Health Benefits of Coffee?
You don’t have to work in the coffee business to understand caffeine addiction. As a barista, though, I sometimes feel like a drug dealer in an apron. The smell alone lures even the non-coffee drinkers into my humble little shop, where they stand and just inhale while the addicts stream by, getting their daily fix of the fancy bean brew. I’m one of ‘em; I know. I wouldn’t be able to sling the tasty beverages so efficiently were I not sneaking sips from my own mug under the counter between transactions. But am I, and the other HBCAA’s (Heine Brothers’ Coffee Addicts Anonymous), potentially preventing diabetes, Parkinson’s disease or cancer? Could we even out-live the non-addicts?
An April 2010 CNN Health article notes that, according to the National Coffee Association, 54 percent of adults in the United States are habitual coffee drinkers and 146 billion cups are consumed in the U.S. each year. That’s 400 million cups of coffee per day. We’re more than just addicted — our bodies are dependent on it.
It’s difficult to examine exactly how coffee consumption affects our physical wellbeing, since we practice so many other various methods of keeping ourselves healthy (and I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have considered my coffee-drinking one of them). If you Google “coffee and cancer,” for example, you’re likely to find a lot of hazy results of imprecise surveys and studies that indicate, “well, it’s estimated that maybe, perhaps, in some small way, there was kind of a smaller number here, and these might be related, but maybe not, but further investigation is needed….” But the trend of the results seems to be leaning toward the positive — that yes, regular coffee drinking can lower the risk for certain types of cancer.
It’s a trend worth investigating, though, according to people like Dr. Joe A. Vinson, a University of Scranton chemistry professor, who study coffee extensively and are dedicated to finding more ways that coffee consumption can be beneficial to our health. He points out that coffee contains polyphenols and flavonoids, the same antioxidants found in tea, red wine, and chocolate, are found in coffee (decaf, too!). They help with brain function. And though people typically drink coffee for the caffeine boost, it’s where we get most of our antioxidants.
Coffee also contains potassium, magnesium and the compound trigonelline, which acts like the hormone estrogen. No, that doesn’t mean drinking coffee will make you feel like a woman. They’re still figuring out exactly what effects trigonelline has on our bodies, but they’ve determined that while it could be dangerous to women that have breast cancer, it could help prevent colon cancer. But again, this information is still brewing, so stay tuned.
Other studies have found that coffee may lower the risk for diabetes. One published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that coffee helps with insulin sensitivity and keeps blood sugar low — but the study was conducted on lab mice, so we don’t know exactly how that translates to humans. Another study from Archives of Internal Medicine, conducted in 2004, showed that the risk for type two diabetes was nearly 35 percent lower in people who drank four cups of coffee a day.
The possibility that coffee can help prevent Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s is also under investigation. The catch, however, is that based on the few studies conducted, it would take five cups per day to significantly lower the risk for Alzheimer’s, and about seven for Parkinson’s. So the rumors that coffee may protect people against these diseases aren’t completely false, but a lot more research needs to be done before that conclusion can be drawn.
This is all should be taken with a grain of Splenda. Coffee is not a healthy substitute by any means — don’t expect to go to the doctor and get a prescription for it. Keep eating your bananas and going to those contra dancing classes, and doing whatever else it is you do to stay fit, but maybe you can feel a little better about swinging by one of our shops (or makin’ some Folgers — whatever you’re into) for a daily pick-me-up. Apparently, “moderation” is 4-5 cups, so you’ve got plenty of room to perk up.
Scientific research and medical info aside, the experience of a coffee shop can sometimes work wonders on our mental and emotional health. It can be a quiet escape, a place to meet a friend, or a second home. Summed up nicely by Heine Brothers’ Director of Operations, Andrea Trimmer, “I feel that one of the big health benefits of coffee, especially obvious during this very rough time due to the economy, are the community gathering places that coffee shops provide. Rather than hiding out in their houses (if they still have them — not yet foreclosed on) scared to death, people can come to Heine Brothers (or other shops) to find others with the same concerns, and ready to talk. Lots of connections are made around coffee and tea.”
Jane Mattingly has been making amazing drinks with Heine Brothers’ since 2007, and can often be seen (or read) in your weekly LEO.