Coffee lovers can quaff to their heart’s content, according to a new study from Stanford University. That’s because the results suggest that coffee may help prevent heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
The long-term study of more than 100 adults tracked older people who fell into two groups. The first group had a genetic predisposition to having high levels of age-related inflammation and excess production of an inflammatory protein called IL-1-beta. The second group had far lower levels of inflammation.
Individuals in the “high inflammation” group was much more likely to have elevated blood pressure and stiff coronary arteries. They also were much less likely to have a close relative who lived to at least age 90.
But researchers identified one lifestyle factor stood out: The “high inflammation” group drank almost no caffeinated beverages while the “low inflammation” group drank as much as seven cups of coffee per day.
During the course of the study, the researchers found that this was no coincidence. In fact, caffeine blocked the inflammation levels, which have been linked with cardiovascular disease.
“This inflammatory [mechanism] is mainly associated with infectious disease,” says Dr. Mark Davis, PhD, a senior co-author of the study, which was published online in the journal Nature Medicine.
“There’s always been a lot of speculation about the role of inflammation in cardiovascular disease. This is the first time the pathway has been associated with cardiovascular issues.”
The results suggest that IL-1-beta may be one of many new molecular targets in the quest to conquer heart disease, which is the world’s leading cause of death.
Meanwhile, Davis notes that caffeine may not be the only beneficial anti-inflammatory component of coffee.
“There are other things in coffee that are even more potent,” he says. “So just drinking Red Bull all day long probably isn’t the answer.”
For maximum heart protection, the best course is to either drink black coffee or plain tea, which may be just as effective, he says. Loading either beverage with sugar, cream, or other additives may negate their heart-healthy effects, he says.
The Stanford University study is one of the first to show exactly how coffee may take care of our tickers. But decades of observational studies suggest that caffeinated beverages are associated with multiple health benefits.
These include a significantly reduced risk of the following age-related conditions:
Alzheimer’s disease. Up to 65 percent lower risk.
Cancer. 40 percent lower risk for liver cancer and 15 percent lower risk for colorectal cancer, the third- and fourth-leading causes of cancer death worldwide.
Depression and suicide. Women who drink four or more cups of coffee per day have a 20 percent lower risk of depression. People who consume that much have a whopping 53 percent lower risk of suicide.
Liver disease. People who drink four or more cups of coffee per day have an up to 80 percent lower risk of liver cirrhosis. Some research suggests that coffee can counteract the ill effects of alcohol on the liver.
Parkinson’s disease. Up to 60 percent lower risk.
Type 2 diabetes. Studies show an up to 67 percent lower risk associated with high coffee consumption.
Since coffee reduces the risk of so many-age related conditions, it follows that coffee drinking may prolong your life. Two large observational studies conducted over a period of 18-24 years found that coffee drinking decreased the risk of premature death by 20 percent for men and 26 percent for women.
Other benefits of coffee include:
Increased energy and cognition. Caffeine blocks an energy-decreasing neurotransmitter, and promotes energy-increasing neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine. It also improves measures of memory, mood, vigilance, reaction times, and general cognitive function.
Increased physical performance. Caffeine increases levels of the “fight or flight” hormone epinephrine, which preps the body for intense activity. It also prompts fat cells to break down, which releases a quick source of fuel. Studies show an average 11-12 percent improvement in physical performance.
Increased fat burning. Caffeine boosts metabolic rates by 3-11% percent and increases fat burning by up to 29 percent in lean people and 10% in obese people.
Finally, coffee is a great source of vitamins, especially vitamins B2 and B5. It’s also the single biggest source of antioxidants in the standard American diet, a greater source of these essential nutrients than fruits and vegetables combined.
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