It’s the start of another day and my mantra is the same as it has been for my entire adult life – stay engaged in health-promoting activities.
I am referring to my aerobic escapades, which include speed walking and working out on equipment such as the elliptical machine. It’s no secret that physical activity plays a key role in preventing or delaying the development of such serious health issues as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and dementia.
However, there is another type of activity that you may be surprised to learn also plays a role in the prevention of the aforementioned conditions. Actually, I start my day with it, and it’s not a five-mile jaunt through the scenic paths of my community.
It’s an activity common to millions. For some, it may take place in the kitchen at home. For others like me, it originates in a neighborhood setting. Think Starbucks!
The average person consumes 416 8-ounce cups of coffee each year. With so many of us drinking so much coffee, It’s fortunate that most of the research conducted thus far seems to indicate that coffee plays a positive role in promoting our well-being.
Coffee and Type 2 Diabetes
So much has been discussed in the media about the obesity and the fact that it is a precursor to the development of type 2 diabetes. A person suffering from type 2 diabetes loses the ability to use insulin, removing the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar.
So how does coffee help fight type 2 diabetes? Coffee contains antioxidants – nutrients that help prevent cell damage caused by oxygen-free radicals.
In addition, coffee contains magnesium and chromium. These minerals help the body use insulin, thereby controlling how the body uses sugar. Although many of us think the caffeine in coffee is responsible for its healthful effect, the reality is that it makes no difference whether the coffee is caffeinated or decaffeinated.
The Iowa Women’s Health Study monitored the consumption of coffee by 28,000 women for a period of 11 years. The results were significant.
Women who drank four or more cups of coffee daily experienced a 20 percent decrease in the development of type 2 diabetes. However, four or more cups of coffee per day need not be consumed to see benefits. Even a single cup of coffee each day can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Coffee and Cardiovascular Disease
It appears coffee has a positive impact on the heart. The antioxidants in coffee can help deflect the damaging effects of inflammation on the arteries in the heart.
While coffee can raise blood pressure immediately after it is consumed, it may actually lower blood pressure in the long term. The antioxidants in coffee activate nitric oxide, which widens blood vessels and decreases blood pressure.
People who have heart health issues might think it best to limit the amount of coffee they drink, as coffee has the ability to cause irregular heartbeats. But data collected from a study of 130,000 Kaiser Permanente health plan members paints a different picture.
In this study, people who reported drinking one to three cups of coffee per day were 20 percent less likely to be hospitalized with irregular heartbeats.
Coffee consumption has also been shown to reduce the incidence of stroke in women. In the highly-regarded Nurses’ Health Study, women who reported drinking two or more cups of coffee daily had a 20 percent reduced risk of stroke when compared to women who drank less coffee or no coffee at all.
Coffee and Cancer
Coffee is associated with a decrease in the development of liver cancer. In an analysis of nine studies, two cups of coffee daily was shown to reduce liver cancer by 43 percent. While the reason for this is not completely understood, it might be that the antioxidants in coffee inhibit the development of cancer cells.
In a recent study, researchers at the National Cancer Institute followed half a million Americans over a 15-year period. The study found that people who drank four or more cups of coffee daily, whether caffeinated or decaffeinated, have a 15 percent lower risk of developing colon cancer.
While a cause-and-effect relationship was not determined, it was clear that the results were dose-related. According to the lead author of the study, the fact that coffee contains more than 1,000 compounds can have an impact on the reduced risk in the development of colon cancer.
In spite of these positive studies, it is important to understand that for some people, coffee consumption is not recommended. For example, people who have acid reflux, also known as GERD, should limit or avoid drinking coffee because coffee relaxes the muscle that keeps stomach acids from rising to the throat. Furthermore, people who have trouble sleeping should avoid caffeinated coffee.
While research appears to indicate that coffee can benefit one’s health, it should not be a substitute for foods such as berries and other fruits and vegetables that also contain abundant sources of antioxidants in addition to essential vitamins, minerals and fiber.
As for me, I’m walking down the road to reload my Starbucks Card.
Dr. Phil Heit is Professor Emeritus of Physical Activity and Educational Services at The Ohio State University.