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National Coffee Association

Caffeine on the Radar

Caffeine is on the radar at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a growing number of new products with added caffeine are hitting supermarket shelves. That’s on top of a wide array of energy drinks and shots that have already expanded the availability of caffeine and changed habits of use.

As a first step to exploring the implications, the FDA asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences to hold a public workshop on the science and usage of caffeine. At the workshop last week in Washington, the presentations and discussions offered a deeper look into the issues as well as the FDA’s focus.

About 25 physicians and scientists gave detailed presentations touching upon the scope of caffeine intake, patterns and outcomes of use, physical and behavioral effects, safe exposure levels, and interactions with other compounds in energy products. Public participation was welcome, and several physicians, scientists and industry representatives offered questions and comments.

It quickly became clear that the meeting’s focus was on caffeine found in “unexpected sources,” such as the new foods to which caffeine is being added, which include jelly beans, sunflower seeds, marshmallows, pancake syrup, and even water. The variety was described by FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in her introductory remarks as “mind boggling,” and she noted that energy drinks have “jolted the marketplace.” She also said that the FDA’s inquiry was not about caffeine in coffee and tea, but rather about “new foods where caffeine is added.” She also shared a particular concern for “vulnerable populations,” particularly children and adolescents.

The presenters offered detailed data and analyses of the various aspects of caffeine consumption being explored during the two-day meeting at the National Academy of Sciences headquarters near the National Mall. Among the topics covered were caffeine consumption levels and patterns, the pathways and impacts of caffeine on the cardiovascular and central nervous systems, data about emergency room visits triggered by energy product consumption by young consumers, potential interactions with other energy drink components such as taurine and carnitine, and areas where additional research could sharpen understanding.

Moving forward, the IOM will present the FDA with a transcript, or “proceedings,” ” of the meeting. The FDA had charged the IOM with conducting the workshop and delivering detailed proceedings without policy recommendations. The FDA will include the proceedings in deliberations on its caffeine initiative that could result in a new “guidance” document on caffeine. In light of evident Congressional pressure related to untoward outcomes from youth consumption of caffeine from new sources, the FDA is likely to act quickly this autumn.

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Coffee Found to Ease Diabetes Effects

A new study confirms that coffee helps reduce the ill effects of diabetes and pre-diabetic metabolic syndrome. Measuring blood markers that indicate related health consequences, Brazilian scientists concluded that coffee has a measurable, protective effect. That protection, they believe, comes from coffee’s well-established leveling effect on sugar and fat levels in the blood.

The researchers fed coffee to laboratory rats chosen for their genetic predisposition to diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The animals were separated into two groups – those with diabetes and those without – each of which was further divided into those fed only water and those fed coffee. Among the diabetic rats who were fed coffee, there was a significant blood sugar reduction within 21 days. There was also a reduction in overall blood cholesterol level of 5%, and a decrease of about 40% in triglycerides.

Strong, positive effects were also found when kidney function markers were measured. Blood urea, an indicator of kidney damage, was reduced by about 31% in the diabetic group. The levels of creatinine, another indicator of kidney malfunction disease, were also lowered by about 31%. Yet another indicator of kidney problems, uric acid, was reduced among the treated diabetic group to the levels of the non-diabetic, untreated group. These findings led the scientists to conclude that “the coffee drink administered actually showed benefits in protecting the kidney of these animals.”

The researchers also discussed the ways coffee is thought to deliver these beneficial effects against diabetic health consequences. Essentially, the benefits stem from coffee’s well-known regulation of sugar metabolism. As for the way coffee regulates blood sugar, theories center around important components of coffee’s 2,000 chemical components, including: chlorogenic acid, which retards sugar “transporter” chemicals in the intestines; magnesium, which positively impacts glucose tolerance; and coffee’s many antioxidants, which neutralize so-called free radical cells that create the “oxidative stress” known to play a role in the development of insulin resistance and diabetes.

The study, Influence of Coffee Brew in Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes was published in Plant Foods in Human Nutrition in May. Lead by Dr. Sheila Andrade Abrahão, the Brazilian team concluded that “the coffee beverage showed an important effect in some markers of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.” However, they also caution that more animal and human studies are needed to clarify the causal connection.

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