Coffee - Our Beloved Drink Part I

Coffee - Our Beloved Drink Part I

March 21, 2013 0 Comments

For millions of us, our morning ritual includes, and often hinges upon, the presence of coffee in one form or another. This little bean, when roasted and brewed, becomes a rich, lush drink that many find both comforting and invigorating. Indeed, the smell of fresh grounds, the sound of a brewing pot, or the syrupy smoothness of an espresso provide only some of the appeal of coffee. In addition to its significant social role, coffee can provide considerable health benefits when regularly incorporated in one’s nutritional regimen.

Morning Coffee

Until recently, there has been little work done on the relationship between coffee and diseases associated with inflammation and oxidative stress. An emerging body of research looking specifically at the health effects of coffee is finding consumption to be inversely related with many major causes of death in the Western world, which essentially means that people who drink coffee are less likely to die from certain causes. There is also strong evidence of coffee’s antioxidant capacity as well as its positive effects on cognition and mental acuity.

As it relates to major causes of death, a study out of the National Cancer Institute, which used a considerable dataset including more than 400,000 participants (The AARP Diet and Health Study), found coffee consumption to be negatively associated with heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes and other inflammatory diseases, infections, even injuries and accidents. These results were similar for people who drank both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, however the results were only significant for those who also did not smoke and/or drink heavily.

Much age-related bodily and cognitive decline is due to the degenerative processes of oxidative stress. This is essentially the burden placed on our cells from the presence of free radicals which we encounter in our environment through breathing and eating. In other words, age-related disease and ageing in general are simply the result of an accumulation of oxidative stress over a long period of time. The antioxidant defences we are able to build up through the foods we eat work to repair and offset the adverse effects of oxidative stress.

Multiple studies have found that coffee, once roasted and brewed, has very high antioxidant activity, and is more efficient than both cocoa and black tea in delaying LDL oxidation. The presence of melanoidins, which result from the roasting process, contribute to coffee’s antioxidant activity and act through chain breaking, metal chelating, and oxygen scavenging. The abundant presence of phenolic and lipophilic antioxidants, as well as chlorogenic acid lactones have been observed to protect the body’s cells against oxidative stress as well as mitigate inflammation.

A study done at the Institute of Brain Science at National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan, found a significant correlation between the levels of chlorogenic acid lactones normally found in coffee and neuron cell survival. The same study argues that since the brain is a lipid-rich organ, the lipophilic antioxidant activity of coffee could account for a higher degree of neuron cell protection against oxidative stress.

Coffee Molecule

Another study out of the University of California in San Diego, examined the association of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee with cognitive functions including reaction times, perceptual and processing speeds. These aspects of mental performance are normally found to decline after middle-age, particularly from 60-80 years of age. The study concluded that a higher lifetime consumption of coffee, approximately 1-3 cups per day, was associated with better overall cognition and comprehension, particularly for women. A study from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research gives support to these findings, as they observed that women who drank a cup or more of caffeinated coffee per day were less likely to experience a decline in their verbal skills as they aged. However, there were no significant effects on cognition found from consuming decaffeinated coffee.

The presence of caffeine in coffee has been observed to increase the activity of the central nervous system, heighten alertness and improve cognitive functions such as memory. The study from UCSD described above saw subjects that consumed caffeine to improve their performance on mental tasks that depended on speed or acuity. However, excessive amounts of caffeine consumption can result in cardiovascular problems, such as increased heart rate or blood pressure. Overall though, a positive trend has been observed between moderate coffee intake and cognitive performance.

There should be some caution in generalizing the results of all the studies discussed so far, as one’s food and drink intake as well as overall lifestyle can affect the level of antioxidant activity in the body. How much coffee one should consume in a day also tends to vary from person to person. Those who do not handle caffeine well still can benefit from the antioxidants present in decaffeinated coffee. However, it is highly recommended to ensure that any decaf you consume has been decaffeinated through the Swiss Water Process (which essentially uses water to remove caffeine without greatly affecting taste) instead of coffees that are decaffeinated using solvents. Most bags of coffee will identify which decaffeination method was used on those beans.

Lastly, the oils released by ground coffee quickly become rancid as they sit, even for a short period of time. Therefore to reduce the level of oxidation in your coffee and to extract the most flavor from your beans (because much of a coffee’s taste is in its oils), it imperative to only grind your beans immediately before using them.

In sum, there is strong support for coffee’s rich antioxidant activity, its positive effects on inflammation and the cognitive benefits it can provide.

Enjoy. Salute.

Coach’s Note: As a general rule of thumb, those with lighter skin and eye colour will be more sensitive to caffeine.  There is also strong evidence to suggest those with high degrees of insulin sensitivity will also experience a pronounced reaction from caffeine.


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Yi-Fang Chu, Peter H. Brown, Barbara J. Lyle, Yumin Chen, Richard M. Black, Claire E. Williams, Yi-Ching Lin, Chih-Wei Hsu, and Irene H. Cheng. “Roasted Coffees High in Lipophilic Antioxidants and Chlorogenic Acid Lactones Are More Neuroprotective than Green Coffees” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Vol. 57 (2009): 9801–9808

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