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Grounds for Coffee Benefits

Coffee offers potential health perks
By Sharon Palmer, R.D., Environmental Nutrition

Feeling guilty about grabbing a second mug to give you a boost before a long shift? Now you can sip away, guilt-free. New research shows coffee is linked with certain health benefits.

A few decades ago, people sipped coffee with trepidation, as doctors cautioned against drinking too much of this “excitable” brew. But now the attitude on coffee and health has come full circle, due to research that reveals this plant-based beverage might actually have some health benefits. And it’s a good thing, because people really love their morning—as well as afternoon and evening—cup of Joe. Per capita in the U.S., men drink 1.9 cups of coffee per day and women drink 1.4 cups per day.

Coffee consumption, which dates back to 6th century Ethiopia, is a unique food tradition—it crosses over socio-economic and cultural divides as people of many ages, incomes and ethnicities enjoy coffee. And this beverage has the ability to bring people together, whether it’s workers gathering for a coffee break or friends assembling at a local coffee shop for a Sunday morning brew.

Hundreds of mostly positive studies have been published during the past several years on coffee, investigating its potential health benefits for a variety of health conditions. Some of these benefits may be due to the coffee bean’s high antioxidant status; scientists have identified about 1,000 antioxidants in green coffee beans, with another 300 added in the brewing process. While researchers have linked coffee with everything from gallstones to cavity prevention, a few key areas seem to show the most promise.

–Type 2 diabetes. Studies show that coffee is linked with a decreased rate of type 2 diabetes because it appears to lower insulin resistance and slow the absorption of carbohydrates in the intestines. A meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2009 found that drinking three to four cups per day may reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 25 percent. And Harvard researchers reported that five cups of coffee per day for two months were associated with significant metabolic benefits, according to a study published in the September 2011 Nutrition Journal.

–Liver protection. Lower risk of liver cancer is linked with coffee drinking, according to a 2007 Hepatology meta-analysis of studies on liver cancer and coffee. Several studies show that coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of abnormal liver function tests and cirrhosis, according to U.K. scientists in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

–Mental and physical performance. It’s clear that the caffeine in coffee helps people stay alert, focused, and feel a good boost. A study published in Current Sports Medicine Reports found that coffee improves performance and endurance during prolonged exercise, as well as boosts short-term, high-intensity athletic performance; enhances concentration, reduces fatigue and heightens alertness. And mental benefits may extend beyond performance. Several studies have found that coffee may protect against Parkinson’s disease. A 10-year study performed by Harvard researchers and published in a September 2011 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that increased caffeinated coffee consumption was linked with 20 percent lower risk of depression in more than 50,000 women.

–Colon cancer prevention. Some studies have found a protective effect of coffee against colon cancer. Drinking two cups per day may protect smokers from advanced colon cancer, according to a National Cancer Institute-funded study of Singapore Chinese subjects published in Nutrition and Cancer in 2010. Japanese researchers found that drinking three or more cups a day may cut the risk of colon cancer in women by half, according to the International Journal of Cancer. However, a 2009 systematic review of studies on coffee and colon cancer showed no significant effect of coffee on colon cancer.

Coffee’s bottom line: While we still have more to learn about coffee and health protection, it seems like you have nothing to fear from sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying this fragrant brew. But don’t forget that caffeine and coffee consumption may not be the best prescription for everyone; it may aggravate conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease, migraines, arrhythmias, sleep disturbance and benign fibrocystic breast disease. And though coffee is a healthy, plant-based beverage, you can still negate potential benefits by pouring in decadent creams, syrups and toppings, such as those offered at your local coffee house. Take your coffee black, or with a small serving of low-fat or soy milk, to make the most of your java.

(c) 2012, Belvoir Media Group, LLC.

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