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ONE of the beverages that has gotten an undeserved bum rap is coffee, the morning-waker-upper many of us enjoy!

Unlike soft drinks (“liquid candy”) and energy drinks, which are both dangerous to health as shown by several scientific studies, coffee has several good effects on the body.

Coffee is known to increase short term memory and concentration.

It helps in treating headaches and appears to help in lessening depression.

Some of the bad effects include teeth stain, caffeine-induced anxiety in some people, and constipation.

“There is certainly much more good news than bad news, in terms of coffee and health,” according to Frank Hu, M.D., MPH, Ph.D., nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, in a WebMD article.

In more than 15 reported researches involving more than 193,000 people, drinking coffee (caffeinated or decaf) was found to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

This particular finding appears to be firm and most convincing.

Other probable benefits coffee-drinkers get include a lowered likelihood of getting certain cancers, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart rhythm problems and stroke, although these have to be further confirmed.

So far, the clinical indications are very positive.

In Dr. Hu’s review, “those who said they drank more than six or seven cups daily were 35 percent less likely to have Type 2 diabetes than people who drank fewer than two cups daily...There was a smaller perk — a 28 percent lower risk — for people who drank four to six cups a day...The findings held regardless of sex, weight, or geographic location (U.S. or Europe).”

In a Australian review of more than 18 studies on 458,000 individuals, there was a “17 percent drop in the odds of having Type 2 diabetes for every additional cup of coffee drunk daily,” with similar risk reductions among decaf coffee drinkers and tea drinkers.

• Are there other studies confirming these?

While those studies are quite impressive, the 2008 research on 83,700 nurses in the long-term Nurses’ Health Study revealed a 20 percent reduced rate of stroke among those who drank two or more cups of coffee a day, compared to those who did not drink or had less, all other factors considered.

The Kaiser Permanente study of 130,000 KP health plan members showed that those who reported drinking one to three cups of coffee per day were 20 percent less likely to be hospitalized for abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) than non-drinkers, regardless of other risk factors.

 What in coffee might provide these benefits?

The exact mechanism is not clear.

Dr. Hu says, “It’s the whole package,” pointing to very potent anti-oxidants in coffee that “prevent tissue damage caused by oxygen-free radicals.”

In another research (the Nurses Health Study), it shows that the 2,000 women coffee drinkers in its survey had significantly lower (13 percent-14 percent) levels of C-peptide hormone, a component of insulin in our body, compared to non-coffee drinkers.

Higher level of C-peptide, which indicates the body is unable to use insulin (called insulin resistance) are linked to the increased risk of developing adult-onset diabetes.

The good effect was more apparent among obese and overweight women, 22 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

So, if coffee reduces C-peptide, then the risk is reduced.

The magnesium and chromium in coffee aids the body in utilizing insulin, which normally regulates blood sugar.

Among those with Type 2 diabetes, the body is unable to use insulin effectively to control blood sugar.

Since the findings were also observed among those drinking decaffeinated coffee, it seems evident that the benefits are most likely not from the caffeine in itself.

 Is this hormone working alone?

This is still not fully understood, either.

Both regular and decaffeinated coffees have a lot of antioxidants in them, like chlorogenic acid (the ingredient that gives the “addicting” coffee flavor), phyto-estrogens and magnesium.

These chemicals improve sensitivity to insulin and may play a vital role in lowering adult onset diabetes.

Caffeine itself is also known to affect insulin secretion.

There are more than 800 aromatic compounds in coffee.

 How about Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s?

The data for Parkinson’s Disease “have been always been very consistent: higher consumption of coffee is associated with decreased risk” of this neurological disease, according to Dr. Hu.

The same good benefit was found between coffee and dementia and Alzheimer’s in a 2009 clinical study in Sweden and Finland among 1,400 persons, who consumed three to five cups of coffee daily and had 65 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, compared no non-drinkers and those who drank less.

The findings were similar for stroke, prostatic cancer and hepatic cancer.

 How much calories are there in coffee?

Coffee has zero calorie.

What you add to it (sweeteners, cream, etc.) are the ones that add calories to coffee.

Latte with non-fat milk, for instance, has 76 calories and up, depending on how you prepare it.

With whole milk, it goes up to 136 calories.

Cappuccino with non-fat milk, 40 calories, with whole milk, 73 calories; iced mocha coffee with non-fat milk, 87, with whole milk, 103.

 How many cups of coffee are safe?

Since the long term effects of coffee (especially caffeinated) on diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other illnesses are not totally clear, the so-called “safe level” is an individual issue.

One cup of regular coffee may be too much for one person, who might develop heartbeat irregularity, like palpitation or insomnia, when taken before bedtime.

Three cups a day may not be enough to satisfy another.

There is more leeway for consumption of decaffeinated coffee if you plan to follow this study, but even this should be tailored to your tolerance.

The final word on this issue is not fully settled, but the preliminary results as presented above are most encouraging.

More long term studies are definitely needed before this becomes a medical dogma.

Since individuals react differently, it is best for anyone contemplating to start on a coffee regimen (for pleasure or for health) to check with your physician.

In the meantime, coffee appears to be a healthy drink.

On the other hand, soft drinks and energy drinks are dangerous to our well being and longevity.

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