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Coffee: The New Health Food?

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Coffee: The New Health Food?

coffee.jpg

Plenty of health benefits are brewing in America's beloved beverage.

By Sid Kirchheimer

WebMD Feature Reviewed By Michael Smith, MD

Want a drug that could lower your risk of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and colon cancer? That could lift your mood and treat headaches? That could lower your risk of cavities?

If it sounds too good to be true, think again.

Coffee, the much maligned but undoubtedly beloved beverage, just made headlines for possibly cutting the risk of the latest disease epidemic, type 2 diabetes. And the real news seems to be that the more you drink, the better.

Reducing Disease Risk

After analyzing data on 126,000 people for as long as 18 years, Harvard researchers calculate that compared with not partaking in America's favorite morning drink, downing one to three cups of caffeinated coffee daily can reduce diabetes risk by single digits. But having six cups or more each day slashed men's risk by 54% and women's by 30% over java avoiders.

Though the scientists give the customary "more research is needed" before they recommend you do overtime at Starbuck's to specifically prevent diabetes, their findings are very similar to those in a less-publicized Dutch study. And perhaps more importantly, it's the latest of hundreds of studies suggesting that coffee may be something of a health food -- especially in higher amounts.

In recent decades, some 19,000 studies have been done examining coffee's impact on health. And for the most part, their results are as pleasing as a gulp of freshly brewed Breakfast Blend for the 108 million Americans who routinely enjoy this traditionally morning -- and increasingly daylong -- ritual. In practical terms, regular coffee drinkers include the majority of U.S. adults and a growing number of children.

"Overall, the research shows that coffee is far more healthful than it is harmful," says Tomas DePaulis, PhD, research scientist at Vanderbilt University's Institute for Coffee Studies, which conducts its own medical research and tracks coffee studies from around the world. "For most people, very little bad comes from drinking it, but a lot of good."

Consider this: At least six studies indicate that people who drink coffee on a regular basis are up to 80% less likely to develop Parkinson's, with three showing the more they drink, the lower the risk. Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily can translate to a 25% reduced risk of colon cancer, an 80% drop in liver cirrhosis risk, and nearly half the risk of gallstones.

Coffee even offsets some of the damage caused by other vices, some research indicates. "People who smoke and are heavy drinkers have less heart disease and liver damage when they regularly consume large amounts of coffee compared to those who don't," says DePaulis.

There's also some evidence that coffee may help manage asthma and even control attacks when medication is unavailable, stop a headache, boost mood, and even prevent cavities.

The Benefits of Caffeine

Is it the caffeine? The oodles of antioxidants in coffee beans, some of which become especially potent during the roasting process? Even other mysterious properties that warrant this intensive study?

Actually, yes.

Some of coffee's reported benefits are a direct result of its higher caffeine content: An eight ounce cup of drip-brewed coffee contains about 85 mg -- about three and a half times more than the same serving of tea or cola or one ounce of chocolate.

"The evidence is very strong that regular coffee consumption reduces risk of Parkinson's disease and for that, it's directly related to caffeine," DePaulis tells WebMD. "In fact, Parkinson's drugs are now being developed that contain a derivative of caffeine based on this evidence."

Caffeine is also what helps in treating asthma and headaches. Though not widely publicized, a single dose of pain reliever such as Anacin or Excedrin contains up to 120 milligrams -- what's in a hefty mug o' Joe.

Boost to Athleticism

It's also caffeine -- and not coffee, per se -- that makes java a powerful aid in enhancing athletic endurance and performance, says physiologist and longtime coffee researcher Terry Graham, PhD, of the University of Guelph in Canada. So powerful, in fact, that until recently, caffeine in coffee or other forms was deemed a "controlled" substance by the Olympic Games Committee, meaning that it could be consumed only in small, designated amounts by competing athletes.

"What caffeine likely does is stimulate the brain and nervous system to do things differently," he tells WebMD. "That may include signaling you to ignore fatigue or recruit extra units of muscle for intense athletic performance. Caffeine may even have a direct effect on muscles themselves, causing them to produce a stronger contraction. But what's amazing about it is that unlike some performance-enhancing manipulation some athletes do that are specific for strength or sprinting or endurance, studies show that caffeine positively enhances all of these things."

In other words, consume enough caffeine -- whether it's from coffee or another source -- and you will likely run faster, last longer and be stronger. What's enough? As little as one cup can offer some benefit, but the real impact comes from at least two mugs, says Graham. By comparison, it'd take at least eight glasses of cola to get the same effect, which isn't exactly conducive for running a marathon.

But the harder you exercise, the more benefit you may get from coffee. "Unfortunately, where you see the enhancing effects from caffeine is in hard-working athletes, who are able to work longer and somewhat harder," says Graham, who has studied the effects of caffeine and coffee for nearly two decades. "If you a recreational athlete who is working out to reduce weight or just feel better, you're not pushing yourself hard enough to get an athletic benefit from coffee or other caffeinated products."

But you can get other benefits from coffee that have nothing to do with caffeine. "Coffee is loaded with antioxidants, including a group of compounds called quinines that when administered to lab rats, increases their insulin sensitivity" he tells WebMD. This increased sensitivity improves the body's response to insulin.

That may explain why in that new Harvard study, those drinking decaf coffee but not tea beverages also showed a reduced diabetes risk, though it was half as much as those drinking caffeinated coffee.

"We don't know exactly why coffee is beneficial for diabetes," lead researcher Frank Hu, MD, tells WebMD. "It is possible that both caffeine and other compounds play important roles. Coffee has large amounts of antioxidants such as chlorogenic acid and tocopherols, and minerals such as magnesium. All these components have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism."

Meanwhile, Italian researchers credit another compound called trigonelline, which gives coffee its aroma and bitter taste, for having both antibacterial and anti-adhesive properties to help prevent dental cavities from forming. There are other theories for other conditions.

Children and Coffee

How does this brew affect growing minds and bodies? Very nicely, it seems, says DePaulis. Coffee, as you probably know, makes you more alert, which can boost concentration. But claims that it improves a child's academic performance can be exaggerated. Coffee-drinking kids may do better on school tests because they're more awake, but most task-to-task lab studies suggest that coffee doesn't really improve mental performance, says DePaulis.

But it helps kids' minds in another way. "There recently was a study from Brazil finding that children who drink coffee with milk each day are less likely to have depression than other children," he tells WebMD. "In fact, no studies show that coffee in reasonable amounts is in any way harmful to children."

On the flip side, it's clear that coffee isn't for everyone. Its legendary jolt in excess doses -- that is, more than whatever your individual body can tolerate -- can increase nervousness, hand trembling, and cause rapid heartbeat. Coffee may also raise cholesterol levels in some people and may contribute to artery clogging. But most recent large studies show no significant adverse affects on most healthy people, although pregnant women, heart patients, and those at risk for osteoporosis may still be advised to limit or avoid coffee.

The bottom line: "People who already drink a lot of coffee don't have to feel 'guilty' as long as coffee does not affect their daily life," says Hu. "They may actually benefit from coffee habits in the long run."

Medically updated March 4, 2005.

SOURCES: Tomas DePaulis, PhD, research scientist, Vanderbilt University's Institute for Coffee Studies; research assistant professor of psychiatry, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville. Terry Graham, PhD, University of Guelph, Canada. Frank Hu, MD, PhD, associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. Hu, F. Annals of Internal Medicine, January 2004; vol 140; pp 1-8. Benedetti MD, Neurology, July 12, 2000; vol 55; pp 1350-1358. Ross, G. The Journal of the American Medical Association, May 24, 2000; vol 283; pp 2674-2679. Gazzani, G. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Feb. 27, 2000. Leitzmann, M. The Journal of the American Medical Association, June 9, 1999, vol 281; pp 2106-2122. Giovannucci, E. American Journal of Epidemiology, June 1, 1998; vol 147; pp 1043-1052. Pagano, R. Chest, August 1988; vol 94; pp 387-389.

SOURCE:- WebMD Inc.

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Oh man..........

And I haven't had ANY coffee or soda since this most recent episode of anxiety set in almost 2 months ago.

That's a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG time for me to have not gone w/ a cup of coffee or soda!!!

Usually in winter I can easily down 2 or 3 cups of coffee provided it's cold enough outside.

And especially since it seems that it's the *CAFFEINE* that has the beneficial effects.........what does us anxiety prone people do in the interim?????

:hearts:

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Go to decaf or 50/50 and be very careful not to drink too much. :hearts:

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Oh man..........

And I haven't had ANY coffee or soda since this most recent episode of anxiety set in almost 2 months ago.

That's a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG time for me to have not gone w/ a cup of coffee or soda!!!

Usually in winter I can easily down 2 or 3 cups of coffee provided it's cold enough outside.

And especially since it seems that it's the *CAFFEINE* that has the beneficial effects.........what does us anxiety prone people do in the interim?????

:hearts:

I hear you, Doo'n it! When I was trying to taper off xanax I could not drink one drop of caffeinated anything. Now I am back on half dose of xanax and I can allow myself a quite diluted cup of coffee. I do miss it terribly. I used to drink several cups every morning.

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I have a big 2 pint mug of Mocha everyday

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:hearts: Hey, I finally have a GOOD habit!

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I googled caffeine+depression and came to the conclusion that 'coffee is bad, umkay'. There are many sites (some quite reputable) that assert that caffeine is a Central Nervous System (CNS) stimulant which causes a mild fight-or-flight response; ie STRESS. Long term caffeine 'use' means chronic stress to the CNS. For me, stress equals depression, hence the coffee has to go.

Q: Now what am I supposed to think? :hearts:

A: WOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!*puts kettle on*

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(bump!)

I'm afraid that I have to agree about coffee being bad. I love it and used to down it by the shot when I was a waitress. However, now my nerves are so sensitive and my body is quite exhausted.. it's dangerous to push myself that extra mile.

The other evening before work, I took a brain energizing supplement called Vinpocetine which supposedly helps you to think clearer and better and energizes your brain. I became so hyperactive that I did all of my usual work on double speed.. and nearly collapsed into a coma the next day! Seriously, I couldn't get up, dizzy, my head was banging, it was awful.. I thought, hmm, maybe it's not so good to try and energize or enhance myself like that.

:hearts:

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Coffee isn't "bad" ... it's a "necessary evil" :hearts:

I must admit I used to be a multi-cup coffeeholic. Now I have one first thing in the morning, followed by another cup after supper.

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Coffee is not really for me. I keep drinking and drinking until I'm so nervous I can't stand it. I can't drink the coffee with less caffeine or no caffeine because when I do it I want to get energy from it. I know it's bad for me but I can't seem to stop.

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I love coffee especially in the morning. I could drink 4 cups. But it makes me very nervous, jittery and my heart starts beating rapidly. I heard that decaf coffee raises your cholestrol by 16 percent. You are better off drinking regular coffee if you have high cholestrol and it doesnt make you too nervous. But they say if you have high blood pressure, caffeine is not for you, better stick with decaf. That was on the news awhile back. Interesting. GS

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When I was in rehab I drank at least 30 cups of regular coffee a day everyday.

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Wow. When I was a waitress I used to serve a girl every morning with shots of espresso. She would have one after another after another until time ran out, and chain-smoke cigarettes. I was always shocked at how healthy and happy she was, and yet by 8.30 every morning she had downed like 9 espressos and smoked 12 cigarettes :hearts:

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I am so confused! :hearts:

I Drink 1 or 2 cups of black tea a day and I have been trying to stop this cause I've read about all the bad things that caffeine does.

Now what should I do?

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I stopped drinking coffee for 6 months due to doctor

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I love coffee! I knew it had some good benefits and after reading the article, I am more of an advocate for caffiene. I usually have one or two pots of coffee every morning. It doesn't affect my anxiety or stress levels. Actually, it makes me calmer. Maybe it's just the warmness and flavor of the brew. I drink regular coffee and I like it strong. It's a great start-up for my day. I can drink it at night and still be able to fall asleep with no problems. Think I'm unusual or just a coffeeholic?

Sheepwoman :hearts:

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Yes coffee is great I worried it would eventually give me kidney stones like my aunt got.

I gave it up for like 40 days but now I drink it just to function on level where I can read and think at proper pace.

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I love coffee! I knew it had some good benefits and after reading the article, I am more of an advocate for caffiene. I usually have one or two pots of coffee every morning. It doesn't affect my anxiety or stress levels. Actually, it makes me calmer. Maybe it's just the warmness and flavor of the brew. I drink regular coffee and I like it strong. It's a great start-up for my day. I can drink it at night and still be able to fall asleep with no problems. Think I'm unusual or just a coffeeholic?

Sheepwoman :hearts:

Lucky!!! Wish I could have it strong and be calmer too! You sound like my husband. He can drink so much caffine and never get nervous or sick and can always fall asleep no matter if he just drank like mad. I can barely handle a half a cup of 50/50 some days. I get so anxious which makes the heart beats fast, thoughts are a bit overwhelming, cannot focus, irritability, which can lead to depression...I usually do mostly all decaf and put in a small bit of regular to make myself feel like I'm getting something out of it.

Never heard of coffee beans being antioxidants-NICE!

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i dont drink it all day but i do love a good cuppa joe. i love to go to starbucks, joemuggs and dunkin donuts. the flavors taste so good. but i cant even think about leaving the houde wo a regular big cup of coffee

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Coffee is a mixed blessing for me. In the first stages it greatly improves my energy, concentration and mood. Then, if I've had more than a cup or two, I go into an unpleasant jumpy, jittery phase. And finally, the crash

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After reading that, I believe I will go make a pan of coffee!!!

I love going to caf

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it's good to know I'm finnaly worth something woo hoo :hearts:

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I couldn't drink coffee if you paid me. Can't stand the taste. Never could. Now chocolate on the other hand ... yumm. When I had to give up tea (gives me heartburn) I started drinking hot cocoa for a while - which is a nice replacement if you miss having something tasty and hot. But dark chocolate by itself - best of all - yummm. :D

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i love coffee as much as the next enthuasiast, but has anyone else noticed that by drinking coffee they have a smaller food appetite? i tend to drink 3-4 cups a day.

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