The Positive Side of Coffee

If you have forsworn the beverage as part of your New Year healthy eating plan you may want to rethink as new research is showing some benefits you won’t want to pass up on. Personally coffee, like butter, is something I have never given up on but have cut down to two cups a day because my health philosophy has always been everything you want in moderation.

Coffee is actually one of the richest sources of antioxidants there is and remains so however you drink it as its high antioxidant content of the coffee is still absorbed easily by the body. Antioxidants help to protect our cells from free radical damage caused by oxidative stress – a fact that is backed up by hundreds of intervention studies on polyphenols and polyphenol-rich foods including coffee.
According to Gary Williamson, Professor of Functional Food, School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds, “Coffee is in my top 20 lifespan essential foods.” Many people can’t start their day without it and if you want a quick and high oxidant boost then look for Nescafe have even developed a special blend that is higher in antioxidants than their standard coffees so look for their Green Blend in supermarkets.

Other Caffeine Benefits:
A new review has indicated that antioxidant supplements may benefit couples who have difficulty conceiving naturally. The review provides evidence from a small number of trials that suggest the partners of men who take antioxidants are more likely to become pregnant so coffee could well play a part in that antioxidant increase.

Another new study also shows that caffeine energizes cells, boosting virus production for gene therapy applications. Now why would that concern you? Well it helps move research forward faster because if you give caffeine to cells engineered to produce viruses used for gene therapy then those cells can generate 3- to 8-times more virus, according to a recent paper published in Human Gene Therapy.

Lentivirus vectors are commonly used for transferring genes into cells for both research applications in the laboratory and, increasingly, for gene therapy procedures in clinical testing. The addition of caffeine should significantly decrease the cost of lentiviral production for research and clinical uses and James M. Wilson, MD, PhD, Editor-in-Chief, and Director of the Gene Therapy Program, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia can certainly see the advantage. “It is ironic that the ingredient in beverages like colas and coffees that helps keep us awake and alert is also useful in jazzing up cells to produce more gene therapy vectors. An increase in vector production of 5-fold may prove critical in establishing the commercial viability of lentiviral based products.”

Energy drinks can take more than they give

October 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Health

Let’s face it, we all need an energy boost from time to time and an occasional hit of caffeine or sugar is not a problem. But a new source of ‘instant lift’ is causing health concerns. Energy drinks have been popular for years, and just look in your local supermarket and you will plenty of choice. Most contain sugar, colour and caffeine and sometimes ginseng and taurine as well, and they are a popular pick me up during working hours.

Now, a study published this week in the journal ‘Drug and Alcohol Dependence’ is raising concerns about the possibility of caffeine intoxication from energy drinks. This is a topic I have mentioned before, but it’s worth repeating. Energy drinks are usually much smaller cans than the equivalent soft drink, but the amount of caffeine in some of them is the equivalent of 14 cans of Coca-Cola. Caffeine is listed as an ingredient, but not the amount, because energy drinks are designated as dietary supplements, not food products.

They feel that anyone drinking several of these a day is in danger of caffeine intoxication, which is a recognized clinical syndrome. If you have ever over-indulged in coffee during stress or crisis you might recognise the symptoms of nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, stomach upset, tremors, rapid heartbeat, restlessness and pacing. In rare cases, caffeine intoxication can cause death so it’s not something to take lightly.

We know from previous research that too much caffeine is causing increased toxicity in our bodies, and there is also the other important factor with all soft drinks which is that the phosphoric acid they all contain leaches calcium from the bones and can lead to osteoporosis.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL Additionally, many of these drinks – particularly the low-calorie versions – contain the artificial sweetener aspartame. This is a concern because, according to new research by South African scientists from the University of Pretoria, a high intake of aspartame may lead to the degeneration of brain cells, compromised learning and emotional functioning and various mental disorders.

The research found that aspartame, marketed as NutraSweet, Equal, Canderal and Tropicana Slim, leads to both direct and indirect changes in the brain when consumed in high quantities. Among these effects, the chemical can disrupt amino acid metabolism and structure, degrade nucleic acids, and interfere with the function of nerve cells and hormonal systems. It also appears to change the concentration of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

The researchers also noted that aspartame appears to cause excessive signaling of nerve cells, and nerve cell damage or even death. By disrupting the functioning of the cells’ mitochondria, or energy source, aspartame leads to a cascade of effects on the whole system.

As I’ve always said, give me old-fashioned sugar and hold the chemicals!

Another benefit for coffee?

April 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Health

If you really enjoy your coffee, and have a high fat diet, then despite kind friends like me warning you of potential health problems, there is some new research that might cheer you up. It was reported by Jonathan D. Geiger, Ph.D., of the University of North Dakota, in the April issue of the Journal of Neuroinf – lammation, that animal tests appeared to protect the blood-brain barrier from cholesterol-induced damage in rabbits. Why is this important? Because high levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps by compromising the protective nature of the blood-brain barrier. Other experimental studies have suggested that caffeine has beneficial effects for a number of neurovascular disorders, including Alzheimers’ but it is not yet conclusive. So I sugest you go easy on the high fat cappuccino’s for a while yet.

More on the coffee debate

February 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Health, Wellness

My piece on coffee has sparked some debate, and this week I saw an interesting post this week from Ray Collins who writes The Good Life Letter and happily for those of us who cannot start the day without a cup of coffee it’s not all doom and gloom. I did tell you about the risks pregnant women run of miscarriage through coffee drinking, but if you are not pregnant then read on.

It’s the caffeine content which is at the root of the argument and like most things it has its good and bad sides. On the pro side there is evidence that it may lower your risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and headaches. Caffeine also has a stimulating effect on the brain and studies have shown that it can also improve your attention span, boost your brainpower and also help balance your moods.

I mentioned in the last newsletter that the optimal dose of coffee a day is no more than 200 milligrams, or two average size cups of coffee, in a day. For me, I have a small cafetiere of organic ground coffee to start my day then I switch to white or herbal tea and that seems to work for me.

Oh, and if you are up for a major purchase, then don’t take the offer of free coffee that the salesman may make. Apparently, according to Pearl Martin of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, she claims that doses of caffeine can make you more easily convinced by arguments that go against your beliefs. This comes from a paper she authored in 2005 which suggested that the brain stimulators in caffeine improves your ability to understand the reasoning behind strong arguments.

In practice, that could make you more likely to end up agreeing with something that goes against your typical views. So if you are against gas-guzzling cars and you have a couple of free java’s then beware, because it might help the salesman change your mind!

Caffeine risk in pregnancy

January 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Womens Health

Caffeine is a stimulant and too much of it can jangle your nerves and keep you awake, however for pregnant women it can have a far more serious impact. Caffeine, whether from coffee, chocolate or sot drinks like colas, has been linked to a higher risk of miscarriage reported this week by the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

Even a small amount of caffeine can increase the risk, but if the daily intake is the equivalent of at least two cups of coffee or five cans of a soft drink with caffeine, then women in the study were twice as likely to miscarry as women who never, or rarely, had any caffeine in their diet. Women who suffer a lot of nausea in pregnancy, and had a high caffeine intake, had an even higher risk of miscarriage.

The study was based on 1,063 pregnant women living in the San Francisco area and confirmed previous studies about the increased risk of caffeine intake and miscarriage. These studies found that caffeine crosses the placenta but is poorly metabolised by the foetus and may influence cell development and decrease placental blood flow.

To put it into perspective, the risk factor is substantially elevated if you have over 200mg a day from all sources and a large mug of 150 mill of coffee contains 100 mg of caffeine.

However, as I have previously mentioned in this article about caffeine, caffeine-free doesn’t quite mean what it says. It depends on a number of factors such as what process of decaffeinating is used and what different manufacturers product requirements and standards are.

Remember that there is approximately 2mg caffeine in decaf coffee and hot chocolate and if tea drinkers are not immune either as there is approximately 39 mg of caffeine in the average mug of tea.

Decaffeinated doesn’t always mean caffeine-free

Did you know you can get withdrawal symptoms like headache and sluggishness from just 100mg of

caffeine? That’s why many people choose to reduce their caffeine intake for their health’s sake and switch to decaffeinated coffee for at least part of their daily consumption. They do this on the confident belief that when they see the words ‘caffeine-free’ that meant that the product contained no caffeine or at least only very tiny amounts. However, that is not the case as the people from the Consumer Reports organisation recently found out.

They sent out a team of ‘secret shoppers’ with the arduous task of buying cups of decaffeinated and ‘normal’ coffee from six major US concerns: Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Seattle’s Best, 7-11, McDonald’s and Burger King. At least four of those brands are available in the UK and Europe and the results were not impressive when the different coffees were analysed for their caffeine content.

If you drink a can of coca cola or pepsi – the regular kind – you are getting around 30mgs of caffeine, but you get over that (32mg) if you got a decaf from Dunkin’ Donuts. Containing a third less caffeine, but still weighing in at a whopping 20mg was Starbucks. If you want to get coffee with the lowest caffeine levels (in a decaffeinated blend) then McDonalds came out best with less than 5 mgs.

If you like your caffeine content to be high, then again the amount varies wildly. In a 120z cup the levels ranged from 58-281 mgs – and at that highest level it’s practically giving your nervous system the equivalent of an electric shock.

What’s the answer? Don’t worry so much about the levels, but monitor the effect on your nervous system – if the coffee revs you up and boosts your adrenalin levels so you feel an increased heart rate, or perhaps jumpy and nervous, then you know you are getting a caffeine hit – whatever the label says. Herb tea anyone?