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Health March 2018

Coffee’s Mixed Reviews

By Carrie Luger Slayback

Consuming caffeine within three to five hours of bedtime… diminishes the restorative effect of sleep, which starts a cycle of fatigue. People need higher doses of caffeine the next day to stay alert because the brain develops more adenosine receptors, compensating for those blocked by caffeine.

I just had a nap on my study’s hardwood floor, legs propped up on the desk chair.

Dozing over coffee research articles, I gave up. I blame it on Starbucks. Couldn’t sleep last night because a friend brought over a latte at 2 p.m. Bingo! Afternoon drowsiness turned into that exhilarating zoom-zoom-zoom feeling. I loved the caffeine kick — enough energy to spike conversation and finish our project. However, last night, after 10 p.m. my busy brain rattled along, though my tired body begged a break.

That caffeinated cup of hot joe interfered with adenosine, a compound which builds in the brain all day, creating drowsiness, but dissipates while sleeping. Caffeine binds to the brain’s adenosine receptors, so adenosine can’t enter nerve cells, resulting in night’s restless torture.

Now post-nap awake and back to coffee research, I discover a treasure trove of coffee’s health benefits. Dr. Robert van Dam of Harvard School of Public Health says up to six cups a day “may reduce some disease risks.”    

  • Two studies with a total of more than 100,000 participants, showed a modest reduction in stroke and reduced risk of heart disease.
  • Six cups a day of caffeinated coffee or decaf lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes, perhaps due to antioxidants in both brews.
  • People who consistently drank caffeinated coffee over ten years were “significantly less likely to develop gallstones.”
  • Coffee drinkers followed for 22 years had a significantly lower risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Van Dam ends his article with this: 8 oz. of coffee contains only 2 calories but adding sugar/cream bumps up that up an extra 100 calories. “The real danger is in specialty mochas, lattes” which can have 500 calories. Stick to black.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s 2015 article titled “Caffeine Not Wholly Good or Bad,” calls it “the most popular drug in the Unites States and the least regulated.” As anyone noting the proliferation of coffee shops can guess, caffeine’s a “pharmacological agent...which leads to physical dependence,” thus creating customer loyalty!

I used to pour down a thermos-sized morning coffee until I experienced heart palpitations. My doctor suggested I try a break from coffee. Yeah, the heart flutter disappeared, but I’ll never forget the withdrawal — a bayonet-through-the-brain headache.

Although CSPI lists the same health benefits as Harvard’s van Dam, it adds that “most people don’t realize caffeine’s interference with sleep.” In fact, “consuming caffeine within three to five hours of bedtime…diminishes the restorative effect of sleep, which starts a cycle of fatigue.” People need higher doses of caffeine the next day to stay alert because the brain develops more adenosine receptors, compensating for those blocked by caffeine.

Still, we all know the productive side of coffee drinking — restoration of alertness, enhanced focus, erasing driver’s fatigue. Plus, three studies tracking 200,000 people for 20 years found that those who drank at least two cups of regular coffee a day were half as likely to commit suicide compared to people who drank a cup or less a week. So, add “antidepressant” to health benefits.

Let’s complete our coffee exploration with Kelli Miller’s WebMD (March 2015) addition to van Dam’s list above.  She refers to studies which say coffee lowers risk of Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and three cancers — endometrial, liver, and melanoma. Sounds like a wonder drug to me. However she notes that too much can raise blood pressure, trigger heart problems, lead to bone loss and fractures. What’s too much? More than five cups a day, says Tuft University’s Dr. Miriam Nelson.

By the way, WebMD’s Miller says use paper coffee filters to brew your home coffee. Unfiltered coffee’s oily cafestol and kahweol cause spikes in artery-clogging “bad” cholesterol, (LDL.)

 

Carrie Luger Slayback, an award winning teacher and champion marathoner, shares personal experience and careful research. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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