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Prescriptive shots of java keep you going

Going through a working day without several steaming cups of coffee or tea not only wilts your mind but may also be killing you silently in mysterious ways, show a gaggle of studies since May this year. Sanchita Sharma writes.

columns Updated: Aug 18, 2012 22:55 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times

Going through a working day without several steaming cups of coffee or tea not only wilts your mind but may also be killing you silently in mysterious ways, show a gaggle of studies since May this year.

A shot of coffee a day helps you live longer, with both caffeinated or decaf working as well as the proverbial life-saving apple (the fruit, not the products), reported the New England Journal of Medicine. It also lowers your chances of heart failure, reported American Heart Association’s journal Circulation in the end of June, and risks of cancer of the lining of the womb (endometrial cancer) in women, prostate cancer in men (who drink six or more cups a day), and liver, skin and colon cancer in both sexes.

In the last 20 years, over 20,000 studies have examined how coffee effects our mind and body and almost all have found that a few cups a day reduce the risk of several diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, cirrhosis, depression and Parkinson’s.

In large amounts — four to six cups — coffee protects against type II diabetes goes down with each cup of coffee had daily, said a 2009 analysis of 200 studies in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Caffeine is a bronchodilator that widens the airways, with three or more cups of coffee a day reducing asthma attacks, reported the journal Chest in 2008. Other studies show that, compared to not drinking coffee, drinking at least two cups per day shows an 80% drop in the risk of liver cirrhosis and halves gallstone risk.

As a stimulant, caffeine has several pluses. It speeds up information processing in the brain by 10%, with just a cup or two improving alertness and concentration during night shifts, reported the journal Psychopharmacology. According to another JAMA study, at least six studies found that people who drink coffee regularly have an 80% lower chance of Parkinson’s disease.

While how exactly it works across diseases remains unclear, what is well known is that caffeine is one of the biggest source of anti-aging antioxidants, with a cup of java having more antioxidants than a glass of grape, blueberries, raspberries or orange juice. As compared to tea or colas, coffee’s beneficial effects are higher because of its higher caffeine content: a 250ml mug of coffee has about 85 mg of caffeine, which is roughly three times more than the same serving of tea or cola.

While it’s too early to push caffeine as health drink, there is no scientific reason for you to stop having a few cups a day, provided you don’t overdose. For the aromatic brew is a powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous and cardiovascular systems, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, causing nervousness, headache, insomnia, heartburn and palpitation.

So, how much java is too much for the average Jane or Joe? Caffeine tolerance varies with people, which makes it tough to fix a maximum daily dose. While a cup a day can give some insurmountable insomnia, others can easily tolerate six cups a day.

The benefits, however, appear with 300 mg of caffeine a day — that’s about three cups of strong coffee or more for weak, milky brews — so it’s best to stay within limits to avoid the after-effects. Pregnant and nursing women should not have beyond a cup a day (100 mg of caffeine) as caffeine can enter breastmilk and agitate the baby. Children, too, should stay within the 100 mg limit to avoid getting hyperactive.

That said, savour you brew without guilt, but make sure you add up other sources of caffeine besides coffee, such as carbonated soft drinks, tea, chocolate, and some medicines, such as painkillers, diet aids and cold medication. If anything, knowing it’s good for you just adds to the flavour and aroma. Now the challenge is to keep coffee-manufacturers from selling it as a boring health supplement, which will not only add to the price but also take the fun away of wasting time over a cup of cappuccino.

First Published: Aug 18, 2012 22:52 IST