Say No to Joe?

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Coffee has been a beloved beverage for generations, but only recently has it been widely recognized for its presumed health benefits. These benefits should be said to be presumed, rather than proven, because most studies of coffee have examined groups of people who are already coffee drinkers. While these studies have found that drinking coffee is associated with a number of healthy outcomes — including lower rates of Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer disease, and cardiovascular disease — there may be an explanation for these outcomes other than coffee consumption, such as a generally healthier lifestyle among people who choose to drink coffee.

One recent study, however, looked at subjects that weren’t already coffee drinkers: laboratory mice. Published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the study examined the effects of a compound found in coffee called chlorogenic acid (CGA). As one of the study’s authors notes in an article posted by the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research, where the study was conducted, CGA was previously thought to be associated with health benefits, including greater insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, and less accumulation of body fat. In this study, researchers fed CGA to mice with diet-induced obesity, expecting that the CGA might lessen some of the harmful effects of obesity and perhaps even result in weight loss. The dosage was meant to approximate 5–6 cups of coffee per day in a human. The result was quite unexpected: obese mice who were fed CGA actually had more insulin resistance than those who weren’t fed CGA, as well as lower glucose tolerance, a fattier liver, and greater retention of fat within cells. It is unclear how, exactly, this result might help inform choices among humans. It may be the case that coffee has harmful effects only in people who are already obese, or it could be that coffee is beneficial up to a certain point (say, 4 cups) but harmful in excess of this level.

The evidence in favor of coffee should not be discounted. A study presented last year at the World Congress on Prevention of Diabetes and Its Complications found that moderate coffee consumption (3–4 cups daily) may reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by up to 25%. This effect was seen regardless of whether coffee was regular or decaffeinated. And another study, published last year in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that the caffeine from 3 cups of coffee each day may help prevent the progression of mild memory loss into Alzheimer disease among older adults.

What’s your take on coffee — do you drink it, or avoid it, because of what you perceive as its health benefits or health risks? Have you started or stopped drinking coffee and noticed any difference in your health as a result? In your view, do some of coffee’s presumed benefits — such as Alzheimer prevention — outweigh any risks that it may also pose? Leave a comment below!

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