Coffee: A Review of Possible Health Benefits. One of the world’s most widely consumed beverages, coffee, has been enjoyed by people for centuries. The coffee shrub, a bush bearing rich green leaves, pale flowers, and vivid red berries, stems from East Africa, and was introduced to the Americas in the early 1700s. Today, the United States accounts for nearly a quarter of the worldwide yearly consumption of more than 12 billion pounds of coffee grown globally. Fifty-four per cent of Americans consume coffee daily as coffee continues to grow in popularity. The average U.S. coffee drinker consumes more than three cups of coffee per day, usually in the morning for a quick boost from the caffeine. Aside from giving its drinkers a morning lift, research shows coffee may help protect against a host of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and various types of cancers.
With thousands of studies being conducted on coffee over the last forty years, some advising a reduction on the consumption, others promoting coffee’s intake, people suffering from type 2 diabetes may be surprised to learn about some of coffee’s health perks.
The most common type of diabetes, type 2 diabetes, makes up the majority of the American cases of the disease. When an insufficient amount of insulin is produced in the body, type 2 diabetes develops. The lack of insulin in the body causes an increase of glucose in the blood. This causes insulin resistance. When insulin resistance happens, blood sugar levels increase. If blood sugar levels remain too high, the pancreas may be at risk of damage, resulting in serious, life-threatening health problems.
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Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed information collected from over 125,000 study participants for almost two decades and discovered a possible link between a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and consuming up to three cups of caffeinated coffee each day. Those who drank more than six cups of coffee each day lessened the risk of diabetes in women by 30% and in men by more than 50%. Another study conducted by researchers from the University of Sao Paulo in Ribeirao Preto, Brazil found that in nearly 70,000 women who had coffee during lunchtime, they were 33% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to those who did not drink coffee. Another survey that pooled data from 18 different studies counting half a million participants from over the last 40 years revealed an additional 7% less risk of diabetes development for each cup of coffee consumed past 4 cups. Dr. Peter Martin, head of the Institute for Coffee Studies at Vanderbilt University, describes coffee as having a multitude of compounds, including chlorogenic acid, a chemical that increases the body’s ability to remove and organize blood sugar, therefore reducing the development of type 2 diabetes.
Another seriously debilitating condition, Parkinson’s disease, currently affects nearly two million Americans. Parkinson’s disease is a condition caused when nerve cells in the brain fail to generate dopamine, a monoamine neurotransmitter in the brain which is needed in order for the central nervous system to operate correctly.
During subsequent stages of Parkinson’s disease, victims develop indications of tremors and bradykinesia, causing decreased movement ability. Since the general population is getting older, more and more Americans are expected to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the future. Lifestyle may have the strongest influence on the development of Parkinson’s disease, but scientists are now considering nutritional sources like coffee as possible deterrents against the disorder.
During a 22-year analysis of nearly 7,000 men and women, ages 50 to 79, researchers found participants who consumed coffee in large quantities, ten or more cups per day, lowered their risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by an astounding 75%.
In another study conducted over a 30 year span by the Honolulu Heart Program, researchers studied over 8,000 Japanese-American men and the link between coffee consumption and the development of Parkinson’s disease. Coffee drinkers in this study were less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. As a matter of fact, those who never drank coffee were five times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease compared to the coffee consuming men who participated in this study.
An additional study on coffee’s inverse affects on Parkinson’s disease development from the Harvard School of Public Health used 135,000 people from various backgrounds. The study group participants who drank more than four cups of coffee on a daily basis lessened their risk of Parkinson’s disease development by 50%.
In more recent studies conducted by Vanderbilt Institute for Coffee Studies, the only institute in the country dedicated to studying the health effects of coffee, found that individuals who drank coffee throughout the day, not just in the morning, slashed their chances of developing Parkinson’s disease by as much as 80%. Three of these studies discovered the more people drank coffee, the more they decreased the chances of Parkinson’s disease development.
Similar to the caffeine found in coffee, the brain produces a natural form of this xanthine chemical called adenosine. The brain of a person who is at risk of Parkinson’s disease produces too much adenosine and not enough dopamine. When a significant amount of caffeine is ingested, the chemical blocks adenosine receptors in the brain. When these receptors are blocked and adenosine production is cut off, more dopamine is produced, thus decreasing a risk of Parkinson’s disease development.
In the past, many studies named coffee as a contributing factor in the development of different forms of cardiovascular diseases. The general consensus was that coffee raised cholesterol levels in drinkers, creating an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. However, the majority of those studies stemmed from Europe where the process of how coffee is made just before consumption differs from the way Americans prepare the beverage. Unlike many Europeans who enjoy coffee that has been prepared using a percolator, a French press, or the Scandinavian boiling method, Americans generally filter their coffee. The filtering process seems to eliminate most of the harmful cholesterol found in coffee.
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More recent studies made an adjustment for American coffee drinkers and found that in individuals over 65 years of age with average blood pressure, those who consumed one cup or more each day decreased their chance of coronary heart disease mortality by more than 40%. Within this same group, coffee drinkers also seemed to experience a reduced risk of heart valve issues.
Harvard researchers found long-lasting cardiovascular health advantages related to regular coffee drinking. In one study, nearly 40,000 disease free men and women ages 40 to 64, were tracked from 1990 to 2000. The result of this study showed women who drank coffee on a regular basis experienced a massive 55% decrease in cardiovascular related deaths.
An additional study’s findings presented during the American Heart Association’s 50th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention in San Francisco, suggested an 18% reduction in the risk of heart rhythm disturbances in individuals who drank at least cup of coffee each day. In 2006, the Dept. of Nutrition at the University of Oslo, Norway reported coffee drinking may also reduce inflammation and the risk of cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women.
According to the American Heart Association, phytochermicals like cafestol, flavonoids, and other micronutrients found in coffee may have reversing affects on the development of cardiovascular disease. Coffee’s phytochemicals along with antioxidants and chlorogenic acid are believed to have defensive properties against cardiovascular problems by reducing the build up of fat collected by arteries.
Coffee has also earned a negative reputation regarding the development of cancer. Many health studies of the 1970s and 1980s resulted in the labeling of coffee as a promoting substance in the progression of various types of cancer. One of the earliest studies conducted on the subject, released in 1971 by American scientists for British medical journal, The Lancet, named coffee as a possible cause for bladder cancer. Ten years later in 1981, researchers from Harvard again linked coffee to various forms of pancreatic cancers. However, in the mid 1990s, more research showed insufficient associations between coffee consumption and these types of cancer, especially when an adjustment was made for smoking. Because individuals who were heavy cigarette smokers also tended to drink large amounts of coffee, research often made invalid connections between the two habits, confusing health problems that may be caused by either.
By the late 1990s, more and more studies began to crop up disproving initial results of research finding coffee to be adversary to health. In more recent years, new studies suggest chemicals found in coffee may even have an inverse affect on health and could possibly help protect against many types of cancers. According to a 2003 study conducted by researcher Francesca Bravi from Milan’s Institute of Pharmacological Research, individuals who consume coffee are 41% less likely to develop liver cancer compared to those who do not drink coffee. In a study spanning the course of two decades, scientist Kathryn Wilson from Channing Laboratory of Harvard used data taken from 50,000 male participants. In this study, 5% of male participants who consumed more than six cups of coffee each day experienced a 60% decreased risk of developing prostate cancer.
Likewise for women, coffee is now also being associated with having protective value against some of the most common forms of cancer affecting female reproductive organs. According to the American Cancer Society, the most common form of cancer affecting reproductive health for women is uterine cancer. A 2009 Mayo Clinic study finds that out of a 20,000 women study, those who drank two to three cups of coffee each day were 30% less likely to develop uterine or endometrial cancer. Study leaders Thomas Hofmann, Ph.D., professor and head of the Institute for Food Chemistry at the University of Munster in Germany, and Veronika Somoza, Ph.D., deputy director of the German Research Center for Food Chemistry in Garching, claim coffee drinking could possibly avert colon cancer from developing. Studies suggest people who consume four or more cups of coffee each day reduce the risk of developing colon cancer by about 25%. Researchers Hofmann and Somoza identified the protection coffee offers against cancer stems from the antioxidant compounds found in the beverage. These compounds prompt phase II enzymes, living cells in the body which protect against chemical carcinogenesis. Chemical carcinogenesis is the process where cells transform from being normal, to precancerous, to cancerous. Chlorogenic acid found in coffee destroys the damaging free radicals in the body which contribute to diseases, including different types of cancer. Another anticancer chemical found in coffee, methylpyridinium, forms when coffee beans are roasted. Methylpyridinium can be found in caffeinated, decaffeinated, and even instant versions of the beverage.
With a number of recent studies evaluating the possible link between drinking coffee and the reduction of risks pertaining to the development of Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and certain types of cancers, individuals suffering from these disorders may find some relief in the next pot of coffee they perk. Although dated reviews concluded coffee drinking could cause greater risks of these diseases, more recent findings suggest just the opposite. Although the latest studies on the medicinal and therapeutic uses of coffee are shedding new light on possible health advantages, researchers say additional investigation on the components of coffee and their effects on the body should be considered. While doctors are not yet advising patients to consume more coffee than usual, individuals who consume coffee may continue enjoying this population beverage as part of a balanced diet without worry of any adverse health effects progressing due to its consumption.
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