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Coffee offers unique health benefits

Coffee—with its 500-year history—is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world. The Finish population is the largest coffee drinkers—consuming 11 kilograms (24.2 pounds) each year.

In its early history, notes a Wall Street Journal Review—How Coffee Became a Modern Necessity—“coffee drinking was viewed with confusion, suspicion, and disgust.” In fact, comments the review, coffee—native to Ethiopia—carried several meanings, “unappealing, dark, and wine.”

A century later the review author—Augustine Sedgewick—states that the beverage was so widespread in the Ottoman Empire, “it appeared the perfect symbol of Islam.”

From a metabolic perspective, we all know that coffee gives us that focus, intent, and purpose, whether you’re an early riser, after compromised sleep, or during that late afternoon slump.

The active compounds in coffee—caffeine, chlorogenic acid, and caffeic acid—have demonstrated to improve cognitive function, alertness (the number one sports drink), reduce subclinical inflammation and oxidative stress, while improving lipid and glucose profiles.

The ingredient in coffee that has received the spotlight is its chlorogenic acid content, that represents 10% of the dry weight of green coffee beans and the major source in our diet—at 0.5 to 1 gram per day for coffee drinkers.

According to 2010 research, “Effects of Coffee Consumption on Subclinical Inflammation and Other Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes: a Clinical Trial,” which appeared the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition—“coffee consumption appears to have favorable effects on some markers of subclinical inflammation and oxidative stress and to increase plasma concentrations of potential biomarkers of coffee intake.”

The study also found, “some evidence of beneficial effects on the lipid profile, but no effects on glucose metabolism. However, “subclinical inflammation is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The research suggests that, “one mechanism that could mediate the reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (is) among individuals, who habitually consume coffee for years.”

A separate study from the Nestle Research Center in Switzerland and the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom commented that chlorogenic acids are powerful antioxidants that are of great interest for their, “potential health promoting effects, possible partly responsible for the positive epidemiology from coffee.”

Health.Harvard.com has reviewed the impact of coffee consumption on multiple disease processes. As to Alzheimer’s disease, Harvard says, “human and animal studies show hints of protection. Some preliminary evidence suggests activity against beta-amyloid plaque that may have a causative role in Alzheimer’s.

For cancer, the website points out that, “studies suggest a lower risk for some cancers (endometrial, aggressive prostate, estrogen-negative breast), but not others (esophageal). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substances could be responsible for possible anticancer activity.”

From a diabetes perspective, “effects on insulin and blood sugar levels that would promote diabetes seem to be temporary. Regular use is associated with lower risk, and high intake (3—6 cups a day) seems to have a greater effect. Protection may come from increases in the hormone adiponectin and other factors that affect insulin and blood sugar levels,” notes Harvard.

Relative to heart attacks, “coffee drinking increases some factors (homocysteine) associated with higher risk. But moderate consumption (1—3 cups a day) has been linked to a small decrease in risk. The evidence for a possible protective effect is stronger for women.”

As to the potential negative impact caffeine might have compared to its overwhelming positive impact on everything from mental focus, acuity, sharpness, reducing running times, and more, Mayoclinic.org says, “coffee still has potential risks, mostly due to its high caffeine content.”

For example, comments the website, “it can temporarily raise blood pressure. Women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant or breastfeeding need to be cautious about caffeine. High intake of boiled, unfiltered coffee has been associated with mild increase in cholesterol levels.”

With over 500 billion cups of coffee consumed worldwide each year, we seem to be doing ok with our daily fix.