Coffee is mostly a body boon, but don't down the whole pot
An ex-boyfriend once commented, "Some people bounce up in the morning. Some people rise up in the morning. You ooze up in the morning." The creature from the black lagoon, that's me. And unless I get coffee in me, there is no morning.
Until recently, this caffeine jones was thought to fall on the negative side of the health ledger.
But the coffee tables are turning. (Ha! See what I did there?) Some now suggest that the pluses of drinking the delicious nectar of the bean outweigh the minuses. It's got antioxidants, it turns out (they're so trendy these days) and may help prevent all kinds of diseases. And a new study of nearly 40,000 women has found no overall link between caffeine and breast cancer, though those with benign breast disease may be at risk. Could be other downsides, too, so don't fill your cup without brewing up some double-double caution.
What the experts say
"Previously it was thought that coffee was harmful. Those studies were not done very well. Newer ones suggest that coffee consumption improves mortality. If you look at people who drink coffee compared with those who don't, those who do live longer. This is predominantly related to cardiovascular health. Other studies suggest that coffee consumption is related to reduced suicide rates, reduced incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, lower rates of type 2 diabetes and lower rates of some forms of cancer."
PETER MARTIN, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee
"A number of studies have linked coffee consumption to lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Those studies have shown that [connection] with both regular coffee and decaffeinated coffee. That suggests it's not the caffeine. There are some compounds in coffee that are antioxidants and improve insulin sensitivity. Our research has found that [whether coffee is good or bad] depends on individuals, their genetic makeup and ability to break down caffeine and how they process the various compounds. Moderate coffee consumption might be good for some; for others, the same amount might be harmful. The one-size-fits-all approach to dietary advice is no longer valid."
AHMED EL-SOHEMY, Canada Research Chair in Nutrigenomics, department of nutritional sciences, faculty of medicine, U of T
"A lot of athletes use coffee because it improves performance and endurance. Some of the negative impacts are anxiety and insomnia. If we're doing an elimination diet for allergies, we take people off coffee because it's a potential allergen. In a liver detox, too, where you're trying to eliminate anything that needs to be processed by the liver, we remove caffeine from the diet."
KIM WHITAKER, director, Action Naturopathic, Toronto
"Coffee is popular because our society demands more of us in a day than most of us can cope with without one or more jolts. Many Canadians consume more than the recommended limit of 300 to 400 mg a day. Headaches, irritability, nervousness and insomnia can occur. Research indicates significant associated health risks: benign breast disorder, increase in bad lipids (cholesterol) and a rapid rise in blood glucose and insulin levels. Filtering coffee is the best choice in terms of avoiding the lipid- and glucose-elevating effects. Green tea is an excellent alternative.''
ZORANA ROSE, naturopathic doctor, Toronto
"The relationship between coffee and miscarriage had been studied in at least 18 to 20 studies. The vast majority did find an association. There had been a reasonable hypothesis that healthy women tend to have vomiting and nausea and therefore reduce their consumption of caffeine, while those who do not have nausea or vomiting and thus do not reduce caffeine consumption are more likely to miscarry. But when we adjust for and control those things, we still find a strong association. We found that intake of more than 200 mg of caffeine a day is not safe. Below that level we also found elevated risk, though this isn't statistically significant. I would suggest for pregnant women in the first three months, the less the better, and the best thing is to stop totally during pregnancy."
DE-KUN LI, reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist, division of research, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, California