Coffee - It Certainly Keeps You Alert and It May Even Keep You Alive
Medical scientists are increasingly using "big data" to explain illnesses and find cures. Special software mines huge databases looking for useful patterns that would likely otherwise elude doctors and scientists. Examining data of hundreds of thousands of people with a particular ailment, for example, can reveal which drugs are most effective. These methods have recently been used to examine the health implications of coffee consumption.
Are coffee drinkers healthier?
In June 2017, two studies using big data revealed that coffee drinkers have a significantly lower chance of suffering from a number of serious illnesses than non-coffee drinkers. The first study carried by the UK's Imperial College in association with a number of other European medical institutions examined over half a million people in ten European countries. It is the largest investigation ever undertaken into the connection between coffee and mortality. The researchers found that coffee drinkers had significantly lower incidents of liver, digestive, and circulatory diseases, as well as male suicide, and cancer in women.
The second study carried out by the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine focused mainly, though not exclusively, on non-white people. It examined the medical histories of 185,000 African-Americans, Native Americans, Japanese-Americans, Hawaiians, Latinos as well as Caucasians. It found that people who drank two to four cups of coffee a day had an 18% lower mortality rate than those who drank none. Specifically, the results showed that coffee drinkers had lower incidents of cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes, and kidney disease. This study is important because it examined people of distinct races, with diverse dietary habits, lifestyles, and genetic susceptibilities.
Though people make coffee in different ways in different countries, the European study showed that its benefits were unaffected by how it was made or whether it was normal or decaffeinated. Both studies suggest that something inherent in all kinds of coffee is responsible for its efficacy. Perhaps surprisingly, the research showed that coffee drinking improved the health of smokers, though the harmful effects of smoking far outweighed any benefits obtained from coffee.
These studies are important because expert opinion on coffee consumption up until relatively recently was mostly negative and could have been divided into two categories: those who believed coffee had no health benefits and those who believed it was bad for people. The latter based their negative opinion on research carried out many decades ago, which suggested the brew was implicated in a number of ailments including high cholesterol, irregular heartbeats, stroke, and heart attack. In recent years, those studies have been shown to have had serious flaws. They didn't account adequately for others factors that could have had a negative impact on health - factors like alcohol, smoking, and lack of exercise. Despite the flaws in the studies, researchers persisted until relatively recently in blaming coffee for many health problems.
Anti-inflammatory and Neuroprotective?
Scientists have long known that chemical compounds present in coffee have biological effects and are now convinced that most of those effects are beneficial to health. Some of those compounds have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties known to reduce the risk of illnesses like Parkinson's disease. The European study found that coffee drinkers had healthier lipid profiles, better glucose control, and lower levels of inflammation.
Scientists are not sure which chemical compounds in coffee deliver the health benefits and suggest that further study is needed. Until then, they advocate moderate coffee consumption. Based on their findings, that would suggest about four cups per day - a number that should satisfy most coffee drinkers' needs.