The inveterate coffee drinkers among us will appreciate the good news about one of our favorite beverages. After all the flak we took about the vices of coffee, now’s the chance to respond. After water and tea, coffee is the next most popular drink on the planet, having a starring role in the history of several cultures. It came from the Muslim world, travelled to Italy and then to the rest of Europe, finally landing in the New World. At one time, it was limited only to religious observances.
The coffee bean is contained inside a “cherry” that grows on a small evergreen bush. The Arabica strain is the more highly regarded of the two chief varieties, but the robusta strain is more resistant to the diseases peculiar to this plant, though less flavorful and more bitter. Arabica prefers the coolness of the mountainside; robusta will grow at lower elevations and in warmer climates. Since the best tasting coffee really is mountain grown, the sales talk of a particular brand is true. But Mrs. Olsen never told us that other brands also use mountain grown beans. She merely capitalized on a little-known fact.
One effect of coffee consumption is moderately elevated blood pressure, which is not surprising because caffeine is a stimulant. Italian studies done in the early 1990’s found that 200 milligrams of caffeine, about two cups’ worth, could raise systolic blood pressure by 10% and diastolic by 5% for up to two hours after consumption. The mechanism points to vasoconstriction (which has its own benefits), but researchers found no variation in heart rate or cardiac contractility (Casiglia, 1991), leading to an assumption that this temporary state is not a major concern, especially in light of later studies that reported no association between long-term coffee consumption and increase of cardiovascular complications (Mesas, 2011) or risk of hypertension (Geleijnse, 2008) (Klag, 2002).
Vitamin B6, known as pyridoxine, is a nutrient occasionally used to tame morning sickness in pregnancy and the throes of PMS. It’s also been used to address homocysteine imbalance, carpal tunnel syndrome, immunity deficiencies, and various behavioral/psychiatric issues. However, careless dosing of vitamin B6 can cause medical concerns that outweigh the benefits of producing the monoamine neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine. Large doses of B6 over a period of time can cause nerve fiber damage, particularly auditory neuropathy. You’d never think that coffee can prevent and treat this malady, but it does (Hong, 2008). One active coffee component is called trigonelline (Hong, 2009), an alkaloid also found in pumpkin that is able to modulate blood glucose (van Dijk, 2009) (Yoshinari, 2009). Because auditory neuropathy may be attenuated by trigonelline, why can’t the peripheral neuropathy of diabetes or physical trauma likewise be eased? It’s worth a look (Zhou, 2012).
Late-life dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are concerns shared by an aging population across the globe. Finnish studies followed a number of middle-agers for more than twenty years, documenting their coffee (and tea) consumption along the way. Focusing more on caffeine than on coffee’s lesser-known constituents, researchers found that, over the long haul, those who drank three to five cups of coffee a day at midlife had a lower risk of dementia and AD in old age (Eskelinen, 2009, 2010). American studies later found that long-term coffee consumption protects against cognitive impairment by reducing the formation of amyloid beta, the protein that forms the plaques associated with AD. Here it was inferred that caffeine is part of a synergy that affords the desired effect, with many coffee constituents not yet identified (Cao, 2011).
Because early research had indicated that coffee may be protective against conditions other than neurological, scientists took the trigonelline link a little further. It’s accepted that people with diabetes are at risk for cognitive dysfunction. Initially, it was proposed that coffee was merely to be explored as a tool in the management of diabetes and related sequelae (Biessels, 2010). It was realized, however, that caffeine can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes and consequent cognitive decline (Salazar-Martinez, 2004) (Tuomilehto, 2004).
In general, coffee increases plasma antioxidant capacity, possibly because of the contribution, bioavailability and activity of its particular group of polyphenols, including chlorogenic acid, one component linked to a reduction of type 2 diabetes risk by virtue of delaying intestinal glucose absorption and the inhibition of gluconeogenesis (Ong, 2010) (Tunnicliffe, 2011). Other medical conditions are purported to be influenced by coffee’s mechanisms, including gastrointestinal diseases (Inoue, 1998), gallstones (Leitzmann, 1999), and Parkinson’s disease (Checkoway, 2002) (Blanchette, 2000).
If coffee has a down side, it’s that it can interact with some drugs, most notably quinolone antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin and its kin, which increase caffeine concentrations by inhibiting its clearance (Harder, 1989). Coffee’s popularity cannot be ignored. Just look at all the coffee options that run the gamut from hot to cold, from sweet to sweeter, and from low-cal to mega-cal. Since the 1989 expiration of a global agreement to stabilize supply, availability has fluctuated—and so has the price. You can’t even get the cup for a dime any more.
Biessels GJ. Caffeine, diabetes, cognition, and dementia. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 1:S143-50.
Parkinson disease and Alzheimer disease: environmental risk factors.
Neurologia. 2012 Jun 13.
Cao C, Wang L, Lin X, Mamcarz M, Zhang C, Bai G, Nong J, Sussman S, Arendash G. Caffeine synergizes with another coffee component to increase plasma GCSF: linkage to cognitive benefits in Alzheimer's mice. J Alzheimers Dis. 2011;25(2):323-35.
Casiglia E, Bongiovì S, Paleari CD, Petucco S, Boni M, Colangeli G, Penzo M, Pessina AC. Haemodynamic effects of coffee and caffeine in normal volunteers: a placebo-controlled clinical study. J Intern Med. 1991 Jun;229(6):501-4.
Checkoway H, Powers K, Smith-Weller T, Franklin GM, Longstreth WT Jr, Swanson PD. Parkinson's disease risks associated with cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and caffeine intake. Am J Epidemiol. 2002 Apr 15;155(8):732-8.
Eskelinen MH, Ngandu T, Tuomilehto J, Soininen H, Kivipelto M. Midlife coffee and tea drinking and the risk of late-life dementia: a population-based CAIDE study. J Alzheimers Dis. 2009;16(1):85-91.
Eskelinen MH, Kivipelto M. Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer's disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 1:S167-74.
Floegel A, Pischon T, Bergmann MM, Teucher B, Kaaks R, Boeing H Coffee consumption and risk of chronic disease in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Germany study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Apr;95(4):901-8.
Yoichi Fukushima, Takashi Ohie, Yasuhiko Yonekawa, Kohei Yonemoto, Hiroki Aizawa, Yoko Mori, Makoto Watanabe, Masato Takeuchi, Maiko Hasegawa, Chie Taguchi and Kazuo Kondo Coffee and Green Tea As a Large Source of Antioxidant Polyphenols in the Japanese Population Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2009 57 (4), 1253-1259
Gelber RP, Petrovitch H, Masaki KH, Ross GW, White LR. Coffee intake in midlife and risk of dementia and its neuropathologic correlates. J Alzheimers Dis. 2011;23(4):607-15.
Geleijnse JM. Habitual coffee consumption and blood pressure: an epidemiological perspective. Vasc Health Risk Manag. 2008;4(5):963-70.
Harder S, Fuhr U, Staib AH, Wolff T. Ciprofloxacin-caffeine: a drug interaction established using in vivo and in vitro investigations. Am J Med. 1989 Nov 30;87(5A):89S-91S.
Head KA. Peripheral neuropathy: pathogenic mechanisms and alternative therapies. Altern Med Rev. 2006 Dec;11(4):294-329.
Hermansen K, Krogholm KS, Bech BH, Dragsted LO, Hyldstrup L, Jørgensen K, Larsen ML, Tjønneland AM. Coffee can protect against disease Ugeskr Laeger. 2012 Sep 24;174(39):2293-2297.
Hong BN, Yi TH, Park R, Kim SY, Kang TH. Coffee improves auditory neuropathy in diabetic mice. Neurosci Lett. 2008 Aug 29;441(3):302-6. Epub 2008 Jun 22.
Hong BN, Yi TH, Kim SY, Kang TH. High-dosage pyridoxine-induced auditory neuropathy and protection with coffee in mice. Biol Pharm Bull. 2009 Apr;32(4):597-603.
Huxley R, Lee CM, Barzi F, Timmermeister L, Czernichow S, Perkovic V, Grobbee DE, Batty D, Woodward M. Coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea consumption in relation to incident type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Dec 14;169(22):2053-63.
Inoue M, Tajima K, Hirose K, Hamajima N, Takezaki T, Kuroishi T, Tominaga S. Tea and coffee consumption and the risk of digestive tract cancers: data from a comparative case-referent study in Japan. Cancer Causes Control. 1998 Mar;9(2):209-16.
Kaiser permanante Division of Research Coffee Drinking and Caffeine Associated with Reduced Risk of Hospitalization for Heart Rhythm Disturbances 3/2/2010
Klag MJ, Wang NY, Meoni LA, Brancati FL, Cooper LA, Liang KY, Young JH, Ford DE. Coffee intake and risk of hypertension: the Johns Hopkins precursors study. Arch Intern Med. 2002 Mar 25;162(6):657-62.
Leitzmann MF, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Spiegelman D, Colditz GA, Giovannucci E. A prospective study of coffee consumption and the risk of symptomatic gallstone disease in men. JAMA. 1999 Jun 9;281(22):2106-12.
Mesas AE, Leon-Muñoz LM, Rodriguez-Artalejo F, Lopez-Garcia E. The effect of coffee on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in hypertensive individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Oct;94(4):1113-26. Epub 2011 Aug 31.
Oba S, Nagata C, Nakamura K, Fujii K, Kawachi T, Takatsuka N, Shimizu H. Consumption of coffee, green tea, oolong tea, black tea, chocolate snacks and the caffeine content in relation to risk of diabetes in Japanese men and women. Br J Nutr. 2010 Feb;103(3):453-9. Epub 2009 Oct 12.
Ong KW, Hsu A, Tan BK. Chlorogenic acid stimulates glucose transport in skeletal muscle via AMPK activation: a contributor to the beneficial effects of coffee on diabetes. PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e32718. Epub 2012 Mar 7.
Richelle M, Tavazzi I, Offord E. Comparison of the antioxidant activity of commonly consumed polyphenolic beverages (coffee, cocoa, and tea) prepared per cup serving. J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Jul;49(7):3438-42.
Ross GW, Abbott RD, Petrovitch H, Morens DM, Grandinetti A, Tung KH, Tanner CM, Masaki KH, Blanchette PL, Curb JD, Popper JS, White LR. Association of coffee and caffeine intake with the risk of Parkinson disease. JAMA. 2000 May 24-31;283(20):2674-9.
Salazar-Martinez E, Willett WC, Ascherio A, Manson JE, Leitzmann MF, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Coffee consumption and risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Ann Intern Med. 2004 Jan 6;140(1):1-8.
Tunnicliffe JM, Eller LK, Reimer RA, Hittel DS, Shearer J. Chlorogenic acid differentially affects postprandial glucose and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide response in rats. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2011 Oct;36(5):650-9. Epub 2011 Oct 6.
Tuomilehto J, Hu G, Bidel S, Lindström J, Jousilahti P. Coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus among middle-aged Finnish men and women. JAMA. 2004 Mar 10;291(10):1213-9.
van Dijk AE, Olthof MR, Meeuse JC, Seebus E, Heine RJ, van Dam RM. Acute effects of decaffeinated coffee and the major coffee components chlorogenic acid and trigonelline on glucose tolerance. Diabetes Care. 2009 Jun;32(6):1023-5. Epub 2009 Mar 26.
Yoshinari O, Sato H, Igarashi K. Anti-diabetic effects of pumpkin and its components, trigonelline and nicotinic acid, on Goto-Kakizaki rats. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2009 May;73(5):1033-41. Epub 2009 May 7.
Zhou J, Chan L, Zhou S. Trigonelline: a plant alkaloid with therapeutic potential for diabetes and central nervous system disease. Curr Med Chem. 2012 Jul 1;19(21):3523-31.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.