People have been drinking
coffee as an eye-opener for thousands of years. For nearly as long,
its health benefits have been
debated—often vigorously. Now, emerging
research suggests coffee is loaded with antioxidants that
may actually protect you against cancer and diabetes.
rooted in history
Legend has it that coffee was discovered in the Kaffa
region of Ethiopia, when a herder connected the dots
between his especially energetic
goats and the berries they’d been
munching. Though we can’t vouch for the
story, we do know that coffee has brewed up controversy
throughout its history. It became popular in the Mideast in
the 16th century and was promptly banned for its stimulating
effects by conservative clerics. Later, coffee made its
way to England, and by 1675, coffeehouses were springing up
all over the country. Its popularity soon spread throughout Europe
and to North America.
what’s in it?
To some extent, what’s in that cup of coffee you’re drinking depends
on the type of coffee, where it was grown, and how it was roasted
and brewed. But caffeine, an al is common to all coffees (with the
obvious exception of decaf) and is responsible for its energizing
effects. Coffee also contains chlorogenic acid, which supports a
what science says
Research suggests that a cup of may do more for you than keep
you alert during that mind-numbing meeting or endless car trip.
Coffee contains potentially valuable compounds, including
disease-fighting antioxidants that mop up dangerous free radicals in
the body and help lessen inflammation.
Scientists who study health
trends in broad populations say that coffee drinkers appear to gain
protection against several diseases. For example, when Harvard
University researchers studied the link between women’s coffee
consumption and stroke risk among the 83,000 women enrolled in the
Nurses’ Health Study, they discovered that years of coffee drinking
didn’t increase their risk, and in fact,
may have slightly reduced the women’s chances of having a stroke.
What’s more, despite the fact
that caffeine raises blood sugar levels, which ratchets up the risk
of type 2 diabetes, several large studies have found that consuming
coffee appears to protect against this increasingly common disease.
One analysis of studies involving more than 193,000 people and
published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found
that heavy coffee drinkers—people who drink up to seven cups per
day— seemed to cut their risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 35
percent. In a few studies, people who drank decaffeinated coffee
seemed to lower their risk even more.
In a study of more than 47,000
men, researchers learned that downing several cups of coffee a day
may cut the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, a devastating
neurological condition, by 58 percent. And in more good news for
men, researchers from Harvard Medical School found out that men who
drank the most coffee had a 60 percent lower risk of developing
aggressive prostate cancer than non-coffee drinkers. Though the
researchers aren’t sure why this link
occurs, they suspect that coffee’s antioxidants and minerals may
play a role. They presented their findings at a cancer conference in
Finally, an unusual 2009 study
conducted in Hong Kong reported that coffee seems to enhance
cooperative behavior and improve social support—which sounds like a
good excuse to enjoy a coffee break with your colleagues.
Cognitive problems are sometimes a symptom of dementia, hut let’s
face it: Many otherwise healthy people become a bit forgetful after
middle age. Coffee may help. In one French study, women over 80 who
drank three cups or more per day were 70 percent less likely to have
memory decline than those who drank one cup or less.
There’s also preliminary
research to suggest that coffee may even protect against Alzheimer’s
disease. A 2007 analysis of four studies found that coffee drinkers
had a 30 percent reduced
risk for the most common form of dementia. That research was
supplemented in 2009, when two studies were published in the Journal
of Alzheimer’s Disease. Researchers at the Florida Alzheimer’s
Disease Center gave caffeine to elderly mice bred to develop symptoms
of the disease. The caffeine significantly decreased abnormal levels
of the protein linked to Alzheimer’s. The researchers said that
their findings provided evidence that caffeine could not only
protect the brain from the disease process, but could actually treat
it. They hope to conduct similar studies in humans.
lose the gallstones
If you’re prone to gallstones, drinking coffee may help pre vent an
attack, says a 1999 study, which found that men who drink two or
three cups of java per day reduce their risk of developing
gallstones by 40 percent. Some scientists believe caffeine blocks
development of these painful masses, which form in the gallbladder
and bile ducts. In 2002, researchers at Harvard reported that women
could expect similar results. Those who drank three or four cups of
coffee reduced their chances of gallstones by 22 to 28 percent.
Can coffee fight cancer?
Although preliminary research back in the 1970s and 1980s inked
coffee drinking and caffeine consumption to breast and pancreatic
cancers, larger and more sensitive studies failed to find an
association between the brew and any form of cancer. In fact, recent
research suggests that coffee may actually protect against certain
A review of studies deter mined
that people who drink coffee (regular or
decaf) or tea regularly reduce their risk of colon cancer by 24
percent. What’s more, studies involving more than 241,000 subjects
show that people who sip just two cups a day slash their risk of
liver cancer by 43 percent. Most scientists who study coffee today
have dismissed concerns about cancer and have begun to focus on how
this popular drink might promote health.
For the best flavor and maximum health benefits,
buy whole coffee beans and grind at home right before using. Coffee
loses its fresh ness quickly: you should buy enough beans just for a
week or two. Store in a dry dark place at room temperature. Though
you can store an unopened coffee package in the freezer, once
opened, keep in a cupboard. Refreezing hurts the beans.
good to know
Though drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages
produces a rise in blood pressure, the effect is mild and fades
quickly. Several major studies have failed to find any link between
a coffee habit and chronically elevated blood pressure. One large
study of more than 155,000 women found no connection between coffee
drinking and the risk of developing high blood pressure.