Coffee had a bad reputation among health geeks for a long time. Now it's time to look at some evidence, and redraw the picture.
What if a health junkie and coffee-loving techie would talk about the impact of coffee on health? Strange question, but a conflict that can be very real if you have friends who are into a healthy lifestyle and don't subscribe to one's daily coffee heaven. It can be a challenge.
A techy, from Finland of course, complies with her country’s average daily coffee consumption rate of two cups. Finland is one of the greatest consumers of coffee in the world, which makes it even more interesting.
Oh, that deliciously rich roasted smell and comfortingly voluptuous bitter warmth in the morning. Hipster culture has colonised coffee culture and generically unique coffee shops have been springing in strong competition with Starbucks.
Similar to Chinese shops, these coffee shops are instantly recognisable in style, but are not actual franchises. Our musli-chomping Finish techy shuffles along when her friend arrives—a health junkie on the other end of the spectrum of coffee opinions. But can the celery-stick-chomping health junky agree about the health impacts of coffee with the moustached army of coffee fanatics?
Coffee came to Europe in 1600, and was described as the ‘bitter invention of Satan’ by haters and has never fared well in urban legends. Touted as child-growth-stunting and hysteria-provoking, coffee just hasn't been embraced as part of healthy living. Discovered long long ago by Arab civilisations who noticed their goats were particularly merry when eating certain berries, coffee has now become central to European culture—despite the stories.
A series of meta analyses and systematic reviews were strung together in a piece in the New York Times, finding an overall protective effect of coffee on a range of deadly diseases—from cardiovascular disease to cancers. Even the ultimately finite death seemed to decrease among the coffee drinkers, reaching a sweet spot of maximum effect at about three or four cups per day.
Note that this doesn’t include the sugary creamy frappuccinos. Packed with sugar, salt and saturated fat, these boys are excluded from the coffee health party.
What about decaf?
Coffee is a complex blend of substances, so it is a tricky (and yet unresolved) business of identifying the responsible culprit for protective action. The most tempting culprit being, of course, caffeine. Perhaps mediated through antioxidant actions or adenosine receptor antagonists to caffeine, there are very mixed results about this story.
The same effects were not seen with tea and other caffeinated drinks, suggesting that caffeine isn’t the knight in shining armour. Decaffeinated coffee did seem to produce similar results, though.
What else is in the lineup?
The (not so) infamous carestol and kahweol have been shown to reduce the toxicity of a variety of carcinogens. They are found in such teeny tiny doses in filtered coffee that it is difficult to believe that this could be the whole story. There are probably more culprits in the mix that explain the protective effects of coffee.
The true identity of whatever is reducing the risk of major diseases in coffee drinkers is yet to be revealed.
nuviun's Datavision supports the stimulation of discussion and debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author(s).