NUTRITION
July 25, 2012

Enjoy That Caffeine Buzz

Coffee, or more generally, caffeine, offers many protective effects; except when it comes to fertility.

That morning cup of coffee you have to have may be even better for you than you know. Coffee appears to have several health benefits, according to three recent studies. It can reduce the risk of heart failure, stroke, and a common type of skin cancer, as well as improving the performance of aging muscles.

How and why coffee drinking seems to offer these protective effects is not fully understood. Coffee is rich in antioxidants, nutrients found in many vegetables that help prevent tissue damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants are molecules that combine with free radicals and prevent them from causing any damage to important parts of the cell, such as DNA or the membrane encasing the cell.

Coffee is rich in antioxidants, nutrients found in many vegetables that help prevent tissue damage caused by free radicals.

Coffee also contains minerals such as magnesium and chromium, which help the body use the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar (glucose) and is likely responsible for the protection coffee seems to offer from type 2 diabetes.

What follows is a description of some recent studies showing the types of health protection a cup or two of joe can offer.

Reducing Heart Failure Risk

Regular, moderate coffee consumption significantly reduces the risk of heart failure, according to a meta-analysis which reviewed data from five European studies published between 2001 and 2011, The studies, four done in Sweden and one in Finland, included 6,522 incidences of heart failure among 140,220 men and women.

The authors of the review, investigators at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the University of Alabama defined “moderate” coffee consumption as being equal to four Northern European servings (shots of espresso, 100-150 milliliters each) per day, or about two 8-ounce American servings. “Excessive” consumption was defined as ten Northern European servings per day, the equivalent of about four or five 9-20 ounce (295-590 milliliters) coffees from American coffee house chains.

People who drink coffee regularly develop a tolerance to the caffeine, which reduces their risk of high blood pressure.

The researchers did not elaborate on how coffee reduces heart failure risk, but previous findings suggest that people who drink coffee regularly develop a tolerance to the caffeine, which reduces their risk of high blood pressure, and greater coffee consumption equals a greater reduction in type 2 diabetes risk. Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are two of the most important risk factors for heart failure.

It's important to keep in mind that current American Heart Association guidelines for heart failure prevention suggest that drinking coffee is not a good idea for heart patients. In light of the current findings, these guidelines could be revised to recommend moderate coffee consumption, the authors said.

Caffeine and Skin Cancer

Coffee also seems to reduce the risk of the most common type of skin cancer. The more cups of caffeinated coffee people drink, the lower their risk of basal cell carcinoma. Another Meta-Analysis looked at data from the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-term study examining factors that affect women’s health, and the Health Care Professionals Follow-up Study, a similar study for men. Their analyses included 112,897 people, 22,786 of whom developed basal cell carcinoma during the more than 20-year follow-up period of the two studies.

As coffee consumption went up, basal cell carcinoma risk went down.

Researchers found an inverse association between caffeinated coffee consumption and basal cell carcinoma risk. That is, as coffee consumption went up, basal cell carcinoma risk went down. They found an inverse association between consumption of other caffeinated beverages and foods (teas, cola, and chocolate) and the risk of basal cell carcinoma as well. The drinking of decaffeinated coffee did not reduce basal cell carcinoma risk, and coffee or caffeine consumption did not reduce the risk of squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. But coffee has other cancer-protective benefits. Previous studies have found that it reduces certain types of breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Aging Muscles Get a Boost, Fertility Treatments Do Not

Research has found that caffeine helps the muscles in younger adults produce more force. And since muscles become weaker as people age, British researchers wanted to see whether caffeine could help offset these age-related changes in muscles. Could coffee or tea improve mobility in the elderly?

Drinking five or more cups of coffee per day reduces the chances of successful in vitro fertility (IVF) treatment by 50 percent and the live birth rate by 40 percent.

The scientists isolated two muscles from mice ranging in age from juvenile to elderly, and tested muscle function before and after treatment with caffeine. They found that caffeine may boost power in the diaphragm and extensor digitorum longus muscle, a leg muscle used for movement, in the mice, regardless of age, though the effect was sightly less in the oldest mice. Caffeine had the smallest effect in the muscles of the youngest mice, suggesting that caffeine nay not help the performance of developing muscles, so, no, it's unlikely a can of cola is going to help your Little Leaguer's performance.

For Women Hoping to Become Pregnant
When it comes to fertility, however, caffeine does not appear to be so beneficial, at least according to a recent study presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting in Istanbul, Turkey earlier this month.

Danish investigators were surprised to find that drinking five or more cups of coffee per day reduces the chances of successful in vitro fertility (IVF) treatment by 50 percent and the live birth rate by 40 percent. They likened the detrimental effect of caffeine on fertility treatment as comparable to that of smoking. Studies have also found that drinking coffee increases the risk of spontaneous abortion, though other studies have not seen evidence of any link between coffee and miscarriage.

Moderation is Key

So, if the caffeine in coffee and tea and cola can be good for you, how much is enough, and how much is too much? The answer is, it depends. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA) a typical eight ounce cup of drip coffee contains approximately 65-120 mg of caffeine. A shot of espresso typically has 30-50mg. Then there are factors like the kind of beans and brew strength (the ratio of coffee to water), and whether you take milk (and how much) in your coffee. So it's not possible to say definitively, how much coffee (or tea, which has about 14 to 61 mg of caffeine per eight-ounce cup of black tea) is best.

Based on what the researchers who did the heart failure study found, it may be a good idea to limit yourself to about 400 to 600 milliliters, or 12 to 20 ounces of brewed coffee per day. In general, and in moderation, you can enjoy your caffeine buzz, knowing that as it picks you up, it is also offering some benefits for your heart, skin and maybe even your muscles.

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