As if I needed any excuse to pour myself another cup of that delicious brew…
Coffee drinkers, rejoice!
The heavenly brew, once deemed harmful to health, is turning out to be, if not quite a health food, at least a low-risk drink, and in many ways a beneficial one. It could protect against diabetes, liver cancer, cirrhosis, and Parkinson’s disease.
What happened? New research – lots of it – and the recognition that older, negative studies often failed to tease apart the effects of coffee and those of smoking because so many coffee drinkers were also smokers.
“Coffee was seen as very unhealthy,” said Rob van Dam, a coffee researcher and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Now we have a more balanced view. We’re not telling people to drink it for health. But it is a good beverage choice.”
So many health practitioners and health writers are stuck in the old paradigm: insisting coffee must dropped from one’s diet. I assume the reasoning derived from the thought that anything good must be bad for you. I reject that reasoning myself, but hear it repeated in myriads of forms.
Twenty studies worldwide show that coffee, both regular and decaf, lowers the risk for Type 2 diabetes, in some studies by as much as 50 percent. Researchers say that is probably because chlorogenic acid, one of the many ingredients in coffee, slows uptake of glucose (sugar) from the intestines. (Excess sugar in the blood is a hallmark of diabetes.) Chlorogenic acid may also stimulate GLP-1, a chemical that boosts insulin, the hormone that escorts sugar from the blood into cells. Yet another ingredient, trigonelline, a precursor to vitamin B-3, may also help slow glucose absorption.
For both heart disease and stroke, recent studies are reassuring that frequent coffee consumption does not increase risk. In fact, coffee may – repeat, may – slightly reduce the risk of stroke. A study published in March in the journal Circulation looked at data on more than 83,000 women over 24 years. It showed that those who drank two to three cups of coffee a day had a 19 percent lower risk of stroke than those who drank almost no coffee. A Finnish study found similar results for men.
With Parkinson’s disease, a progressive, neurological illness, it’s the caffeine, not coffee, that carries the benefit. No one knows for sure why caffeine protects. Several studies show that coffee drinkers, men especially, appear to have half the risk of Parkinson’s compared to nondrinkers. Women also get a benefit, but only those who do not use post-menopausal hormones, said Dr. Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. All it takes for a measurable reduction in Parkinson’s risk, he said, is about 150 milligrams a day, the amount in an average cup of coffee.
and of special interest to me with my Irish liver:
Coffee also seems to protect the liver against cirrhosis, especially that caused by alcoholism. It’s not clear, either for cancer or cirrhosis, whether it’s coffee or caffeine that may be protective.