COFFEE Spotlight on
In the 1970s and 80s, coffee was widely criticised after studies linked the drink to higher rates of cancer and heart disease. However, coffee lovers got a reprieve in recent years after new research found the initial studies were flawed. But while coffee is no longer deemed the health hazard it was once thought to be, some experts say sticking to herbal tea is the best bet. So what’s the answer? We look at the latest research into how much coffee is too much, and whether you should consider giving those flat whites the flick.
One thing the experts can all agree on is that it pays to listen to your body
It supports your liver. This year, researchers at the University of Southampton in the UK, and the University of Edinburgh, found people who drink two cups of coffee daily have a 35 per cent lower risk of developing hepatocellular cancer, the most common form of primary liver cancer. An Italian study went even further, with researchers suggesting those who drink three cups of coffee a day can reduce the risk of liver cancer by more than 50 per cent.
It may reduce the risk of diabetes.
In another recent study, the American Diabetes Association found evidence to suggest drinking six cups of coffee a day could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 33 per cent for men and women. Researchers found these results were the same among those who drank decaf coffee. This adds weight to what many experts already suspect, that other compounds, not caffeine, are responsible for the positive effects of coffee.
It’s not linked to cancer. At Harvard School of Public Health in Massachusetts, scientists have been carrying out one of the world’s biggest studies into coffee, involving data from more than 130,000 adults across a 24-year time-frame. They dispelled the reasons coffee was thought to be bad in the first place, finding no evidence that it increases the risk of death from cancer or heart disease.
It may protect the brain. At Linköping University in Sweden researchers looked at more than one million gene malformations to identify which factors could protect against Parkinson’s. The study suggested caffeine could reduce the risk of the degenerative disease, due to its effect on the brain’s dopamine receptors and the way it impacts on calcium regulation within cells. However, the study found the results only showed in people with certain genetic variations, and the amount of coffee required to lower Parkinson’s risk is still unclear.
It stimulates our stress response. Sipping on a caffeine-loaded cuppa triggers the body’s flight or fight response, turning your sympathetic nervous system in to a hotbed of hormonal activity. In this phase, the body pumps out insulin, adrenalin and cortisol, alongside the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Known as a ‘hormonal cascade’ it’s a complex physiological process that may make you feel more focused and alert to begin with, but it’s taxing on the body if you’re doing it several times each day. In cave man times, such a huge rush of stress hormones used to signal a famine or incoming attack from a woolly mammoth, whereas these days we’re triggering the same effect in the body simply by pushing ourselves through modern life. The bad news is, prolonged stress can lead to damage in the adrenal glands, which are tasked with producing stress hormones, as well as excess strain on the liver, which can affect its ability to absorb nutrients.
It may affect cholesterol levels. According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, coffee beans contain a compound called cafestol, which is thought to raise levels of LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol. However, this can be eliminated by paper filters, so if cholesterol is a concern for you, choose filter coffee instead.
It makes you dehydrated. Coffee is a diuretic, meaning it prompts the body to lose water through urination. To make up the deficit, most people need to drink two cups of water for every coffee they drink. The irony is dehydration makes us feel tired, and while most of us reach for a flat white to give us that energy boost, we’re often only making ourselves more dehydrated for the sake of a caffeine hit.
It can cause sleepless nights. Caffeine is a compound found in more than 60 plant sources, but despite the fact it’s completely natural, it still has the power to make a big impact on our body. Caffeine is classified as a psychoactive substance, meaning it crosses the bloodbrain barrier to deliver a direct hit to the central nervous system. The stimulating effects of coffee can hit in as little as 15 minutes after drinking it, and can last as long as six hours in some people. This means your afternoon pick-me-up brew may be making it hard to wind down at night, and playing havoc with your sleep.