Now study after study parades through the journals ballyhooing the health benefits of coffee. So I decided to start my own mini-research project to confirm what is going on. No less an important source as the Mayo Clinic’s Women’s HealthSource provides a quick list of coffees possible benefits. These include – and I am quoting:
· Reduced risk of inflammation and cardiovascular disease. A study of more than 27,000 postmenopausal women concluded that coffee's antioxidant properties may inhibit inflammation and, consequently, development of cardiovascular disease.
· Reduced risk of diabetes: It appears that routine coffee consumption, particularly decaffeinated coffee, substantially lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes.
· Brain protection: Among a group of 890 older women, a history of consuming caffeinated coffee throughout their life appears to help preserve cognitive skills — thinking, memory and comprehension — possibly because of long-term caffeine exposure.
· Reduced risk of Parkinson's disease: A large trial called the Nurses' Health Study found that low levels of caffeine intake reduced the risk of Parkinson's disease in women who used postmenopausal hormone therapy. In women who didn't use hormones, caffeine intake at moderate to high levels decreased the risk of Parkinson's.
Even Andrew Weil’s website, the guru of alternative medical advice corroborates these studies.
So what happened? How did coffee get such a bad rap? Seems that once upon a time intake of coffee was thought to cause a leeching of calcium and the possibility osteoporosis and reduced bone density. Turns out that the previous research was flawed, as it studied populations that had low calcium intake, in general. People were too often replacing calcium-rich foods, such as milk, with coffee or soda. Now we hear that the cream and sugar we put in the coffee may be more dangerous than the java.
So are there any dangers to coffee? Well, yes there are. There is plenty of research that shows that coffee drinking can cause restlessness, anxiety, irritability, tremors, sleeplessness, headaches, gastrointestinal symptoms and abnormal heart rhythms. In some people, caffeine increases blood pressure. And then there are a few who are extra sensitive to caffeine.
And then there is the all important question - is coffee addictive? Well, listen to what was reported in the October 2004 issue of Psychopharmacology.
On the effects of caffeine withdrawal: "We need to recognize that caffeine really is a drug and accord it respect as a drug. People need to know what it does when they take it, and what it does when they cease to take it, and make an adult decision about that," said Roland Griffiths, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, who published the findings with his colleague, Laura Juliano, who teaches at American University.
The researchers concluded that as little as one small cup of coffee daily can produce caffeine addiction. And, in general, the more caffeine consumed, the more severe withdrawal symptoms will be, with some people even reporting depression, nausea, vomiting or muscle pain.
And then there are the natural health advocates who argue that if you can swear off coffee for a few weeks you will feel more energized, sleep sounder, and just feel better.
These are just a few of my thoughts as I wend my way through the long line of Starbucks zombies waiting for my morning jolt of caffeine. And though I remain dazed and confused, maybe my extra foamy double macchiato will help clarify the situation.