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Coffee – Not All That Bad?

coffee - not all that bad?I am afraid to write this particular column. As a naturopathic physician, people think I know something they don't about health and tend to take me seriously. When I wrote about the health benefits of chocolate a few issues ago, all my fellow chocoholics thanked me. Many said that they had upped their daily intake in their quests for radiant health. Not what I had intended. When I was living in Japan, the American modus operandi of "if a little is good for you, a lot must be great," was a very curious concept to Japanese people. Please consider this article as providing interesting and hopefully useful information, not as an excuse to start drinking coffee or to up your coffee intake.

About 180 million Americans begin their days with a cup of coffee. That's a lot of Java. Coffee harvesting is labor intensive, requiring over 3,000 hand picked and hand sorted beans for every pound of coffee. My guesstimate is that in those 180 million first cups of coffee, we drink 4,500,000 pounds of coffee, or about 13,500,000,000 beans. That's a lot of picking and sorting. Coffee is one of the most researched beverages we drink with more than 19,000 scientific studies conducted to date. The US Food and Drug Administration still considers coffee and caffeine to be "Generally Recognized as Safe." The good news (for most of us) is that coffee is a relatively benign substance with some well-researched positive effects. Let's take a look at a few of the studies which conclude in favor of coffee.

Parkinson's Disease

In the past 30 years, nine studies have shown that regular coffee consumption over time may reduce the risk of Parkinson’s Disease, an incurable and debilitating disease affecting 1 million Americans, who develop tremors and have difficulty in moving their arms and legs. Although it is not known why, the coffee element that appears most likely to produce this beneficial effect is caffeine. My guess is that coffee's profound stimulation the nervous system has something to do with it.

Mental Function

Everyone is familiar with the kick-start a cup of coffee provides in the morning. In fact, coffee also increases the speed of rapid information processing by 10 percent! A number of European studies have determined that moderate does of coffee contribute to increased alertness and energy. The findings also revealed that a cup of coffee might help in the performance of tasks requiring sustained attention and concentration, even during low alertness situations such as after lunch and at night.

Other studies have found that coffee helps to improve performance independently of its raising of fatigue-related concentration, and improves the performance of participants undergoing standard vigilance and reaction time tests, resulting in increased self-reported vigor, alertness and efficiency, and a decline in levels of depression and anxiety.

Bronchial Asthma

Coffee has long been known to help asthmatics and many have found regular consumption of coffee to assist in moderating attacks. Scientifically, this has been supported by two large studies in the USA and in Italy where three or more cups of coffee per day were associated with reduced prevalence of asthma. The reason for this is that caffeine is chemically related to theophylline, a drug that is used by asthmatics to facilitate breathing. The effects of coffee in the opening of the airways and promoting better breathing are so profound, that before an asthmatic undergoes pulmonary function testing, doctors advise that coffee be abstained from for at least six hours prior to testing.

Gallstones and Kidney Stones

Studies indicate that drinking two or three cups of caffeinated coffee per day can reduce the chance of gallstone disease in men by 40 percent. The correlation to the caffeine has been proven, as other drinks with less caffeine do not show these positive results. The effect on women with gallstone disease is unknown and research continues.

For kidney stones, a huge study involving 45,000 men with no medical history of kidney stones, found that greater intakes of regular and decaffeinated coffee were associated with a decreased risk of stone formation and greater intakes of apple and grapefruit juices were related to increased risk. The same researchers also evaluated 81,000 women and concluded that caffeinated coffee was found to be significantly more effective than water in helping women avoid kidney stones. An 8-ounce serving of coffee offered a 10 percent lower risk.

Colon Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, with some 131,000 Americans diagnosed with cancers of the rectum and colon on an annual basis. About 90% of the cancers occur in people over age 50.

Studies indicate that drinking coffee can reduce the risk of colon cancer. The most likely explanations for lower risk of colorectal cancer among heavy coffee consumers are the enhanced colonic activity induced by coffee, and that anti-mutagenic components in coffee and caffeine inhibit the cancer-causing effect of various microorganisms.

Antioxidant Content

Although research on this area is very new, we do know that roasted coffee contains antioxidants. Antioxidants energize the immune system and have a number of cancer fighting properties. Antioxidants also slow cellular aging. The most common antioxidants are Vitamins A, C, E and selenium.

Since caffeine is the most studied component in coffee, it is important to know that the amount of caffeine in any single serving of coffee depends on a number of factors. These include the variety of coffee bean, where the bean was grown, the particular coffee "grind," how the product is manufactured, the method of preparation (the length of brewing and the proportion of coffee to water) and the size of the container in which the coffee is served

We are blessed on this island to have access to some of the finest coffee in the world. Although Kona coffee is justifiably renowned, it was on the lush green hills of Hamakua that the first coffee on the Big Island was grown. Many older folks in the Hamakua area in which I live remember when Hamakua coffee ruled. Many of them whisper, almost sacrilegiously, that Hamakua coffee was better than Kona coffee.

If you are going to drink coffee, I strongly recommend organic coffee. The non-organic variety is exposed to a number of rather heavy chemicals during growing and processing. My personal favorite is Kapulena Coffee, grown and roasted right in my neighborhood. Another good choice is Kona Connoisseur. Both brands are certified organic.

Incidentally, does anyone know the origin of calling a cup of coffee a cup of Joe?

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