New research suggests that in moderate doses, coffee could actually be the healthy drink you really need.
Championing the perks of coffee
We love our coffee here in the UAE. Recent reports claim that both Emiratis and expatriates drink the equivalent of 3.5 kilograms of coffee each a year - double the intake of people in any other GCC country. And we're not likely to give it up any time soon, either. According to the German coffee machine makers Severin, coffee consumption in the Emirates is set to grow by 80 per cent up to 2014.
So it'll come as welcome news to many that coffee - often seen as a major villain among insomnia and anxiety case studies - is actually proving its worth as something of a health drink.
A recent study by the cardiovascular epidemiological unit at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in the US suggests that a moderate coffee-drinking habit could actually protect your heart. The research found that people who drank four European servings, or two lots of eight-ounce (225 grams) American servings of coffee a day, had an 11 per cent lower risk of heart failure when compared to those who drank no coffee at all.
"Our results did show a possible benefit," explains the lead study author Elizabeth Mostofsky. "But like so many other things we consume, it really depends on how much coffee you drink."
Indeed, the latest findings show that while a moderate amount of coffee a day may be good for your heart, anything beyond that starts to have less protective power, and by the fifth cup and beyond the caffeine levels start to become harmful.
A recent survey by Nescafé Arabia revealed that in the Middle East, just over 50 per cent of respondents enjoy three to four cups of coffee per day.
Researchers believe the magic formula lies in the effect that moderate amounts of coffee have upon a person's risk of diabetes - a key contributor to heart problems. And while small amounts of caffeine can cause a spike in blood pressure, there's a school of thought that says moderate coffee drinkers develop a healthy tolerance to this and instead consume just enough to protect their heart.
"Caffeine helps to constrict blood vessels, so it can be useful in people with migraines and people with rhinitis or allergies," suggests Dr Heather Eade, a naturopathic medicine practitioner at the EHL Dubai Mall Medical Centre. "The bitter qualities of coffee can help stimulate production of bile and digestive enzymes, so it can help stimulate digestion."
Although this latest study is a wide-ranging one - made up of a collection of data from four surveys carried out in Sweden and one in Finland that looked into the link between coffee consumption and heart failure among 140,220 subjects - there are some gaps in the evidence.
For starters, it doesn't indicate what strengths of coffee are better, nor does it compare caffeinated against the non-caffeinated form. It's not an ideal drink for everyone, either. "Some people have sensitivity to caffeine, which means they have no tolerable limit," says Dr Eade. "In excessive amounts, caffeine can interfere with sleep, cause headaches and contribute to high blood pressure. It can even cause heart palpitations and anxiety."
The tannins in coffee make it a diuretic, so excessive consumption can also contribute to dehydration. "People with chronic urinary tract infections, pain with urination, or a history of kidney stones should also be careful with caffeine consumption," adds Eade.
But in the same week that the news of a hearty health kick from coffee was being aired, a second study from the American Association for Cancer Research revealed links between coffee consumption and a lower risk of another disease. According to the reports from the Harvard Medical School in Boston, caffeine was observed to help block skin cancer tumour formation in laboratory tests. However, researchers were quick to warn that it was too early to make direct links between drinking more coffee and a lower risk of developing cancerous cells.
Karine Janho, a nutritionist with Nestlé Middle East, points out that research does now show how moderate coffee consumption can reduce the risk of strokes, especially for women. "It is also now increasingly being acknowledged that in moderation, coffee can be an important source of fluid in the diet," adds Janho. (Though the recommendation remains to drink eight glasses of pure water, daily). "Adding milk to your coffee can help meet your calcium needs too, especially if you don't like the taste of milk."
Benefits of a hot brew:
• Women drinkers are quicker thinkers Researchers from Bristol University in England found that drinking coffee during stressful times improves a woman’s speed of thought and decision-making process – but impairs the brainpower and memory of men.
• Strong coffee helps build muscle Caffeine has been found to improve the digestion of carbohydrates and the refuelling of muscles after exercise in research carried out by sports scientists at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia. Athletes who drank strong coffee with their post-exercise meal replenished their muscles much quicker than those who didn’t drink the hot stuff.
• Caffeine combats cognitive decline Several studies conducted at the University of Kuopio in Finland and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden showed that drinking three cups of coffee a day during middle age was linked to a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later in life.
• Wash away the risk of stones Drinking caffeinated coffee was found to lower the incidence of gallstones and gallbladder disease occurring in both men and women in two separate US studies published by the American Gastroenterological Association.