The inveterate coffee drinkers among us will appreciate the good news about one of our favorite beverages. After all the flak we took about the vices of coffee, now’s the chance to respond. After water and tea, coffee is the next most popular drink on the planet, having a starring role in the history of several cultures. It came from the Muslim world, travelled to Italy and then to the rest of Europe, finally landing in the New World. At one time, it was limited only to religious observances.
The coffee bean is contained inside a “cherry” that grows on a small evergreen bush. The Arabica strain is the more highly regarded of the two chief varieties, but the robusta strain is more resistant to the diseases peculiar to this plant, though less flavorful and more bitter. Arabica prefers the coolness of the mountainside; robusta will grow at lower elevations and in warmer climates. Since the best tasting coffee really is mountain grown, the sales talk of a particular brand is true. But Mrs. Olsen never told us that other brands also use mountain grown beans. She merely capitalized on a little-known fact.
One effect of coffee consumption is moderately elevated blood pressure, which is not surprising because caffeine is a stimulant. Italian studies done in the early 1990’s found that 200 milligrams of caffeine, about two cups’ worth, could raise systolic blood pressure by 10% and diastolic by 5% for up to two hours after consumption. The mechanism points to vasoconstriction (which has its own benefits), but researchers found no variation in heart rate or cardiac contractility (Casiglia, 1991), leading to an assumption that this temporary state is not a major concern, especially in light of later studies that reported no association between long-term coffee consumption and increase of cardiovascular complications (Mesas, 2011) or risk of hypertension (Geleijnse, 2008) (Klag, 2002).
Vitamin B6, known as pyridoxine, is a nutrient occasionally used to tame morning sickness in pregnancy and the throes of PMS. It’s also been used to address homocysteine imbalance, carpal tunnel syndrome, immunity deficiencies, and various behavioral/psychiatric issues. However, careless dosing of vitamin B6 can cause medical concerns that outweigh the benefits of producing the monoamine neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine. Large doses of B6 over a period of time can cause nerve fiber damage, particularly auditory neuropathy. You’d never think that coffee can prevent and treat this malady, but it does (Hong, 2008). One active coffee component is called trigonelline (Hong, 2009), an alkaloid also found in pumpkin that is able to modulate blood glucose (van Dijk, 2009) (Yoshinari, 2009). Because auditory neuropathy may be attenuated by trigonelline, why can’t the peripheral neuropathy of diabetes or physical trauma likewise be eased? It’s worth a look (Zhou, 2012).
Late-life dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are concerns shared by an aging population across the globe. Finnish studies followed a number of middle-agers for more than twenty years, documenting their coffee (and tea) consumption along the way. Focusing more on caffeine than on coffee’s lesser-known constituents, researchers found that, over the long haul, those who drank three to five cups of coffee a day at midlife had a lower risk of dementia and AD in old age (Eskelinen, 2009, 2010). American studies later found that long-term coffee consumption protects against cognitive impairment by reducing the formation of amyloid beta, the protein that forms the plaques associated with AD. Here it was inferred that caffeine is part of a synergy that affords the desired effect, with many coffee constituents not yet identified (Cao, 2011).
Because early research had indicated that coffee may be protective against conditions other than neurological, scientists took the trigonelline link a little further. It’s accepted that people with diabetes are at risk for cognitive dysfunction. Initially, it was proposed that coffee was merely to be explored as a tool in the management of diabetes and related sequelae (Biessels, 2010). It was realized, however, that caffeine can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes and consequent cognitive decline (Salazar-Martinez, 2004) (Tuomilehto, 2004).
In general, coffee increases plasma antioxidant capacity, possibly because of the contribution, bioavailability and activity of its particular group of polyphenols, including chlorogenic acid, one component linked to a reduction of type 2 diabetes risk by virtue of delaying intestinal glucose absorption and the inhibition of gluconeogenesis (Ong, 2010) (Tunnicliffe, 2011). Other medical conditions are purported to be influenced by coffee’s mechanisms, including gastrointestinal diseases (Inoue, 1998), gallstones (Leitzmann, 1999), and Parkinson’s disease (Checkoway, 2002) (Blanchette, 2000).
If coffee has a down side, it’s that it can interact with some drugs, most notably quinolone antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin and its kin, which increase caffeine concentrations by inhibiting its clearance (Harder, 1989). Coffee’s popularity cannot be ignored. Just look at all the coffee options that run the gamut from hot to cold, from sweet to sweeter, and from low-cal to mega-cal. Since the 1989 expiration of a global agreement to stabilize supply, availability has fluctuated—and so has the price. You can’t even get the cup for a dime any more.
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[Article in English, Spanish]
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