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Coffee: Morning Miracle Drug?

Okay, the headline may be a trifle exaggerated, but our primary care doctors in Delray Beach continue to be impressed with the studies that show the many benefits of coffee.

It may not be an actual miracle drug. However, research has found that regular coffee consumption has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and strokes. Also, a lower risk of heart failure, melanoma, diabetes, liver and prostate cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.

And studies have found that the caffeine in two cups of coffee a day provides significant protection against dementia. A study released in November found that individuals who drank four to six cups of coffee or tea a day reduced their risk of stroke and dementia by 28%. These individuals compare to those who did not drink either beverage.

And a new study released just this month found that caffeine not only improved dynamic visual skills but also participants’ reaction times.

Latest findings

The visual acuity study, conducted at the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry & Vision Science, found that caffeine consumption increased people’s sharpness of vision, that is, the ability to detect and recognize small details, in either stationary or moving conditions.

“Our findings show that caffeine consumption can actually be helpful for a person’s visual function by enhancing alertness and feelings of wakefulness,” Dr. Kristin Dalton, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

“This is especially true for those critical, everyday tasks like driving, riding a bike, or playing sports that require us to attend to detailed information in moving objects when making decisions,” she said.

The November Alzheimer’s study published in PLOS Medicine reviewed the data on over 350,000 healthy individuals between the ages of 50 and 74. These individuals drank between two to three cups of coffee or three to five cups of tea daily. Researchers found coffee and tea drinkers had the lowest risk of dementia or stroke out of all levels of consumption.

Effects on heart failure

In September, American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation published a study. It found drinking one or more cups of plain, caffeinated coffee a day was associated with a long-term reduced risk of heart failure.

The researchers found that the risk of heart failure dropped 5-12% for each cup of black coffee the subjects drank. The risk declined even more, to 30% when subjects drank two or more cups daily in one of the studies.

The study found that drinking decaffeinated coffee did not provide the same benefit.

“The association between caffeine and heart failure risk reduction was surprising,” senior author Dr. David Kao, medical director of the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said in a statement.

“Coffee and caffeine are often considered by the general population to be ‘bad’ for the heart because people associate them with palpitations, high blood pressure, etc. The consistent relationship between increasing caffeine consumption and decreasing heart failure risk turns that assumption on its head,” he added.

Other benefits

So is it the caffeine or the coffee itself that confers so many benefits? It’s hard to say because, as in the study above, the benefits accrued only to those who drank caffeinated coffee.

But two other studies published this summer in the Annals of Internal Medicine tracked over 700,000 people in 10 European countries and the U.S. They found that drinking even decaffeinated coffee reduced the risk of death from all causes. Consuming one or two cups a day resulted in a 12% lower risk of mortality. Drinking two to four cups daily lowered the risk by 18%.

Researchers suspect that the various compounds in coffee and tea enhance caffeine’s benefits. This is because both beverages contain antioxidants, polyphenols and other beneficial nutrients similar to those found in fruits and vegetables. In addition, dark roast coffee decreases the breakage in DNA strands. If not repaired by the body’s cells, this can lead to cancer, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Caffeine is a type of drug, however, so it’s best to be careful not to get too much. It can lead to anxiety, insomnia, increased heart rate, or increased blood pressure.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (U.S.D.A.) Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that most people shouldn’t drink much more than three to five cups a day. This means a maximum caffeine intake of 400 milligrams (the average eight-ounce cup of coffee has about 95 milligrams).

And be careful of additions like cream and sugar, which can affect your waistline and impact your health. Safer alternatives include milk, half-and-half, and naturally sweet spices like vanilla extract or cinnamon.

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