DR. LEPISTO: Coffee talk – grab a cup and enjoy the health benefits
Free Press Health Columnist
Sometimes people don’t believe what I am about to tell you. I get incredulous looks, a bit like the ones that happen when I tell them I am an occasional meat eater, especially my latest craving of a good elk steak (must be hunting season) or that I sometimes suggest people eat dairy.
I’ll bet these same people think I’m a strict health nut, only eat organic foods and never eat sugar. Boring. Unnecessary. What about chocolate? Birthday cake? The surprise on their face generally says it all, especially when I tell them that I love coffee (with all due respect to green tea) and enjoy at least a cup of it almost every single day.
It helps me with the depression I sometimes feel, gives me a small energy kick, helps me acclimatize to elevation, and definitely helps me focus. I make it fresh in a French press, black, poured steaming into my favorite mug. Like what you’re hearing? Well, read on for details about why coffee is really good for many people, has a long list of health benefits, and the answers as to why I recommend that many people drink it.
I lived in Seattle for six years and observed an obsessive coffee-culture firsthand. Like innumerable cities across the planet, it was proof to me how one little bean has been so thoroughly adored, studied and worshiped. The health benefits that we currently understand about Caffea Arabica are really built upon a mountain of scientific evidence and purportedly, one legendary story from Ethiopia.
According to the (American) National Coffee Association, “In the Ethiopian highlands, where the legend of Kaldi the goat herder originated, coffee trees grow today as they have for centuries. Though we will never know with certainty, there probably is some truth to the Kaldi legend. It is said that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night.” Following to the legend, you can imagine what series of events might have happened next until we arrive now at a planet full of coffee and our understanding of this marvelous little bean.
To sum it all up in a (ahem) cupful, moderate amounts of coffee consumption for someone of good general health will add deliciously to their quality of life. For starters, we know that coffee reduces the risk of colon, breast, oral, endometrial, brain, head and neck and liver cancers. This is probably due to the natural bioflavonoid constituents of the plant, which provide its anti-oxidant-rich benefit. There is also evidence that it decreases Type 2 diabetes development, showing the greatest benefit at the high-octane level of 10+ cups/day (a 79% reduction!). While this may sound like an invitation for a bottomless cup, remember that most people paying reasonable attention will notice jitters above five cups/day, and probably making you at least slightly irritating to be around.
Daily coffee use over several months or more has also been shown to decrease the prevalence of gout, stroke and depression (the latter amongst women in one study). Curiously, it showed benefit for patients with breast cancer receiving Tamoxifen; coffee consumption was significantly associated with decreased risk for early detrimental effects of the drug. There is evidence that drinking coffee slows the progression of Hepatitis C and dementia, and also relieves dry eye, amongst other minor benefits not discussed here. It even diminished the risk of overall death in a meta-analysis of more than 400,000 people between 1995 and 2008. I can see the headlines now, “COFFEE MAKES YOU NOT DIE SO MUCH.”
Are you pregnant and wondering whether or not to give up coffee? Well, celebrate that the evidence suggests that moderate coffee intake shows no increase in premature babies or underweight births. It also improves insulin sensitivity, meaning your body better utilizes glucose, meaning less chance of the morning sickness directly related to steep drops in blood sugar. Pregnant women, I strongly suggest you eat every two hours throughout the day and night (including sandwiches on the bed stand) to keep your blood sugar happy.
WHO SHOULD REDUCE COFFEE INTAKE?
Well, there’s a simple test you can do at home. Wake up one morning and skip coffee altogether that day. If you’re secretly horrified at this idea, you’re probably someone who needs to cut down, as well as anyone who gets a rebound headache. If your liver doesn’t work well, such as alcoholics or people on certain medications, you’re also not going to clear the caffeine well. People with gout, anxiety or reflux also need to be careful, as the caffeine certainly increases blood pressure and heart rate. Due to the stress response, this makes it a bad idea for exhausted or burnt-out folks with adrenal fatigue. Type A people, you know who you are and you know how much coffee is too much for you. I’ve seen overall energy improve when these people stop using it for a morning boost.
And finally, there is something particularly enjoyable about a square of extra strong dark 77% chocolate, mingled in your mouth with the taste of an organic Arabica black, poured steaming on an October morning. It might be hot in your hand with the autumn views of yellow and orange.
Couple it with good company or a fine novel and you have one recipe for long life, coffee included.
Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit http://www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.
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