These days, coffee is practically a universal part of our modern workplace condition. Many of us harbor some secret fear that the gallons of brown liquid we’re slurping every day is doing us no good. We cling to scraps of evidence — like this one suggesting coffee contributes to your daily recommended fluid intake — showing that coffee in superhuman amounts is safe. And we pour ourselves another when a new study comes out implying the stuff can make us even healthier than we already are.
Lately, coffee addicts have been winning little victories every few weeks. This time, it’s a double win: a pair of studies suggesting that something about the drink may contain anti-aging and cancer-fighting properties.
One study, presented last week to the Society for Experimental Biology, appears to show an appreciable benefit in the muscle strength of mice who’ve been given caffeine. Researchers from Coventry University examined two main muscles — the diaphragm and a key leg muscle called the extensor digitorum longus — in their test animals before and after the treatment. They noticed a strong link between caffeine intake and better muscle performance among adult mice, with a somewhat weaker relationship for elderly subjects and a small, though still measurable, effect on juvenile mice. The scientists say their findings could be significant for people heading into their golden years, as muscles tend to weaken with age — increasing the likelihood of trips, falls and other mishaps. Who wouldn’t want to be able to maintain their muscle tone by sipping a cup of joe every morning?
The second of the two studies suggests that a moderate intake of caffeinated coffee is associated with a decreased risk for a common skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma. Continue reading
MILWAUKEE — One of life’s simple pleasures just got a little sweeter. After years of waffling research on coffee and health, even some fear that java might raise the risk of heart disease, a big study finds the opposite: Coffee drinkers are a little more likely to live longer. Regular or decaf doesn’t matter.
The study of 400,000 people is the largest ever done on the issue, and the results should reassure any coffee lovers who think it’s a guilty pleasure that may do harm.
“Our study suggests that’s really not the case,” said lead researcher Neal Freedman of the National Cancer Institute. “There may actually be a modest benefit of coffee drinking.”
No one knows why. Coffee contains a thousand things that can affect health, from helpful antioxidants to tiny amounts of substances linked to cancer. The most widely studied ingredient — caffeine — didn’t play a role in the new study’s results.
It’s not that earlier studies were wrong. There is evidence that coffee can raise LDL, or bad cholesterol, and blood pressure at least short-term, and those in turn can raise the risk of heart disease.
Even in the new study, it first seemed that coffee drinkers were more likely to die at any given time. But they also tended to smoke, drink more alcohol, eat more red meat and exercise less than non-coffee-drinkers. Once researchers took those things into account, a clear pattern emerged: Each cup of coffee per day nudged up the chances of living longer.
The study was done by the National Institutes of Health and AARP. The results are published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.
Careful, though — this doesn’t prove that coffee makes people live longer, only that the two seem related. Continue reading
TIMBÍO, Colombia — Like most of the small landowners in Colombia’s lush mountainous Cauca region, Luis Garzón, 80, and his family have thrived for decades by supplying shade-grown, rainforest-friendly Arabica coffee for top foreign brands like Nespresso and Green Mountain. A sign in the center of a nearby town proclaims, “The coffee of Cauca is No. 1!”
But in the last few years, coffee yields have plummeted here and in many of Latin America’s other premier coffee regions as a result of rising temperatures and more intense and unpredictable rains, phenomena that many scientists link partly to global warming.
Coffee plants require the right mix of temperature, rainfall and spells of dryness for beans to ripen properly and maintain their taste. Coffee pests thrive in the warmer, wetter weather.
Bean production at the Garzóns’ farm is therefore down 70 percent from five years ago, leaving the family little money for clothing for toddlers and “thinking twice” about sending older children to college, said Mr. Garzon’s 44-year-old son, Albeiro, interviewed in a yellow stucco house decorated with coffee posters and madonnas.
The shortage of high-end Arabica coffee beans is also being felt in New York supermarkets and Paris cafes, as customers blink at escalating prices. Purveyors fear that the Arabica coffee supply from Colombia may never rebound — that the world might, in effect, hit “peak coffee.” Continue reading
Marketing “energy” is big business. Many people are choosing “energy drinks” spiked with caffeine and other supposed energizers. Sadly, many energy drinks and pre-workout boosters provide little information about the amounts of caffeine and other ingredients because they are a proprietary blend.
As an alternative to consuming beverages with unknown levels of possibly harmful ingredients, why not have a cup of coffee? And, no, we are not subsidized by the coffee industry. The common 8-ounce cup of coffee provides about 100 milligrams of caffeine. The amount of caffeine, however, depends on the type of coffee and the strength of the brew. For example, just 1 fluid ounce of espresso can provide 65 mg of caffeine.
In attempts to find health problems caused by coffee, thousands of studies have been conducted. Many of these were looking for health risks and found none. Other studies actually found health benefits. Most research on coffee supports the concept that if coffee was recently discovered in a faraway location, coffee would be the hottest selling herbal beverage in the health food market.
Question: What potential health benefits are linked to coffee drinking?
Answer: Epidemiological studies that look for positive and negative associations with health have identified some encouraging links to specific health benefits. Although these results can’t prove cause and effect, they indicate those who drink coffee have a decreased risk for conditions like type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease and colorectal cancer. Overall, the more recent well-designed studies have found no association between coffee consumption and cancers in general. There also is evidence that coffee consumption helps to prevent tooth decay.
Question: Why would coffee be beneficial to health?
Answer: Coffee contains many things besides caffeine. Two cups of strong coffee provide as much potassium as a medium banana and about 40 percent of the daily need for the vitamin pantothenic acid. In addition to these nutrients, coffee also contains compounds with names like chlorogenic acid, cafestol and kahweol. Finding potential positive and negative aspects of these compounds is an ongoing area of research. Chlorogenic acid may be the key component that contributes to the reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Cafestol and kahweol, present mainly in unfiltered coffee, are thought to contribute to a small but significant increase in blood cholesterol levels, but also may help to prevent cancer.
Question: Is there a downside to drinking too much coffee?
Answer: Everything in life seems to have its diminishing point of return. A report from Health Canada concluded that caffeine intake up to 400 mg per day is not associated with adverse health effects in healthy adults. However, caffeine is a drug. And, like most drugs, individual sensitivity to caffeine can vary. For some, caffeine boosts blood pressure. Too much caffeine too close to bedtime can, of course, adversely affect sleep. The absorption of iron from foods can be decreased when coffee is consumed with the food. It is commonly recommended that women who are pregnant, lactating, or planning pregnancy do not consume more than 300 mg of caffeine per day (about three 8-ounce cups of coffee). There is conflicting evidence that excess coffee consumption (more than four cups per day) during pregnancy can increase the risk of childhood acute lymphoid leukemia.
Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., and Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii-Manoa. Dobbs also works with University Health Services.