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A Matter of Health

Consumers are buffeted daily with confusing, if not conflicting, information about the foods and beverages they consume. Yesterday, whole eggs raised your cholesterol levels, while today they’re a source of healthy, non-saturated fat. Once it was thought that wine could damage your liver, while now it’s widely recognized as a cardiovascular boon.

Coffee is no stranger to the undulations of health messaging. Remember the stubborn old myths – like coffee stunts your growth, makes you dehydrated or is bad for your heart? Not only has science proven them wrong, but coffee now has a good and genuine story to tell.

What happened? Over the years, science got better and coffee finally got a fair hearing. In short, coffee got out from under the weighty burden of conflation.  That is, earlier methodologies couldn’t unlink coffee from other, contributing factors like smoking and poor diet. As more sophisticated techniques took hold, though, coffee got its own voice amid the scientific roar.

That voice, as it turns out, is loud and clear. Study after study has since linked coffee with an array of health benefits, ranging from liver function to cognitive performance. In fact, the expanding library of scientific evidence made the New York Times and U.S. News and World Report recognize coffee as a healthy food.

Among the most well-established associations between coffee and health are a reduced risk of Type II diabetes, protection against liver cancer, cirrhosis and other damage, and a preventive effect against cancers of the colon, breast, uterus  and other sites. Other studies have associated coffee with lower risk for gallstones, heart failure, stroke, Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s. Coffee also hydrates as well as water. Coffee/caffeine has also been shown to sharpen mental acuity, boost physical performance and endurance, and reduce exercise-related pain. A recent Harvard University study found that coffee enhances longevity.

These findings echo significant progress in scientific inquiry and its methods. However, on some level, the benefits should not come as a surprise. Coffee is, after all, one of the most complex foods known to mankind.  The coffee we drink contains about 1200 compounds – about 800 occurring naturally in the green bean and another 400 created in the roasting process.  The closest runner-up is red wine, coming in at 450 chemical components.

Many of coffee’s compounds exhibit strong antioxidant properties as well as specific impacts on important physical systems. Chlorogenic acid, for instance, appears to play a significant role in the body’s sugar uptake mechanism and may be the source of coffee’s protective effect against diabetes. Methylpyridinium is a strong antioxidant that appears to protect the colon against cancer. Polyphenols, one of the major classes of antioxidant compounds, are found in abundance in coffee. In fact, coffee accounts for 60% of these antioxidants in the American diet.

The National Coffee Association regularly tracks research on coffee, caffeine and health, with a specialized committee of scientists who monitor and review all literature on an ongoing basis. For more information, visit www.ncausa.org.

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