“You can’t make everyone happy. You are not coffee.” — Anonymous
I’ve extolled the virtues of coffee before in these digital pages.
That’s because I’m
hopelessly addicted impressed by the growing body of research that establishes coffee’s extraordinary health-promoting powers.
For example, a large 2012 study in The New England Journal of Medicine established that coffee drinkers live longer than abstainers.1
And it found a perfect “dose-response” — in other words, the more coffee the subjects drank, they less likely they were to die during the study.
Even more exciting, there was a lowered risk of death from pretty much everything, including heart and respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes and infections.
The long-standing hypothesis to explain this has been that coffee is a rich source of antioxidants, preventing the formation of free radicals that underlie many of the “diseases of aging.”
But a new study suggests a different mechanism — that the caffeine in coffee may be anti-inflammatory.
It all has to do with a special molecule called adenosine.
The Adenosine Scene
Caffeine does a great job of blocking adenosine, an organic molecule that damps down the nervous system.
Quenching adenosine is likely why caffeine makes us feel awake and alert.
But a paper published in Nature Medicine suggests that caffeine might also block the activity of inflammatory molecules.2
Inflammation is a necessary response to infection or injury. We recognize it as fever or swelling and redness around a wound, indicating that it’s healing.
But sedentary lifestyles, stress and, most of all, diets high in carbohydrates all ramp up the body’s inflammatory mechanisms to unhealthful levels.
Many Americans live in a chronically elevated inflammatory state, which has been shown3to raise risks of cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological system diseases…
… exactly the kinds of diseases where risk is lowered with coffee consumption.
Getting Along in Years? Drink Up!
Specifically, this new research found that older people — those ages 60–89 — tend to have high levels of chronic inflammation compared with younger people.
The less-inflamed members of this group of seniors — in other words, the ones with inflammatory responses more like those of younger people — also had lower disease rates and lived longer.
As it turned out, a diet survey revealed those low-inflammation older folks also consumed larger amounts of caffeinated beverages, including coffee and tea.
If you don’t like caffeinated beverages, take heart. Rather than damping down your inflammatory response by consuming caffeine, you can reap health advantages by taking other measures that have been shown to lower inflammation, including eating fewer carbs, getting daily gentle exercise and lowering stress levels via breathing exercises or meditation.
But if, like most of us, you do enjoy your daily coffee or tea, this study suggests there is no reason to cut back, as long as you don’t experience untoward side effects, such as nervousness or insomnia.
And by the way, coffee and tea contain hundreds of compounds that probably work synergistically (such as chlorogenic acid in coffee and epigallocatechin gallate in tea), so don’t expect the same advantage from isolated caffeine pills.
As to how much you should drink, that’s highly individual, but the 2012 study cited earlier found health advantages of coffee peaked at roughly six cups daily. (It sounds like a lot, but that’s real cups, not “Venti” cups from you-know-where.)
In any case, enjoy!
To your robust health,