07 July 2010

Coffee Pros and Cons

Wisconsin Rapids Tribune

Nik Karpinsky's favorite coffee drink is a caffeine-bomb called the red eye.

"It's coffee from a drip coffee maker with a shot of espresso in it," he explained, while his knee bounced up and down.

Karpinsky, a Schofield native, estimates he drinks eight to 12 cups of coffee a day. Karpinsky now lives in Ames, Iowa, where he's a graduate student studying human-computer interaction at Iowa State University. He was sitting in front of the downtown coffee shop Allister Deacon's last week, sipping espresso and visiting with friend Melissa Will, 23, of Schofield.

While his coffee consumption might be on the extreme side, Karpinsky is among 56 percent of American adults who drink coffee regularly, the National Coffee Association said.

Karpinsky will be the first to admit he might overdo it, but he can't bring himself to stop drinking coffee. "No, I enjoy it too much," he said. "I consider it one of my vices."

Though, like Karpinsky, many refer to their java habit as an unhealthy indulgence, experts say that in moderation, a cup or two of joe a day actually has numerous health perks.

"People always talk about it as if it's a little bad for you. That's not necessarily true," said Donald Hensrud, associate professor of Preventive Medicine and Nutrition at the Mayo Clinic. "Coffee contains over 2,000 different chemical components, including cancer-fighting anti-oxidants."

Some studies suggest coffee can boost vision and heart health, said registered dietitian Elisa Zied, author of "Nutrition at Your Fingertips." Research also has suggested coffee helps people with liver disease, but it has had mixed results when it comes to diabetes.

The studies that highlight the health benefits of coffee make Karpinsky "feel a little better" about his caffeine habit, but he's still not convinced that drinking coffee is a good thing.

He's right about that. There is conflicting news about the impact of coffee.

Will, who graduated from Ripon College with a degree in psychology and is weighing graduate school options, also loves coffee, but limits her consumption to four to six cups a day.

"Everything in moderation," Will said. "There's research on both sides (about the benefits and ill effects of caffeine) ... I think it's a better habit than (others) I could have. Probably, it's not the most beneficial."

Be aware of how much caffeine you're consuming, because it varies among coffee drinks, said Mary Rosser, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

Loading up on cream and sugar is a bad idea, Hensrud said. A Starbucks venti 24-ounce double chocolate chip frappucino has 520 calories, 14 grams of saturated fat and 75 grams of carbohydrates. Pregnant women and people with anxiety and sleep problems should especially watch their intake, he said.

Also, people metabolize caffeine differently -- the result of genetic differences, Hensrud said.

Caffeine's influence can last for 10 hours or more, said researcher Jim Lane, a professor of medical psychology at Duke. He recommends pacing yourself throughout the day: "It's nice to have places to meet friends that aren't alcohol-related, but it does sort of encourage people to ignore the drug effects of caffeine."

Java's perks, pitfalls

Aging: Recent research suggests caffeine could help protect against cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, said Donald Hensrud, associate professor of Preventive Medicine and Nutrition at the Mayo Clinic.

Large clinical trials still are needed, though, said Duke aging expert Murali Doraiswamy. “We still don’t know the right dose for seniors,” Doraiswamy said. “Bottom line: I would not recommend caffeine solely as a preventive strategy for dementia.”

Wakefulness/performance: Convinced you need a morning cup to wake up? Research online this month in Neuropsychopharmacology suggests frequent coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to the anxiety-producing and stimulatory effects of caffeine. A study last month suggests those who consume caffeine via coffee and espresso makers perform better on the job.

Dental: Coffee exacerbates bad breath, said registered dietitian Elisa Zied, author of “Nutrition at Your Fingertips.” It also can give teeth a yellow tinge.

Diabetes: Although research suggests drinking five or six cups a day might reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, other studies show caffeine can exaggerate blood sugar problems in people who already have it, said Jim Lane, a professor of medical psychology at Duke University.

Gastrointestinal: High levels of caffeine can exert a laxative effect in some people but constipate others, Zied said. Heartburn and peptic ulcer patients should steer clear, too.

Too much coffee at once can increase blood pressure, but a cup or two a day generally does no harm to heart health, said Carl Lavie, medical director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Prevention at John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans. Rarely, overindulgence can increase heart rate and cause heart rhythm disturbances, he said.

Liver: “Coffee intake is associated with a reduced risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer,” Hensrud said.

Migraine: Hensrud said coffee can ease migraines in some people. Coffee lovers who use espresso makers at work each day should keep up the habit on weekends, because skipping coffee can lead to withdrawal headaches, he said.

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