I had first published a blog post on this topic last year, however, given all the recent talk about coffee and cancer, I thought it best to update and address the issue. As you may be aware, recently a California judge ruled for the placement of warnings by coffee sellers about a potential cancer-causing chemical found in coffee. Of course, the minute this news came out I had friends calling and texting in panic: “What?! Does that mean I have to give up my coffee?!” . Of course, being the coffee lover that I am, I immediately started reading about this compound, called acrylamide.
Is drinking coffee for good health no longer an option?
We will address this, as well as a ton of other information on coffee. Never fear, knowledge is here . But first, a little background.
Coffee is the most consumed beverage in the world. Estimates state that the world consumes about 1.6 billion cups of coffee every day. So, if you find yourself lusting after coffee, you are in good company !
If left to my own devices, I would be happy drinking a cup of coffee throughout the day. Unfortunately, I am very caffeine sensitive, so I don’t drink it after 1pm. Plus, I limit myself to one cup per day. I love espresso coffee, I really don’t like the watered down version, fashionably called Café Americano. Espresso has higher caffeine content than regular coffee. If I drink more than one, my heart starts racing and I feel a bit anxious. Definitely jealous of the hubs, who can drink it anytime without any problems!
In the past coffee had gotten a bad rep. People saw it as something unhealthy people did. It was a vice you enjoyed as you smoked your cigarette. This view has certainly been evolving over the last few years, as research investigates coffee and its components. Is drinking coffee for good health possible? Could it be a virtue?! Let’s see.
SO WHAT EXACTLY MAKES UP COFFEE?
Many good things it turns out! Aaaannnnnd a couple of not so great.
Coffee contains more than a thousand different compounds, a few of the main ones are listed here:
- Chlorogenic acid: This is the most abundant polyphenol in coffee. You may remember we talked about phenolic compounds in our post on coconut oil here. These compounds are very strong antioxidants. Coffee has a significant amount of these!
- Caffeine: Many of us know that reaching for that cup of coffee will give you a quick pick-me-up thanks to the caffeine. The amount of caffeine varies depending on the type of coffee. Regular coffee contains between 19 and 130 mg per 8oz (240 ml). A single shot of espresso (35-50ml) contains a much higher content, from 58 to 76 mg. Want to know more about caffeine and it’s effects? Check out this post!
- Diterpenes: These compounds are thought to possess anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial action. There is also some conflicting evidence that these guys may raise our blood cholesterol.
- Melanoidins: These are formed by the roasting of the green coffee beans. Plenty of studies suggest they have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.
- Trigonelline: This plant alkaloid comes from Vitamin B6. It is thought to contribute to the bitter taste of coffee.
In addition, coffee contains several beneficial vitamins and minerals including magnesium, potassium, vitamin E and niacin. So, maybe drinking coffee for good health is an option?
WHAT ABOUT COFFEE VARIETIES AND PROCESSING?
There are two main types of drinking coffee: arabica (most common) and robusta. The only reason to know about these (other than general interest or knowledge for trivia) is because they differ a bit in composition.
Arabica contains more lipids, while robusta has more caffeine and polyphenols.
The processing of coffee changes its composition. Roasting may cause break down of many of the antioxidants compounds. Hence, to try to bypass the loss, green coffee supplements are now available everywhere. Also, the roasting process results in formation of the hotly discussed acrylamide.
Other things that may also alter its composition are brewing and extraction methods: boiled, filtered, decaf, pressure or infusion extraction.
Interestingly, the process of decaffeination reduces the amount of antioxidants present by decreasing the amount of polyphenols.
WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH ACRYLAMIDE?
Acrylamide is a chemical used in the making of paper, dyes, plastics and in the treatment of waste water and drinking water. We find it in cigarette smoke as well. This is not a new compound and we were probably always exposed to it to some degree in various foods, but we did not know until 2002 when researches noticed it in several cooked foods.
It is not found in raw foods, but it is found mainly in cooked plant foods. According to the American Cancer Society, French fries and potato chips seem to have the highest levels of acrylamide. Bread and other grain products have it as well. As mentioned, the roasting of coffee beans also results in the formation of this chemical. We can see it when starchy foods are cooked at temperatures above 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 Celsius), particularly via frying, broiling, baking or roasting. Now, if you think about this: How many times have you put potatoes to roast in the oven? Exactly..
What does the research say?
If we look at rat studies, when rats receive significant amounts of acrylamide (1,000 to 10,000 times the amount that we consume) they do develop cancer. Hence the warning that this is a potential carcinogen. There are no human studies that have shown it to lead to cancer in humans though, and it may very well be that we break down and absorb this agent differently than rats.
Oh, and by the way, the amount of acrylamide that is in our food is nowhere near the amount of acrylamide fed to rats in these studies. Picture this: the highest acrylamide concentration in chips was measured to be in the thousands parts per billion! It is worth mentioning that many things that we consider good (such as vitamins) can be extremely dangerous if ingested in large quantities. Extremes are never good.
Well, of course I can’t tell you what to do, but I plan to keep drinking my coffee! Anything in excess can be harmful, so use common sense. However, at this point we don’t have the science to back-up the acrylamide- cancer-causing statement in humans. Plus, coffee may provide several other health benefits, which we will discuss below.
Antioxidants may help protect against inflammation and as we mentioned, coffee has high antioxidant content. This may play a role in the prevention of atherosclerosis (see this post to learn about fat metabolism).
Animal studies with diabetic rats, showed a decrease in blood concentration of cholesterol, triglycerides, free fatty acid and LDL.
There are some conflicting studies regarding the diterpenes and a suggestion that these compounds may increase cholesterol. However, the diterpenes are mostly removed through filtrated and instant coffee processing.
Green coffee extract containing 56% cholorogenic acid showed a decrease in blood pressure after 28 days of consumption in a study with 117 men.Melanoidins also seemed to help lower blood pressure as well.
However, caffeine is a stimulant that increases heart rate and blood pressure. Scientists believe that the interplay between the pro-high blood pressure and anti-high blood pressure effects in coffee probably cancel each other out.
Overall, it is likely that the interplay between all these compounds renders coffee protective of heart health. So, heartwise, consider drinking coffee for good health.
Consuming cholorogenic acids seems to reduce the fasting blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity in animal studies. Many other studies have further explored the relationship between coffee components and glucose, leading us to believe that it may be protective against the development of type 2 diabetes. It turns of drinking coffee for good health from a diabetes standpoint is a good idea.
Melanoidins are also thought to help in the prevention of diabetes, as is trigonelline.
Drinking coffee may help slow the progressive muscle mass and strength loss that occurs as we age. After the age of 50, we start losing muscle mass at a rate of 1-2% per year.
A study looking at caffeinated coffee consumption in elderly mice showed greater muscle mass and strength in the coffee drinkers than in the non-coffee drinkers.
Other studies have further supported these results, so it seems coffee increases the regenerative capacity of muscles. For muscles, drinking coffee for good health helps!
Previous research suggested that coffee consumption could worsen psychiatric conditions. However, a review of the more recent research showed low to moderate caffeine consumption to reduce the risk of developing depression. Also, symptoms improved in depressed patients. They did observe that symptoms were worse in those with post-partum depression or, as you may imagine, those with anxiety disorders. So, coffee is good for mood unless you have anxiety issues or post partum depression.
Early research suggested that coffee increased the risk of some cancers, however, most studies today disagree with this belief. Studies consistently show that coffee protects against liver cancer and seems to be protective against colon cancer. There is no association between risk of breast or prostate cancer and coffee consumption. Analysis of women with postmenopausal breast cancer, breast cancer survivors, advanced prostate cancer and prostate cancer survivors showed an inverse relationship with coffee intake. So, the more coffee drank, the less of certain types of cancer, in a nutshell.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
In general, coffee can help lower your cardiovascular risk and improve your lipid profile, decrease your risk of diabetes, help with your mood and depressive symptoms and it can help prevent certain types of cancer.
I didn’t mention this, but it can also help to increase your exercise output and your attention. Other studies have also suggested a reduction in development of Parkinson’s disease, risk of suicide and risk of death from all causes. Many potential benefits that reinforce drinking coffee for good health.
As everything, do it in moderation. If you have issues such as heartburn, remember caffeine can aggravate that.
Ok, guys, that’s it for this week. Remember to subscribe to our blog below if you haven’t and keep your questions coming! I love hearing what worries or concerns you, so we can address it in our posts!
This post was also published in Dream Vibrant Health, a blog about life and health.