A Cup of Joe, Stuff of life or Poison?

In this country, we drink 400 million cups of coffee per day.  We consume over 45% of the world’s coffee production.  For the record, some of the Scandinavian countries consume three times more coffee per person.

Given all this coffee drinking, it’s no surprise that this is one of the most researched beverages on the planet.  And yet there is almost universal confusion on the health consequences of coffee drinking.

The problem is, we started our coffee studies 40 years ago when we were just starting to suspect cigarettes were a bad thing.  The early coffee studies showed people dying of heart attacks, mouth, throat and lung cancer.   It turns out in those days, coffee drinking was accompanied by cigarette smoking, and the control group didn’t drink coffee or smoke.  So all the bad stuff that we thought was associated with coffee drinking, was actually associated with smoking, and had nothing to do with coffee.

In case you think studying coffee is a light weight task for the scientists that got “C”s; coffee has more that 1,000 different chemicals identified.  Apparently a few of them cause cancer in rats.  In fact, it’s pretty hard to pick 1,000 chemicals and not have a few of them be bad for somebody.

Coffee does some well-known bad stuff.  It can be associated with anxiety and sleep disturbance.  It modestly raises both blood pressure and pulse.  It increases the acid in your stomach, and it stains your teeth.  That is the crime list for coffee.

Ah, but the benefits.

Coffee, first and foremost, increases memory, performance and wakefulness.  That just might keep you awake at the next meeting, thus keeping your job, which is a major health benefit.  All this wakefulness results in a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.   Some gastrointestinal cancers occur less frequently in coffee drinkers; especially throat, liver and prostate cancers.  Parkinson’s Disease is less frequent among the well-caffeinated.  Type 2 diabetes also is reduced in coffee drinkers.  Caffeine is also known to potentiate pain medication (it makes it work better).

All in all, coffee is a lousy replacement for a good night’s sleep, and should be avoided by those with sensitive stomachs.  For the rest of us, a cup a Joe is a safe warm spot in a cold and stressful world; and that’s another health benefit.

– Dr Don Bucklin, National MRO – AKA “Dr B”


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