Monday, July 1, 2013

Is coffee bad for your health?

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Not according to researchers at the University of Valencia and Castellón General Hospital who reviewed over 300 studies that investigated the health effects of coffee and caffeine. What they found was that, more often than not, coffee imparted measurable benefits to regular drinkers.

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Regular coffee consumption has traditionally been regarded as harmful, but the evidence is stacking up for the other side. Science no longer supports the role of coffee in a variety of conditions, such as a contributor to hypertension, osteoporosis, or cardiovascular disease. The confusion has likely arisen due to the complex effects of caffeine and the myriad of other compounds found in the typical cup of joe.

Caffeine works by binding to chemical receptors in the brain and preventing them from interacting with adenosine, which normally induces drowsiness. However, adenosine receptors are also found in most other tissues in the body, including the heart, liver, and body fat, so it is easy to see how things could get complicated.

Coffee also contains up to 1000 other phytochemicals that can have a variety of effects on our systems, each of which might act to enforce or counter the body’s response to caffeine. Blood pressure is negatively affected by caffeine, for example, but not necessarily by coffee. Similarly, caffeine seems to aggravate the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, but the full spectrum of compounds in coffee provides an overall benefit.

Even decaffeinated coffee provides protection against the onset of diabetes. One study reported that for every cup of coffee consumed per day, the risk of diabetes is reduced by 7 percent. In one high-risk group, heavy coffee drinking reduced incidence by two-thirds.

Another clear benefit of coffee is protection against liver damage and cirrhosis. Again, it is likely the other phytochemicals, not caffeine, that is responsible for this benefit. 

Caffeine molecule, Photo credit: Shaughn P/deviantART 
Coffee and caffeine are also beneficial in regard to neurological disease. So far, researchers have reported protective effects against both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. Caffeine also seems to slow progression in Alzheimer’s patients. However, although risk was reduced more in women than in men, risk was actually increased in postmenopausal women undergoing hormone therapy.

In respect to cancer, the relationships between coffee and incidence may vary depending on the type of cancer. Coffee seems to be especially protective against liver and oral cancers, and probably has a neutral effect or reduces risk for most others, although bladder cancer may be one exception.

Some other effects remain unclear. Several components in coffee oil are known to increase levels of detrimental LDL cholesterol, for example, but the phytochemicals also induce an increase in favorable HDL cholesterol and a healthier LDL to HDL ratio. Coffee also seems to provide general protection against cardiovascular disease, but the risk of certain types of stroke is also increased in the hour after consumption.

Most of the studies examined here were small and carried out for maximum of a few weeks, so many of the conclusions are still subject to debate. The variation in response to coffee and caffeine among individuals also makes it hard to generalize the results, but the overall trend does seem to be a positive one. As for me, I’ll be drinking more coffee from now on.

Check out the original report here:

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