Coffee revivial through science“Perhaps no substance has been the subject of more conflicting media and scientific reports in recent years than caffeine. So, is a cup of coffee bad for you or not?” With that, Dr. James R. Coughlin surveyed the scientific history as well as new research in a presentation at Coffee and Your Health: SurprisingFindings, a symposium for science writers at the New York Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Coughlin told the group, “There have been almost 20,000 published studies on coffee and caffeine. But the medical and scientific issues are complicated…for instance, there are over 2000 substances in a cup of coffee. There have been problems with study design, human subjects and biased interpretations.  There were confounders, such as smoking and drinking. There were inaccurate assessments of coffee/caffeine intake.”

However, things have changed, the toxicologist said. Improved scientific methods, as well as efforts in the educational and industrial fields, have greatly rehabilitated the health image of coffee and caffeine. Most medical authorities now agree on their safety at moderate consumption levels. Dr. Coughlin described caffeine’s pharmacological effects: “Depending on dose and duration, it enhances central nervous system functions of alertness, vigilance, and arousal, and it reduces fatigue. Caffeine improves cognitive performance, increases the body’s capacity for muscular work and exercise, and increases diuresis and blood flow in the kidneys. Caffeine also increases coronary blood flow as well as the force of cardiac and skeletal muscle contraction. It relaxes smooth muscle, especially bronchial muscle, and even produces a slightly higher metabolic rate.”

drinking coffee can remove the malaise … associated with the common cold

There are now many studies that elucidate the beneficial effects of coffee and caffeine, Dr. Coughlin continued. He described a “major review by one of the true pioneers in the field, Dr. Karl Battig,” which summarized cardiovascular and behavioral research on coffee, as well as a number of other studies on the alertness-enhancing effects of the beverage. Dr. Coughlin even discussed research showing that drinking coffee can remove the malaise – reduced alertness, slower psychomotor performance – associated with the common cold.

“The last four or five years of research have shown that there’s a whole group of diseases where coffee may even have a protective effect,” Dr. Coughlin told the group. “We’re not only talking about athletic and mental performance, we’re talking about real diseases. Some of the recent studies have been in type 2 diabetes, one of the problems related to obesity in the western world and especially in the United States. There have been several published studies in the last three or four years showing that coffee reduces type 2 diabetes… and it can reduce colon cancer… and Parkinson’s disease. There have been six or seven studies that it reduces the symptoms and actually prevents Parkinson’s disease…and there are a whole number of other benefits.”

adults who drink coffee have 25% less asthma than non-coffee drinkers

The toxicologist discussed research presented by the symposium’s other participants, such as that of Dr. Harris Lieberman on the use of caffeine for sustaining mental task performances. Dr. Coughlin explained the studies describing coffee’s apparent reductions in depression and anxiety, risk of Parkinson’s disease, and risk of calculi formation.

He told the science writers that adults who drink coffee have 25% less asthma than non-coffee drinkers; that studies from Japan, Italy and the United States found an 80% reduction in risk for cirrhosis of the liver among coffee drinkers; that coffee can help patients with chronic stable angina walk pain-free; and that coffee can prevent postprandial hypotension in elderly patients.

Dr. Coughlin also discussed the antioxidant activity of coffee and the other phenolic beverages. He described studies that examined the beverages on a total mg/per cup serving basis:  coffees 200-500 mg, teas 150-200 mg, wine 200-800 mg.

“There is a long established history of the safe use of coffee, and the newest, detailed studies and re-examinations of old issues have been quite reassuring,” Dr. Coughlin noted. “Coffee and caffeine should already be recognized for their positive health benefits and potential functional food attributes.”

“Physicians can assure patients that their health will not be adversely affected by the enjoyment of coffee/caffeine as it is currently consumed,” the toxicologist concluded. “So the good news is that most of the bad news you’re been hearing is wrong, and there are actually some very nice beneficial effects of coffee consumption.”

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