• Chris Rynning

Is coffee good for you?

Coffee is one of the first things I think about every day (sorry, not you mom!), it clearly is one of the things that makes my world go round. I have a cup or two in the morning and one after lunchtime. The “icebreaker” before many of my meetings will start with getting coffee together with the person I am meeting. Often, we talk about how good coffee is, but also how we should drink much less, nervously laughing a bit, none the smarter. Let’s end that now: which way is it, bad or good? Scientific verdict: Coffee is good for you. So back off you nerdy coffee haters!



Coffee Background Coffee beans are seeds from the “Coffea” plant, a native plant of Ethiopia. The coffee beans grow inside “cherries” which will normally contain two beans in each. A cherry will typically take a year from flower to a ripe, dark red state. Coffee trees are often kept short to make for easier harvesting but left alone can grow taller than 30 feet (9 meters) high. The trees are often most productive around the ages of 7 and 20 but can easily live over one hundred years. Coffea trees grow best in rich soil, mild temperatures with frequent rain and shaded sun. You will most likely have heard about “Coffee Arabica” which is descending from the original coffee trees discovered in Ethiopia. Arabica is a milder, aromatic type of coffee also typically lower in caffeine content. Arabica is thought to account for approximately 70% of the world's coffee production also catching the highest market prices.


Another variety of the coffea plant is the “canephora” with its “Robusta” variety. The Robusta variety is mainly found in Central and Western Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam and in Brazil. Holding about 30% of the world coffee market, Robusta is primarily used in blends and for instant coffees. The Robusta tree is a tough tree, resistant to disease, parasites and withstanding warmer climates which makes it easier and cheaper to cultivate. The Robusta hold 50-60% more caffeine than Arabica and has a quite distinctive taste. Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in the coffee bean that can effect your central nervous system, including increase alertness and provide a boost when you are tired. While reactions to caffeine is highly personal, the effect usually peaks within an hour after consumption, and the body eliminates half of it within about four to six hours. Some people are “jolted” after a small cup, while I can drink many cups and feel very little change.


Introduction to the science of coffee Our brain, body and nervous system has many “receptors” to check how you are doing. You can think of these receptors as hard “check points” in your body. When your body produces certain chemicals, the receptors will pick up chemicals as “signals” of how you are doing, and typically send those signals to your brain for processing. Some receptors are sensitive to a chemical called “adenosine.” Adenosine is a chemical that your body produce when it is tired. However, caffeine has the effect to “hijack” or take over those receptors so you will not feel the adenosine or that tired, that easily. In short, the caffeine will block the receptors from reporting the adenosine level in your body, or in other words “reporting tiredness”. When this happens, the relative number of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine increases, leading you to feel more energized, happier and more optimistic. Not bad!?


A study in the January 2016 Journal of the American Heart Association showed that high doses of caffeine can raise your heart rate and blood pressure, yet regular consumption does not disrupt your heart's rhythm enough to create the dangerous irregular pattern known as “atrial fibrillation”. The article concluded that while coffee should be avoided in high doses by people with heart disease, drinking coffee in general is of little concern and could actually be good for you , including memory, mood, vigilance, energy levels, reaction times and general mental function. Further research point to that caffeine may protect against dementia, including Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson. A study in the “Journals of Gerontology ” found that adults ages 65 and older who two cups of coffee every day for 10 years reported fewer dementia symptoms compared with those who consumed only half-cup of coffee. It is possible, however, that it is not the caffeine itself, but the nutrients or antioxidants (or some combination) in coffee that cause the reduction of Alzheimer risk.



Notes

1. Caffeine Consumption and Cardiovascular Risks: Little Cause for Concern by Peter W. F. Wilson , and Heather L. Bloom. Originally published on 26 Jan 2016: https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.115.003089, Journal of the American Heart Association.

2. Caffeine Intake and Dementia Risk—A Health Benefit From One of Life’s Simple Pleasures? by Martha Clare Morris. Originally published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 71, Issue 12, on 14 December 2016: https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glw180.

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