Saturday, July 31, 2004

Faits divers -- Coffee's pharmaceutical bennies

Y'all know that list of addictive substances that humankind has enjoyed for at least centuries but were on 20th Century Man's veboten list? Well another myth has hit the dust. The Chicago Tribune alerts us to the recent news that "evidence is growing on the health benefits of a cup of joe."

Though the virtues of coffee drinking may have been debated in the past, now there appear to be new reasons to rejoice over java. More and more studies have linked coffee consumption to a number of health benefits, including a reduced risk of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, gallstones, colon cancer and potentially heart disease.

"Coffee has much more in it than caffeine," said Dr. Peter Martin, director of the Vanderbilt University's Institute for Coffee Studies, which conducts medical research on coffee and is funded by a grant from a consortium of coffee-producing countries. "It's a very complex beverage that contains hundreds of compounds, including many with antioxidant effects."

Though the tea industry has been touting its antioxidants, turns out coffee may contain even more--specifically polyphenols. One of the most potent antioxidants in coffee is called chlorogenic acid, which is partially responsible for the coffee flavor. Some reports estimate that more than 850 compounds are packed inside the humble bean.

Martin said that the roasting process appears to change the structure of the compounds in coffee--boosting the potential disease-fighting benefits. Martin, who is also a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Vanderbilt, is looking at the potential use of coffee compounds to treat addiction and depression. Past studies indicate that coffee may help lift moods, reduce anxiety and depression, and even reduce the risk of suicide.
[...]
Some of the strongest and latest research may be the connection between coffee drinking and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, a growing health epidemic that is closely linked to the rising rates of obesity.

In Finland, where coffee consumption is higher than anywhere else in the world, researchers found that coffee appeared to have a protective effect against the development of type 2 diabetes. The more cups of coffee consumed, the greater the protection.

Published in the March 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study examined the coffee-drinking habits of 6,974 Finnish men and 7,655 women. After a 12-year follow-up, women drinking three to four cups of coffee a day experienced a 29 percent reduced risk of diabetes, while risk dropped by 79 percent for women who drank 10 or more cups a day.

For men in the study, drinking three to four cups of coffee a day was associated with a 27 percent lower risk for diabetes. Those men who drank 10 or more cups lowered their risk by 55 percent.

A second study examining an even larger population in the United States found similar results. After analyzing data on 126,000 people for as long as 18 years, Harvard researchers found that having six or more cups of coffee each day slashed men's risk of type 2 diabetes by 54 per-cent and women's by 30 percent compared to those who avoid coffee. Decaffeinated coffee had a weaker effect. The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"The ingredients in coffee can actually improve sensitivity to insulin and glucose metabolism, which contributes to lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes," said Dr. Frank Hu, senior author of the study and an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Hu said the exact mechanism is not fully understood--and more research is needed--but these findings are good news for people who drink a lot of coffee. He is now studying the role of coffee for people who already have diabetes.

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