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A Case For Coffee


September 15, 2010
By Michelle Brisebois

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When we develop marketing strategies for coffee, they are often rooted
in the assumption that coffee is a bit of a guilty pleasure.

When we develop marketing strategies for coffee, they are often rooted in the assumption that coffee is a bit of a guilty pleasure. We need coffee to power through our marathon schedules, but all things considered … we’d be better off if we could wean ourselves off of the stuff. This mindset informs the markets we target. It also informs our strategies – our attitudes.

What if we discovered that coffee was actually good for us? Would knowing this make us consider a different approach – perhaps open up new opportunities? Surprisingly, coffee has a long history as a medicinal beverage and this side of our favourite drink is an aspect worth exploring further.

Coffee originally was considered a tonic. Its magical properties were lauded for helping with alertness, digestion and even soothing the pains of labour. As The Coffee Book by Gregory Dicum and Nina Luttinger reports, the beverage’s reputation took a bit of a dive when coffee houses sprang up in the late 1600s. It seems coffee encouraged people to gather, to discuss ideas, politics and even to plot together to overthrow regimes. In a particularly poignant piece of historical irony, it’s reported that the Boston Tea Party was planned in a coffee house.

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In present times, we chug back our morning cuppa Joe to compensate for a lack of sleep while our doctors, spouses and well-meaning friends urge us to drink less coffee. There is some recent evidence to suggest that the early coffee drinkers had it right. Coffee may just be a bit of a panacea.

While none of these studies is conclusive, it’s important to stay informed. Here are some research studies worth noting regarding coffee’s health benefits.

Diabetes
A 2004 study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed data on 126,000 people over an 18-year period. Their research revealed that, compared with not drinking coffee, drinking one to three cups of caffeinated coffee daily can reduce diabetes risk by single digits. Consumption of six cups or more each day reduced men’s risk by 54 per cent and women’s by 30 per cent compared to non coffee drinkers.

Decaffeinated coffee was also beneficial, but its effects were less significant than those of regular coffee. Coffee is rich in antioxidants, including a group of compounds called quinines. When quinines are administered to lab rats, their sensitivity to insulin is amplified. 

“We don’t know exactly why coffee is beneficial for diabetes,” lead researcher Frank Hu, MD, reported to WebMD. “It is possible that both caffeine and other compounds play important roles. Coffee has large amounts of antioxidants such as chlorogenic acid and tocopherols, and minerals such as magnesium. All these components have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.”

Parkinson’s Disease
The Journal of the American Medical Association (May 2000) published a Hawaiian study that revealed that of 8,000 Japanese/American men, those who drank three or more cups of coffee per day were five times less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. The study took place over a 30-year period.

It’s suggested that caffeine is reducing the amount of neuro-transmitters produced by the brain. Researchers think that some of these transmitters may actually do damage to surrounding brain tissue. How caffeine reacts in the brain is not completely understood. It’s thought that caffeine may also interfere with uptake of other transmitters, which then allows the dopamine levels to increase.

Cancer
In December 2009, Harvard University researchers presented data showing that coffee consumption lowers the risk of prostate cancer. Men who drank the most coffee were 60 per cent less likely to get an aggressive form of the disease than men who didn’t drink coffee. English researchers report that brain tumours were less common in people who drank at least five cups of coffee or tea a day.

Tooth Decay
Most dentists lament the coffee stains on their patients’ teeth but there may be an upside. Italian researchers have identified a compound called trigonelline, responsible for giving coffee its aroma and bitter taste. Trigonelline is credited for having both antibacterial and anti-adhesive properties to help prevent dental cavities from forming.

Protective Effect
Coffee may be able to mitigate some of the damage caused by other vices. Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Coffee Studies tracks coffee research to identify and consolidate the findings. Thomas DePaulis of Vanderbilt indicates that the university’s review of coffee research suggests that “people who smoke and are heavy drinkers have less heart disease and liver damage when they regularly consume large amounts of coffee compared to those who don’t.”

The Coffee Science Information Centre reports that “coffee possesses greater in-vitro antioxidant activity than other beverages. The roasting of coffee beans dramatically increases their total antioxidant activity. A roasting time of 10 minutes (medium-dark roast) was found to produce coffee with optimal oxygen scavenging and chain breaking activities in vitro.”

As with most things, it’s best to consume coffee in moderation. Overindulgence can exacerbate anxiety and nervousness but the research in favour of moderate coffee consumption is mounting. Tune into the current research as it develops, particularly regarding the benefits of roasting and its ability to enhance coffee’s antioxidant properties.
The evidence suggests that our morning cuppa is no regular Joe after all.

When? Can we say “now” or “in 2010”?