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Coffee’s Health Benefits

It’s surprising when something that was once considered questionable for your health turns out to have health benefits, usually with the proviso to use it “in moderation.” That happened with chocolate and alcohol, and now it is coffee’s turn. Study findings from 2004 and 2005 suggest coffee might actually be good for us. However, coffee hasn’t been completely exonerated.

Coffee contains antioxidants that may offer some cardiovascular protection, and research is showing that it reduces the likelihood of developing diabetes, which is itself a major heart disease risk factor. But it also increases homocysteine levels and may have negative effects on the aorta. In general, when a risk factor has been carefully studied and the results flip back and forth like this, it often means that if there is any harm or benefit, it’s pretty minor.

Here’s some of the mostly good news about coffee:

Blood pressure. True, a cup of coffee can temporarily kick up your blood pressure. But results from long-term studies are showing that coffee may not increase the risk for high blood pressure over time, as previously thought. It’s possible that people develop a tolerance to coffee’s hypertensive effects after a while.

Caf. vs. decaf.

 

Caffeinated

Decaf

Increases blood lipids that raise risk of heart disease

 

X

Protects against diabetes

X

X†

Decreases C-peptide levels*

X

X

Low-birthweight babies, preterm delivery

X

 

*A substance in the blood that is an indicator of insulin resistance and risk for diabetes

† Less than caffeinated

Cancer. Coffee might have anti-cancer properties. Last year, researchers found that coffee drinkers were 50% less likely to get liver cancer than nondrinkers. A few studies have found ties to lower rates of colon, breast, and rectal cancers. Several studies have shown that caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee have different health effects (see chart).

Cholesterol.  Two substances in coffee — kahweol and cafestol — raise cholesterol levels. Paper filters capture these substances, but that doesn’t help the many people who now drink non-filtered coffee drinks, such as lattes. Researchers have also found a link between cholesterol increases and decaffeinated coffee, possibly because of the type of bean used to make certain decaffeinated coffees.

Diabetes. Heavy coffee drinkers may be half as likely to get diabetes as light drinkers or nondrinkers. Coffee may contain ingredients that lower blood sugar. A coffee habit may also increase your resting metabolism rate, which could help keep diabetes at bay.

Gallstones. Coffee drinkers are less likely to suffer symptomatic gallstone disease, possibly because coffee alters the cholesterol content of the bile produced by the liver.

Parkinson’s disease. Coffee seems to protect men but not women against Parkinson’s disease. One possible explanation for the sex difference may be that estrogen and caffeine need the same enzymes to be metabolized, and estrogen captures those enzymes.

April 2006 update

Healthy Eating Special Report
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Healthy Eating: A guide to the new nutrition

Forget your old ideas about healthy eating. Research done since the 1990s shows beyond all doubt that you can lower your risk for the most serious diseases of our time by following a healthy diet. Healthy eating, based on this new science, can ward off 25% of all cancers and, combined with exercising regularly and not smoking, can prevent possibly 90% of cases of type 2 diabetes. Healthy Eating supplies the information you’ll need to choose safe, nutritious foods. Read more

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