Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Scoop on Coffee

This is an article I wrote for our University newspaper, in response to a question someone sent in about coffee. They wanted to know if it is good or bad for them, whether it is true that coffee after heavy drinking protects the liver, and what about energy drinks? They said "like Tom Petty I have a Need To Know."

Dear Coffee Cat,

If you’ve heard good and bad things about coffee, you’re paying attention. And if you’re confused, there’s good reason, because the truth is, it’s both. Allow me to explain.

How is coffee good for you?

  1. It stimulates the brain. We all know that. It’s the whole reason many people indulge. And face it: even though you are smart enough to have gotten into college, there are those times when your brain could use a little extra boost. When that big paper is due tomorrow and you’re farther behind than you thought. When it’s the “morning after the night before,” and you need to function at work. At times like these, an extra mental lift can be highly useful. There is also some evidence that regular coffee drinkers have less “age related cognitive decline” than non-coffee drinkers. In other words, they kept their “marbles” longer into their old age. (The same study, by the way, found these benefits and more with green tea.)

  1. I’m glad you brought up the liver thing. It gives me a chance to debunk some rumors. The answer to your question is no, coffee cannot heal the liver after a long night of drinking. Coffee can’t sober you up either, contrary to popular misconception. The only thing that will get alcohol out of your blood is time, sweet time. What may be true is that – now, read this carefully – people who drink alcohol heavily, and we’re talking heavily and long enough to cause cirrhosis of the liver, can get some protective effect for their liver over the years by drinking coffee too. This is not the same thing as saying that if you binge drink all night, you can reverse the beating you gave your poor liver by going out for a latte in the morning. No. If you really want to protect your liver from cirrhosis, a far better way to do that is not to drink too much alcohol in the first place.

  1. Finally, coffee is often at the center of meaningful social interaction. Relaxing with a friend and having a real conversation while you sip your caffeinated beverage of choice is, in my opinion, a ritual worth honoring.

How is coffee bad for you?

  1. Too much coffee can give you uncomfortable jitters, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, and stomach and bladder irritation. Coffee aggravates the painful fibrocystic breast condition. It can affect the kidneys, acting as a diuretic (makes you pee). Coffee can increase your pulse and your blood pressure and contribute to ulcers. It can worsen PMS (now that is truly frightening!). All of these side effects are what we medical types call “dose related responses.” In other words, the more coffee you drink, the more likely you’ll suffer.

  1. Is coffee addictive? Oh, yes. If you’ve ever been a regular coffee drinker and tried to quit, you know what I’m talking about. Headaches, drowsiness, lack of concentration and focus…those, my friend, are withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from caffeine, the drug of choice of millions of Americans. Whether we’re “guzzling coffee like crazy fools,” taking “big gulps”of sodas or sipping tea, we consume tons of caffeine-containing products each year. If you want to jettison your caffeine addiction, I suggest you cut your consumption in half for a week, then quit. Be prepared to feel lousy for another week, but then you should be fine.

There are some “positive negatives” to the coffee story. In other words, some bad things that coffee does not do. It does not cause cancer. It does not increase your heart disease risk. In moderation, coffee and other forms of caffeine do not have significant health risks. How much is “moderation? That depends on the person. Different people have different caffeine sensitivities. For the average Joe, 2-3 cups of “Joe” a day counts as moderate consumption.

Finally, you asked about energy drinks. Those little power cans vary widely in their ingredients, including the amount of caffeine and other stimulants. Some have a lot of sugar. Some use artificial sweeteners. Most use artificial flavors and colors. Most have less caffeine than a cup of coffee, yet cost more. Since the full health effects of food additives are not yet completely known, I myself am more inclined toward the natural stuff, meaning “the bean” or “the [tea] leaf.”

I hope this satisfies your Need To Know, Coffee Cat. Now tomorrow when it’s Wakeup Time you can enjoy your java with No Second Thoughts.


Giovanni said...

I absolutely love black tea: Darjeeling, Asaam, Orange Pekoe and English Breakfast. But dang it! I can't drink it every day because of the caffeine. If I do, drink every day, I sometime feel hung over: rough.

Green tea is filled with caffeine as well, but also filled with Anti-oxidants; however, I've discovered a non-caffeinated tea that has greater amounts of Anti-oxidants that Green Tea. It's called Rooibos - comes from South Africa.

I sure wish I could have at least one cup of black tea per day; but alas, my body doesn't permit it.

dr peg said...

Bummer, Giovanni. Myself, I feel best when I'm drinking green tea, several cups a day. Coffee in the form of an espresso mocha (no whip cream please) is a dreamy luxury but it puts me to sleep an hour later, alas.

Thanks for visiting.

Happy said...

I think that coffee is good:) I hope so:) I have here some ideas about coffee health - so they make my hopes more real:)

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