Coffee is good for you

First it was wine. Then olive oil and chocolate.  And now –- coffee has turned out to be good for you after all. Can ice cream be far behind?

After years of being viewed with suspicion, there is now scientific evidence that coffee defends against Alzheimer’s, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's, asthma symptoms, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer, heart disease and even hunger pangs. Over 18,000 studies on coffee have been published in the past few decades.

Here are some of the findings:

Coffee protects your heart.  Moderate coffee drinkers (1 to 3 cups/day) have lower rates of stroke than non coffee drinkers, an effect linked to coffee’s antioxidants. Coffee has more antioxidants per serving than blueberries, making it the biggest source of antioxidants in Western diets. All those antioxidants may help suppress the damaging effect of inflammation on arteries. Immediately after drinking it, coffee raises your blood pressure and heart rate, but over the longer term, it may lower blood pressure as coffee’s antioxidants activate nitric oxide, widening blood vessels.

Coffee boosts your brain power.  Drinking between 1 and 5 cups a day may help reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as Parkinson’s disease. Animal studies show that something in coffee may help trigger the release of a special growth factor -- granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (GCSF) -- that recruits cells from bone marrow to help sweep out beta-amyloid deposits. (Those are the pesky plaques that cause Alzheimer's symptoms.) And the polyphenols in red wine may have similar benefits, reducing levels of peptides that contribute to Alzheimer's plaques.

Your liver loves it.  The research here is limited but it looks as if the more coffee people drink, the lower their incidence of cirrhosis and other liver diseases. One analysis of nine studies found that every 2-cup increase in daily coffee intake reduced liver cancer risk by 43 per cent.  Again, it’s those antioxidants — chlorogenic and caffeic acids— and caffeine that might prevent liver inflammation and inhibit cancer cells.

Coffee diverts diabetes. Those antioxidants (chlorogenic acid and quinides, specifically) play another role: boosting your cells’ sensitivity to insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar. In fact, people who drink four or more cups of coffee each day may have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to some studies. Other studies have shown that caffeine can blunt the insulin-sensitivity boost, so if you do drink several cups a day, try mixing in decaf occasionally.

It helps your headaches.  Studies show that 200 milligrams of caffeine — about the amount in 16 ounces of brewed coffee — provides relief from headaches, including migraines. Exactly how caffeine relieves headaches isn’t clear but scientists do know that caffeine boosts the activity of brain cells, causing surrounding blood vessels to constrict. One theory is that this constriction helps to relieve the pressure that causes the pain.

Further research

Coffee consumption modifies risk of estrogen receptor negative breast cancer; Jingmei Li, Petra Seibold, Jenny Chang-Claude, Dieter Flesch-Janys, Jianjun Liu, Kamila Czene, Keith Humphreys and Per Hall; Breast Cancer Research 2011

Coffee Consumption and Prostate Cancer Risk and Progression in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study; Kathryn M Wilson, Julie Kasperzyk, Jennifer R Rider, Stacey Kenfield, Rob M van Dam, Meir J Stampfer, Edward Giovannucci and Lorelei A Mucci; Journal of the National Cancer Institute, April 2011

Caffeine Synergizes with Another Coffee Component to Increase Plasma GCSF: Linkage to Cognitive Benefits in Alzheimer’s Mice; Chuanhai Cao, Li Wang, Xiaoyang Lin, Malgorzata Mamcarz, Chi Zhang, Ge Bai, Jasson Nong, Sam Sussman and Gary Arendash; Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 2011