Coffee cup and coffee beans on table

by Paul Fassa
Health Impact News

During the 1960s and 70s, when the health food industry and health conscious consumers began to flourish, coffee was a serious no-no. Health advocates urged consumers to drink only steam treated caffeine free coffee or herbal teas that didn’t carry caffeine.

However, now that viewpoint has been shattered.

Recent long term epidemiological surveys indicate that coffee drinking is linked to longevity. And if you are somewhat suspicious of epidemiological research conclusions, there are several other animal studies to back up those claims.

The health history of coffee has flip-flopped often since coffee houses began in Arab nations during the 1500s then spread to Europe during the 1600s. Good and bad health claims were often unfounded and outrageous. Classical music composers such as Beethoven and Rossini were heavy coffee consumers.

During the 20th century coffee was considered a health hazard promoting various cancers and heart attacks in addition to nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia. But toward the end of that century, the antioxidant qualities of coffee were discovered.

Since the year 2000, the bulk of coffee with caffeine nutritional studies have been so overwhelmingly positive, that even the “2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report” gave coffee a healthy thumbs up. This committee advises the USDA and Health and Human Services.

Summaries of the Most Current Coffee Studies

The largest and most recent study, “Coffee Drinking and Mortality in 10 European Countries: A Multinational Cohort Study,” was completed in July of 2017 and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. This study followed 521, 330 persons enrolled in the cohort EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition).

This study determined that those who drank three or more cups a day had a lower risk for all-cause death than people who did not drink coffee over the course of the 16.4 years they were followed. What isn’t clear is how many ounces determines one cup. Some EU nations, especially Italy, focus more on espresso cups that contain around two ounces each.

Study co-author Marc Gunter even suggests that many who drink coffee regularly are healthy while those who are initially unhealthy may avoid it. But nevertheless, the study proves drinking coffee regularly does not pose a health problem among the healthy. This study was funded by the European Commission Directorate-General for Health and Consumers and International Agency for Research on Cancer.

What seems even more relevant is the EPIC sub-cohort study involving 14,800 coffee consumers with serum biomarkers of liver function, inflammation, and metabolic health. This resulted in reporting an inverse association between coffee and liver disease. A few years ago health experts were warning that coffee was probably harmful to the liver.

Overall, the study concluded that suicide in men, cancer in women, digestive diseases and circulatory diseases were less common among coffee drinkers who consumed three or more cups daily, and coffee drinkers tended to have lower levels of inflammation, healthier lipid (fatty) profiles, and better glucose control than those who didn’t drink coffee. (Study abstract)

A separate study was conducted in Los Angeles and Hawaii on non-white participants, “Association of Coffee Consumption With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality Among Nonwhite Populations” was conducted at around the same time and also recorded in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The participants were among the MEC (Multiethnic Cohort), following 185, 855 African Americans, Native Hawaiians, Japanese Americans, Latinos, and whites aged 45 to 75 years at recruitment for a period of 16.2 years.

Except for Native Hawaiians who showed little differences between coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers, inverse associations were observed for deaths due to heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease among the other ethnic groups.

The MEC study was funded primarily by the National Cancer Institute. It separated smokers from their survey while the European one did not, noting that coffee even afforded some protection for smokers. (Abstract)

Dr. Alberto Ascherio, professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard, who was not involved with the EU study warned:

“Even if it was in some way true, … I think it’s a dangerous proposition because it suggests that a smoker can counteract the effects of smoking by drinking coffee, which is borderline insane.”

The Mechanics of Coffee’s Protection Against Neurological Inflammation

Coffee contains many other compounds other than caffeine, the stimulant that provides the buzz to do more mental work easily and happily. A study published in 2013 in the journal Neurotherapeutics, “Neuroprotective and Anti-inflammatory Properties of a Coffee Component in the MPTP Model of Parkinson’s Disease” offered some insight into a coffee component’s neurological protection.

This study was set up to discover a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD), an effect largely attributed to caffeine. Noting that there are other compounds in coffee that may be neuroprotective, the researchers experimented with both animals and tested chemically with lab cultures.

Coffee contains numerous components other than caffeine that may also be neuroprotective. One of these compounds is eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide (EHT), which improves neuronal integrity and reduced neuroinflammation. The researchers use dMPTP (1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine) in mice to induce Parkinson’s disease. That’s what the title MPTP Model is about.

From the study text:

This study demonstrates for the first time that MPTP toxicity in both the mouse brain and in cultured cells is attenuated by EHT, a component of coffee. The neuroprotective impact of EHT is associated with a marked anti-inflammatory effect demonstrated both in vivo and in cultured primary glial cells, … thus linking its efficacy in both genetically and toxin driven models of PD [Parkinson’s disease].” (Full study text)

The “2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report” mentioned earlier in this article has an index of coffee benefits for lowering listed disease risks with links to studies that support those benefits. You can access that here.