Family Health: Coffee in moderation can be beneficial to health

In health care, we’re inundated with information. We measure clinical quality, health information, safety information, privacy information, accountability standards, and management of patient data and the wealth of nutrition information.

In the coffee world, the information that is managed involves crop growing information, international ethics, roasting information, standards of excellence in production and serving quality standards, and industry information based to maximize consumer satisfaction. Because it is one of the largest consumables in the world, a large amount of time also is spent debunking myths surrounding coffee itself, such as whether or not it’s a health risk to enjoy that morning latte or daily dose of espresso. If your New Year’s resolution involved giving up your daily grind, you might just want to read on before you quit for good!

Caffeine is everywhere, in the form of sodas, diet pills, energy drinks, chocolate, various teas, and even painkillers and ice cream. Not every form of caffeine can be beneficial to our health when taken in excess, and it is easy to overdo it if we aren’t aware of everything it is in.

The same also goes for caffeine delivered in the form of a cup of coffee or espresso, but, interestingly, recent studies have found that the highest levels of antioxidants in the American diet have been found within the daily cup of joe. This isn’t to say that we should stop eating those healthy fruits and vegetables, which are integral to our vitamin, mineral and fiber intake, but rather balance our view of coffee as a daily ritual that also can add to our general well-being in moderate amounts.

Our bodies are designed to slow down and get sleepier throughout the day through the gradual buildup of a chemical compound called adenosine. The adenosine binds to adenosine receptors, which stimulate the slowdown, allowing us to wind down to be able to sleep and rest at the end of the day.

Caffeine molecules, though, also fit into these adenosine receptors. Those sneaky molecules block adenosine from being able to do its job of slowing down the body, and as a result, cause an increase of activity in the central nervous system.

So what is the result of this chemical reaction? The brain and body get a happy little buzz of activity, and all systems are revved up and ready to go.

There are a number of benefits to this body buzz, not the least of which is the increased mental alertness that comes as the brain is stimulated to release dopamine (a happy-mood chemical). New studies also are showing that blocking adenosine also slows the buildup of amyloid-beta, the toxic brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The antioxidants in coffee make it full of wonderful properties for the body. Studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a lowered risk of various estrogen-related cancers (breast, ovarian and prostate cancer in men) because it has been shown to regulate the way the liver metabolizes estrogen through a healthier enzyme pathway. Coffee also has been shown to decrease the risk of death from heart attack as well as the risks of heart disease and actually improves vascular health. And great news for those with cholesterol problems, the antioxidants in coffee actually elevates good HDL levels. Coffee drinkers also may be at a lower risk of colon cancer, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

There are a few myths about coffee. It will not stunt your growth. The science of this myth typically goes hand in hand with the notion that caffeine interferes with calcium absorption. There is an element of truth to this, it does somewhat slow absorption of calcium but in most people that are not at risk or currently suffering from osteoporosis, any effect is shown to be more than adequately offset by a tablespoon or two of milk.

As with anything, the effects of coffee vary from person to person. Some people are sensitive to caffeine in general or have other health considerations that merit avoiding coffee.

And though there are many health benefits to coffee itself, this is not necessarily true if a consumer adds large amounts of sugar or alternative additives that may detract from those healthy benefits. As with anything, moderation is a key factor in drinking coffee. However, it’s wonderful to know that one of the world’s most largely consumed beverages can be enjoyed without guilt – and with great pleasure!

Heather Thuesen is a barista at Grounds and Grains in Community Medical Center.