By Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden
RISMEDIA, July 14, 2008-(MCT)-Ever feel guilty when you drink that morning cup-o-joe? Well, here’s a reason to enjoy your coffee instead. A new study just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that those people who regularly indulge in their favorite coffee beverage may live longer than those who don’t.
The authors of this study reviewed data from two large ongoing studies that have followed health professionals over more than twenty years, including their dietary habits-the Nurses’ Health Study, and, the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. What they found was that people who drank at least five to seven cups of coffee per week had a significantly lower overall risk of dying from any cause compared to those who did not drink coffee; people who drank 4-5 cups per day or more seemed to have the strongest protection.
The effect was usually stronger in women than in men, and most of the reduction in death was due to a reduction in cardiovascular disease. Women who consumed coffee in this study also had a small reduction in the risk of diabetes as well as chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis of the liver.
Why might coffee be beneficial? In this study, people who drank decaf coffee benefited as much as those who drank the “rocket fuel,” suggesting that there is something else in coffee besides the caffeine that is beneficial to our health. We do know that coffee is high in polyphenols-plant chemicals that are known to reduce inflammation. Polyphenols also have other positive effects on the heart, blood vessels, and blood sugar:
– They help to relax blood vessels, which can also lower blood pressure.
– They act as anti-oxidants and may help to reduce blockages in the arteries.
– They seem to improve glucose tolerance and utilization, thus reducing the risk of diabetes.
In addition to the polyphenols in coffee, the caffeine itself also seems to have benefits, including:
– Reducing the risk of diabetes.
– Thinning the blood by reducing platelet stickiness.
– Relaxing the airways in people with asthma which can improve asthma symptoms.
– Reducing the risk of gallstones and gout.
– Reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease (greatest benefit seen with 1-3 cups of coffee per day).
– Possibly reducing the risk of some cancers, including cancers of the liver, colon, and esophagus.
And, lest you head to your nearest Starbucks to start pumping the caffeine, we do want to mention a few caffeinated risks:
– More than 200 mg of caffeine per day can increase the risk of miscarriage.
– Excessive caffeine may increase blood pressure, anxiety, and insomnia.
– Unfiltered coffee can increase your blood cholesterol levels, so use a filter when you brew.
– Caffeine increases the loss of calcium in the urine; if you have osteoporosis, it’s probably best to keep your caffeine intake under 300 mg/day, or take an extra calcium tablet for each cup of coffee you drink.
Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden are medical directors of Sutter Downtown Integrative Medicine program in Sacramento, Calif.
© 2008, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.