Does Coffee Kill or Cure?

by Paul Rogers on June 23, 2008

coffee beans, Photo by Refracted MomentsCoffee, Java, Joe, Mud, Beans, Cafe — whatever you call it — coffee is the most popular drink on the planet, in international terms. Even so, in “natural health” circles it was, and perhaps still is, regarded as just about as evil as alcohol. Natural health people don’t like substances that either stimulate or depress the nervous system like coffee and booze do respectively. A naive evaluation for sure.

But what if coffee turned out to be just about as health-giving a herb as you can get? Wouldn’t that be a surprise?

Here’s what recent research has discovered about coffee. Keep in mind that the coffee industry is enormously powerful and no doubt some scientific work is sponsored by the industry. However, enough reputable and independent scientists are involved in this research to suggest there is something to take note of.

Diabetes Prevention

Coffee consumption seems to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes significantly, and this association turns up in research as far afield as Europe, Japan and the USA in at least 12 different studies. Caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee seem to have similar effects and some component of the coffee bean other than caffeine is suggested as the protective compound. Chlorogenic acid is one such natural chemical compound, perhaps acting as an antioxidant.

Surprisingly, caffeine studied by itself seems to impair insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, so one might expect coffee to have the opposite effect. It doesn’t seem to be so. Most authorities suggest limiting coffee consumption to around 3 cups each day to be on the safe side.

Parkinson’s Disease and Liver Disease

Similarly, there is reasonable evidence that coffee drinking protects against liver disease like cirrhosis, and also the debilitating Parkinson’s disease, a disease that affects the brain’s production of dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter required for coordinated movement. There is some consistency to this evidence as well.

What’s Wrong with Coffee?

Heart disease
You may be aware that in the past, coffee and caffeine were assumed to be bad for the heart: raised blood pressure, increased heart rate, cholesterol and so on. People with heart disease and those recovering from heart bypass surgery were urged to avoid coffee and even tea, with the stimulant caffeine being the most problematic agent. But now, cardiologists are not so sure. It seems that the coffee/caffeine and heart disease risk may have been overestimated and that some aspects of coffee drinking could even be beneficial.

Distinctions are made between the effects of boiled and filtered or instant coffee. Boiled coffee is traditionally a Scandinavian method of brewing with coffee grinds subjected to hot water with no filtering. Filtering with paper or metal filters is supposed to take out the potentially harmful chemicals cafestol and kahweol, which are reported to raise cholesterol. Some studies show that boiled coffee could be more hazardous than filtered coffee for heart disease, but I think this needs more follow-up to be certain. While for some people blood pressure seems to adjust to coffee consumption, others seem to have a genetic tendency for increased blood pressure with coffee consumption.

Overall, moderate consumption of filtered or instant coffee — up to 3 cups daily — seems to have little effect on heart disease risk.

Osteoporosis and Miscarriage in Coffee Drinkers
I’ve put both of these long-held beliefs, or at least suspicions, related to coffee together because they mainly affect women directly. The most recent research suggests that caffeine may increase your risk of miscarriage when you drink more than about one cup of coffee or 100 milligrams of caffeine a day. Some research also points to marginally lower birth weights in higher caffeine consumers.

Moderate consumption in the range of up to 3 cups of coffee daily probably has little effect on osteoporosis or bone fractures according to the most recent studies.

Summary

As the epidemiologists like to say, more work is needed to confirm these associations, but overall, moderation is the way to go — around 3 cups a day is unlikely to be harmful and may even be beneficial in some respects — with perhaps a reduction of consumption when pregnant. Coffee is a stimulant and some people do not deal with the caffeine hit as well as others. I can drink coffee before bed and it won’ t keep me awake. But that’s not for everyone. If you get heart palpitations or sleeplessness, drinking less coffee, cola drinks or strong tea is worth a try.

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