Giving Coffee a Break
For true coffee connoisseurs, the day doesn't get started until that first
cup of joe. And when the afternoon slump occurs, there's no better pick-me-up.
The real news, however, is that after years of hand-wringing, scientists are
admitting that coffee poses very little risk for most people, and may keep us
sharp. That's no surprise to java junkies.
"If it weren't for the coffee," David Letterman once quipped,
"I'd have no identifiable personality whatsoever."
That's a sentiment most coffee lovers can understand.
Treasured as it is, however, coffee has been blamed for a range of ills,
from heart disease and cancer to osteoporosis. Are health dangers really
lurking in our lattes?
Health experts offered reassuring words at the 1999 annual meeting of the
American Dietetic Association: Drinking up to three cups of coffee a day poses
no risk. What's more, coffee appears to have some surprising benefits.
It's easy to see why researchers take coffee seriously. One cup contains
about 100 milligrams of caffeine -- enough to give infrequent coffee drinkers a
potent kick, says Tony Chou, MD, a cardiologist at the University of
California, San Francisco, and an authority on how coffee affects our health.
Half an hour after a good strong cup, a coffee drinker's resting metabolic rate
-- the number of calories burned just sitting quietly -- increases by as much
as 10%. Blood pressure climbs. Heart rate accelerates. Breathing speeds up.
Researchers used to worry all that commotion was harming our hearts. But
regular coffee drinkers quickly develop a tolerance to caffeine, Chou says.
After a week or two, they don't get so much as a wobble in their blood
pressure. Habitual coffee drinkers are no more likely to suffer from
hypertension than people who never pour a cup.
Even patients with irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmia, don't seem to be
troubled by caffeine, according to a study published in the Annals of
Internal Medicine in January 1991. Toronto scientists reviewed five studies
of people with arrhythmia. Drinking up to five cups of coffee a day, they
found, didn't make anyone's heart more likely to skip a beat.
Nor does coffee appear to increase the risk of heart disease, according to a
10-year study of more than 85,000 women. In the February 1996 Journal of the
American Medical Association, Harvard researchers reported that women who
drank six or more cups of coffee weren't any more likely to have a heart attack
than women who drank only one or two cups.
Plenty of other alarms have turned out to be false. A few years back,
headlines warned about a possible link between coffee and breast cancer. But in
the February 1998 European Journal of Cancer Prevention, Italian
researchers reported finding no link. The other worry, concerning osteoporosis,
didn't hold much water either. Results of a study published in the June 1997
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that bone thinning wasn't
more likely in women who drank coffee.