporated into a healthy diet and lifestyle,” Setiawan said. “This studies and the previous studies suggest that for a majority of people, there’s no long term harm from drinking coffee.”