Posted on May 14, 2009, 11 a.m.
By gary clark
It may not be a health food, but according to many studies, coffee may actually be beneficial, helping protect against a range of diseases, including diabetes, liver cancer, cirrhosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Past research on the effects of drinking coffee have often been clouded by the negative effects of smoking, as many coffee drinkers were also smokers. But new research is providing a more "balanced" perspective on coffee, according to Rob van Dam, a coffee researcher and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Coffee was seen as very unhealthy. Now we have a more balanced view. We're not telling people to drink it for health. But it is a good beverage choice," he says.
The proof? Twenty studies worldwide show that regular and decaf coffee lowers the risk for Type 2 diabetes, in some studies by as much as 50 percent. Researchers believe that it is probably due to chlorogenic acid, which is one of the many ingredients in coffee, slowing the uptake of glucose from the intestines. In other studies, reseach has consistently shown that coffee consumption yields a reduction in liver cancer and appears to protect the liver against cirrhosis. Moreover, the caffeine in coffee protects against Parkinson's disease. In fact, studies have shown that male coffee drinkers appear to have half the risk of Parkinson's as compared to non-coffee drinkers.
In addition, a study published in March in Circulation evaluated data from more than 83,000 women over a period of more than two decades. 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. And says, van Dam, caffeine in coffee also seems to have less of an effect on blood pressure than the caffeine in soda drinks, as there are so many other substances in coffee that have the opposite effect physiologically from caffeine. "Even caffeinated coffee doesn't increase blood pressure much once you drink it for a week or so," he adds.
Coffee - specifically the caffeine in coffee - also boosts athletic performance. According to Graham, caffeine is a powerful "ergogenic agent" that promotes the ability of muscles to work. "Studies show that caffeine boosts performance in both very short and very long athletic events," he says and explains that recent research suggests that caffeine helps muscles release calcium, allowing them to contract with more force. "It takes only a medium cup of regular coffee for a 130-pound athlete to see a measurable improvement in performance," he notes.
While coffee's health benefits are not perfect and studies cannot conclusively prove that coffee improves health outcomes, the sheer volume of recent research is showing that coffee is indeed turning out to be a low-risk drink. Coffee researcher Terry Graham, chair of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, points out that "Coffee and caffeine are not the same thing. In fact, they are vastly different. Coffee is a complex beverage with hundreds, if not thousands, of bioactive ingredients. A cup of coffee is 2 percent caffeine, 98 percent other stuff."
News Release: Good to the last drop www.boston.com May 11, 2009