Coffee: Better for You Than You Think

Coffee, the favorite hot beverage of millions in the US and Europe, has not always had a good press.  But coffee has not only undergone rehabilitation with regard to heart disease, strokes and cancer, but has been linked to a lowered risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, gout and hepatic cirrhosis.  On top of that, evidence shows it could also lower your risk of getting diabetes.  Four to five cups a day could decrease your risk significantly, compared to drinking less or none at all.

Delicious and mildly addictive, coffee comes from the berries of two varieties of the Coffea plant, C canephora robusta, used primarily for processed “instant” coffee, and C Arabica, which has the better flavor and is usually reserved for brewed coffees.  As with all gustatory pleasures, coffee carries perils if the drinker overindulges.   Two substances in coffee have been associated with heart disease, though these are generally removed by filter paper in the brewing process.  Because of its effect on blood pressure, coffee was once suspected as a factor in heart disease and strokes, though the rise in blood pressure is very short lived.

However, in recent years coffee has been hailed as a positive benefit to health.  Scientists say its anti-oxidants combat cancer and heart disease as well as many other health threats, fight depression and lower the suicide rate, and it generally stimulates physical and mental performance.  Of course, it has its bad sides as well: excessive drinking of coffee can cause acid reflux and iron deficiency, and anyone familiar with it knows the feeling of a “coffee jag”, when weakness, headache, trembling and nausea can ensue.

A large European study of 42,659 people carried out over nine years, has now found that coffee drinking can lower your risk of getting diabetes by up to 30%.  Moderate drinking of the beverage, of four to five cups daily, was compared to subjects who either did not drink coffee, or only drank it occasionally in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.  During the nine-year follow-up the German team found there were 1,432 cases of diabetes, 1,801 cases of cancer and 394 heart attacks.

The researchers also found drinking more than four cups a day was not linked to increased risk of developing of any chronic disease such as heart disease or cancer, and that the health benefits from drinking coffee were the same whether it was standard coffee or decaffeinated.

In addition, coffee’s best-known effect, as a stimulant to keep the drinker mentally alert got confirmation from another study carried out in the Netherlands.  Late night drivers or those on long, tiring motorway journeys and people studying or working late at night have always known the benefits of drinking coffee to stay wake and alert.  The new study carried out at Utrecht University gives evidence that a single cup of coffee – standard, not decaffeinated – may be all it takes to keep a driver awake when he takes it halfway through a four-hour drive.  Coffee’s stimulant effect makes it the drink of choice for anyone who needs to keep awake and alert during boring or nighttime work.

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