COF­FEE Spot­light on

Good Health Choices - - Health bites -

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

THE GOOD

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.

THE BAD

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.

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