Coffee, Chocolate, and Type 2 Diabetes

Nature gifted humans with two especially flavorful beans: chocolate and coffee. Beyond pleasure, new studies are finding that both of these “magic” beans can help prevent diabetes.

Coffee and Type 2 diabetes

Danish researchers recently found that cafestol — a compound in coffee — increased insulin secretion, reduced fasting glucose levels, and improved insulin sensitivity in mice. Previous studies have shown coffee helps with diabetes, but most researchers thought the benefit came from the caffeine.

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This study points out that there are over 1,000 other chemicals in coffee, and cafestol may be one of the most valuable ones. It may explain why both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee often bring down blood sugar levels. (Not always though: In some coffee studies, glucose has been found to run higher, but this may well have been due to the cream and sweeteners people added to their coffee.)

The mice were fed cafestol for ten weeks. Control mice were not given cafestol. Groups fed cafestol experienced a 28% to 30% reduction in blood glucose levels, compared with the control group.

Mice fed cafestol had a 42% increase in insulin sensitivity, the opposite of insulin resistance. Their beta cells showed a 75% to 87% increase in insulin production.

Another study by the Danish researchers found that cafestol and caffeic acid, another chemical in coffee, increased insulin production in the presence of glucose. This is exactly what the class of drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists (incretins) do.

Cafestol was also found to increase glucose uptake into muscle cells at a similar rate to current diabetes drugs. Unfortunately, drip-brewed coffee contains very little cafestol, because the filter catches most of it. You need to drink espresso or Turkish or Greek coffee to get much cafestol. Cafestol also raises cholesterol, which may or may not be a concern.

This is all good for the rodents, but what about people? Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) looked at records of over 120,000 people from three large studies. According to Medical News Today, those who “increased their coffee intake by at least one cup a day…had an 11% lower” chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. People who lowered their coffee consumption had a 17% higher risk.”

The study was published in the journal Diabetologia. “Our findings confirm previous studies that showed that higher coffee consumption was associated with lower Type 2 diabetes risk,” said Shilpa Bhupathiraju, PhD, lead author and research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH.

Coffee has a whole range of other health benefits you can learn about here. Among others, it reduces the risk of some forms of cancer and the risk of stroke.

Chocolate and Type 2 diabetes

Researchers at Brigham Young University and Virginia Tech are studying flavanols, which are antioxidants found in cocoa. They seem to prevent diabetes in rodents.

Antioxidants keep our cells from being damaged by oxygen floating around in our blood. You’ve seen how rust damages metal? Oxygen does that. There’s a lot of oxygen floating around our bodies “rusting” our cells. These oxygen molecules are called “free radicals.”

Antioxidants protect cells by combining with the free radicals. According to the Berkeley Wellness Center, antioxidants “‘spare’ our cells by becoming oxidized themselves. For the most part, our antioxidant reserves can keep…oxidation under control,” but we need to keep up our antioxidant supply.

Chocolate has a lot of the antioxidants called flavanols, and they seem to keep blood sugars and weight under control in rodents. Medical News Today reports that, in rats who received a high-fat diet that included a cocoa compound, “levels of obesity were decreased, and the rats’ ability to handle increased glucose levels were increased.” Researchers credited a flavanol called catechin.

“What happens is, [catechin] is protecting the cells,” said Brigham Young professor Jeffery Tessem, PhD. “It’s increasing their ability to deal with oxidative stress. The catechins…are making the mitochondria in the beta cells stronger, which produces more ATP (a cell’s energy source), which then results in more insulin being released.”

The authors caution against taking chocolate-as-medicine too far. Eating sugary, high-fat chocolate will not protect against diabetes. But a square or two of dark chocolate every day might help.

Which is better, coffee or chocolate? Coffee certainly has more research on its side, but why not try both? I’ve heard they go well together.

You might want to avoid coffee in the evening, so as not to be kept awake by the caffeine, and you might want to check your blood sugar levels after chocolate or coffee occasionally to see how they affect you.

You also don’t want to add a lot of cream and sugar to your coffee. Use common sense with them, and these beans might help you be healthier and perhaps enjoy life a little more.

Want to learn more about coffee, chocolate, and diabetes? Read “Good News for Chocolate Fans,” “Caffeine: Friend or Foe? (Part 1),” and “Caffeine: Friend or Foe? (Part 2).”

  • Ricardo Larrondo

    What coffe & chocolate with a type 1 diabetes patient?

  • Jason Hargrove Sr.

    Glad to see this. Showed another pa at Duke this same info some time ago. Stated to me it was incorrect. Laughed at her and stated to have a good day, I will not come back and “bother you again.”

  • Richard Hollister

    my levels are out of control and nol matter what i do i cannot get my levels down i am insulin dependent plus on a feed tube with feed for people who are diabetic