By Nina Radcliff, MD
Coffee lovers, here’s some good news to sip to. In addition to stimulating our taste buds, there is growing evidence that drinking one of our world’s favorite beverages, in moderation, can reap a number of health benefits.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know About The Health Benefits of Coffee
Where Does Coffee Come From?
Coffee trees! It takes approximately 3-5 years for a newly planted coffee tree to bear their bright, deep, red colored cherry fruit, known as coffee cherries. These fruit are either hand or machine picked, de-pulped, fermented, dried, sorted, and roasted. It’s amazing how beans undergo a tremendous journey from the tree to our coffee cups.
What is Caffeine?
A stimulant found in coffee beans that increases mental and physical alertness, muscle coordination, heart rate and blood pressure. Legend has it that a goat herder in the 10thcentury discovered coffee after his goats ate berries and stayed up all night. When he reported these findings to an abbot of the local monastery, the abbot made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for long hours of evening prayer. Today, millions follow suit and sip on a cup of Joe to stimulate us. However, too much caffeine consumption can cause restlessness, shakiness, and insomnia.
Coffee and Type 2 Diabetes
Research shows that coffee consumption may be protective against Type 2 diabetes. And with half of American adults having diabetes or pre-diabetes, this is welcome news. While the science behind this is not certain, some experts point to the molecule polyphenol. This is an antioxidant that fights off waste products that can cause damage or inflammatory diseases, of which type 2 diabetes is one of them. Additionally, coffee is a good source of magnesium and chromium. Both have been associated with enhanced insulin sensitivity.
But we need to be cautious when it comes to additives. A teaspoon of sugar can add 4 grams of carbohydrates; two pumps of flavored syrup can contain 10 grams of carbohydrates; a mini cup of individually packaged creamer can contribute 5 grams of carbohydrates, and a half a cup of whole milk is approximately 6 grams of carbohydrates. In addition to raising blood sugar levels in diabetics and pre-diabetics, they can pack on the pounds. Weight gain is a leading cause of Type 2 diabetes.
Coffee and Parkinson’s disease
Studies have shown that regular coffee consumption is associated with a decreased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (PD), as well as easing symptoms of those with the disease.
PD is a debilitating disorder that affects nearly 1% of the population over the age of 60. It is characterized by the slowing down of motor function, a resting tremor, muscle rigidity, and disturbances with walking. The symptoms result from the progressive destruction of a special set of brain cells called dopaminergic neurons. The cause is unknown, and there is no cure or medication to slow down the progression of the disease.
Researchers believe that the benefit of coffee for those with PD is caffeine. The stimulant may block a malfunctioning brain signal in those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. In fact, experimental findings have suggested that caffeine pills may play a therapeutic role alongside other current medications.
Coffee and Heart Health
A cup of coffee is certain to warm a coffee lover’s heart. However, direct links between coffee drinking and coronary heart disease are “conflicting” according to The American Heart Association. In some groups, coffee consumption has been shown to protect against heart attacks and heart failure, in others there is no effect, and in some, there may even be an increased risk. In the studies where a benefit was seen, it was associated with moderate coffee consumption—less than three cups.
And a note of caution to those with hypertension or heart disease, caffeine is associated with increased blood pressure and heart rate, and may contribute to palpitations. Discuss with your healthcare provider if and how you may enjoy your coffee.
Coffee and Alzheimer’s Disease
Regular and moderate coffee consumption has been shown to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia and possibly even delay its onset. One theory is that coffee beans contain anti-inflammatory molecules that block the cascade of inflammatory chemicals, which in turn can start a chain reaction that begins our brain’s cognitive decline.
Another theory is that those who suffer from insomnia—a risk factor for Alzheimer’s—give up coffee. This may make it appear as though not drinking coffee is the culprit when really it is the underlying issue at hand, insomnia. And, too, because coffee has been shown to decrease the risk for developing diabetes, an independent risk factor for Alzheimer’s, this can also explain why we are seeing this.
Before coffee drinking can be added to the list of “things to do” to combat these illnesses, including certain cancers and liver disease, we must await more definitive studies to demonstrate a cause and effect. In the meantime, for many of us, coffee is a blessing. Of course, children and those who are pregnant, should avoid coffee, as well as people who suffer from heartburn, other intestinal issues, or anxiety.
Coffee has transitioned from a fashionable social past time to an integral part of our daily routines. And as long as we avoid its pitfalls, current science continues to be saying you can enjoy it, but “IN MODERATION.”