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Coffee Pros and Cons

March 1, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Many years ago I attended a health conference where Dr. Julian Whitaker was giving the key note presentation. He mentioned that he was a strong believer in choosing at least one healthy habit and practicing it every day. In his case, Dr. Whitaker mentioned eating an apple once daily without fail. His reason for doing so was more than the obvious “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” philosophy. The broader point he was trying to make is that engaging in healthy lifestyle choices and/or eating nutritious food works best if we do it religiously. Sometimes having a specific goal in mind can assist us in doing just that.

I have a healthy daily routine as well. Every morning I wake up and head toward the kitchen. I pour a cup of purified water into a glass teapot and heat it up. I reach into a nearby cabinet and pull out a bottle of instant, organic coffee. I add water to the coffee granules, mix and enjoy. This is the first thing I do everyday. You may be thinking that I do this because I’m looking to add a little pep to my step at the start of the day. But that’s just part of the reason for my morning ritual.

When I mention that I drink coffee, I’m often questioned about the wisdom of doing so. My reply tends to go something like this: “This may surprise you but I consider coffee to be a genuine health food. It’s 100% natural and most of the recent research suggests some pretty significant disease protecting properties. I don’t recommend it for everyone, mainly because of the caffeine content. But I can’t think of any food or supplement that’s right for every individual. As with everything else, you have to weigh the pros and the cons”.

One of the most the positive aspects of coffee consumption is its apparent effect on those at risk for diabetes or already dealing with the disease. Diabetes is one the leading causes of health care complications and spending. Figures from the 2007 Diabetes Fact Sheet indicate that over 23.6 million adults and children have diabetes in the United States alone. An additional 57 million are regarded as “pre-diabetic”. The cost of treating diagnosed cases of diabetes is in the neighborhood of $174,000,000,000 a year. Therefore, the potential impact that the humble coffee bean can have on diabetes incidence and progression needs to be carefully considered. (1)

  • A study presented in the February 24th edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition describes an interesting experiment. Forty-seven habitual coffee drinkers were asked to abstain from drinking coffee for one month. During the second month, the volunteers were allowed to consume 4 cups of filtered coffee per day. This was followed by 8 cups of coffee/day on the third and final month of the study. Blood tests were taken during all stages of the experiment. The highest intake of coffee provided “beneficial effects on subclinical inflammation and HDL (‘good’) cholesterol“. There was also an increase in concentrations of the hormone adiponectin, which is believed to benefit those with diabetes and heart disease. (2)
  • Native Americans are considered “a population with a high incidence and prevalence of diabetes”. A recent examination by the Center for American Indian Health Research at the University of Oklahoma looked for a correlation between coffee use and type-2 diabetes in a group of 1,141 men and women. The study volunteers were followed for an average of 7.6 years. Their ages ranged from 45-74 years old. The participants who drank the largest amount of coffee (a whopping 12 cups or more) demonstrated a 67% reduced risk of developing diabetes during the follow-up period. The authors of the investigation concluded that “a high level of coffee consumption was associated with a reduced risk of deterioration of glucose metabolism”. (3)
  • How and when coffee is consumed may impact how the body interprets the beverage. Brazilian researchers recently examined the coffee drinking habits of 69,532 French women over a two year period, after which they followed the women’s health status for an average of 11 years. They paid particular attention to the incidence of type 2 diabetes during the follow-up time frame. Over the 11 year period, 1,415 of the participants were diagnosed with diabetes. The women who drank 3 or more cups of coffee per day were 27% less likely to suffer from blood sugar abnormalities. But what was most interesting about this analysis is that women who drank coffee with lunch were protected to an even greater degree (34%). It’s also important to note that the benefits found in this population extended to both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee drinkers. (4)
Flow-Mediated Dilation of the Brachial Artery After Intake of Coffee
Source: Clinical Science (2005) 109, (55–60) (link)

There are some downsides to drinking coffee, however many of the unwanted effects are short-lived. A recent example can be found in the February 3rd issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Scientists from the University of Palermo in Italy determined that caffeinated coffee reduced “flow-mediated dilation” of the brachial artery and caused an increase in blood pressure in a group of 20 healthy, non-obese men and women. These unfavorable effects were not present when the same test subjects consumed a decaffeinated Italian espresso. These transient changes – lasting about 1-2 hours – indicate a detrimental shift in endothelial function which can impact circulation. (5,6)

When examining a health issue, it’s important to look at the long-term significance of a finding as well as the short-term observations. The first issue to contend with here is the relative effects of caffeine itself. For instance, some research suggests that decaffeinated coffee may actually improve endothelial function and, thereby, promote healthier arteries. This might lead one to believe that caffeine must certainly be the bad guy. But not so fast. A German experiment from November 2008 discovered that caffeine appears to play a role in endothelial repair. Other investigations have reported that, if anything, regular coffee use tends to reduce risk markers relating to endothelial health (E-selectin) and systemic inflammation (C-reactive protein) which have both been associated with cardiovascular disease. The research that demonstrates positive effects for both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee could possibly be explained by other health promoting phytochemicals such as kahweol which is found in all forms of coffee. (7,8,9,10)

Diabetes and heart disease are inextricably linked. It’s well established that diabetics are more likely to develop coronary artery disease than the population at large. Scientists believe that high blood sugar and insulin resistance likely promote arterial damage, blood clotting issues and chronic inflammation – all of which endanger the cardiovascular system. It’s possible that coffee, whether caffeinated or decaffeinated, plays a role in the natural management of both of these inter-connected diseases. But a serious evaluation of this topic is unlikely to occur if this traditional beverage is primarily viewed as a vice. I’m going to do my best to change that erroneous perception. I’ll take the next step in that process next week when I discuss several additional studies that highlight other facets of this controversial brew. (11)

Be well!

JP

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10 Comments to “Coffee Pros and Cons”

  1. anne h Says:

    Love coffee and loved this article!
    Good things to know, JP.

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you, Anne! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Nina K. Says:

    Good Morning JP :-)

    great article ;-) have i mentioned that i changed my coffee consumption habit? Meanwhile i drink more green tea than coffee because there is so great variety of green teas have to try them all… :-) but i think i will come back some day :-)

    Greetings
    Nina K.

  4. JP Says:

    Nina,

    That seems like a wise strategy as well. I’m also a big fan of green and white tea. You can’t go wrong with coffee and greeen or white tea. Enjoy! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Sai Says:

    Good Day JP!

    Explains why my late Grandma used to drink Coffee 3 times a day (always freashly brewed. I do not like coffee but i like Green Tea and i take it atleast 2 times a day along with the Hibiscus tea :)
    Another very good post.

    Best Regards

    Sai.

  6. JP Says:

    Thank you, Sai!

    I think your grandma would be proud of your decision! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Betty Says:

    I don’t drink much coffee usually, but this was an interesting read nevertheless. Thanks.

  8. JP Says:

    Thank you, Betty. I’m glad you found it to be of interest.

    Be well!

    JP

  9. Rachel Says:

    Neato!

  10. Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race Says:

    Great article. I am a coffee drinker and an endurance athlete. With that in mind I had posted an article about how coffee impacts us triathletes/marathoners and whether it was good or bad for you because of it’s perception and not its reality.

    You can find the article here:
    http://cooktraineatrace.com/coffee-good-bad-neither/

    I am going to be using your article as a way to update my post and it will be out tomorrow.

    Thank you for posting and I look forward to your future posts.

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