I often joke that the happiest part of some days is my morning cup (or three) of coffee.
Honestly, I'm always a little sad when it's gone.
While I try not to over-caffeinate, I do love this part of my morning, and am always glad to discover new reasons to feel good about this part of my day.
I recently read about another new study ... one suggesting that a daily cup may help prevent diabetes.
But is diabetes something we need to even worry about?
Sadly, the answer is yes … even if you're not particularly overweight or sedentary.
That's especially true if your diet is high in refined carbohydrates (e.g., sugar, white flour, potatoes), which lack the natural anti-diabetic allies in most whole plant foods (fibers, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants).
Even some lean-looking people are at risk, because they carry a gene that promotes "visceral” fat around internal organs, as well as problematic blood sugar and cholesterol profiles.
Type 2 diabetes: Should you worry?
Diabetes, particularly adult-onset diabetes, is a growing plague.
Nearly one in 10 Americans has some form of diabetes, and nearly all of those cases are adult-onset (type 2) diabetes – more than one in four adults over 65 have been diagnosed with this chronic, debilitating disease.
With diabetes, the body doesn't use insulin property. Initially, the pancreas will make extra insulin to make up for the problem.
However, over time, the body is no longer able to make enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal (hyperglycemia), and our cells become resistant to absorbing sugar from the blood (insulin resistance).
Although the exact causes of insulin resistance are not fully understood, researchers think the major contributors are excess weight and physical inactivity.
Unfortunately, many people overlook the symptoms of diabetes, so the disease can go undetected and untreated for months or years.
Common symptoms of diabetes include these:
- Blurred vision
- Extreme thirst
- Extreme fatigue
- Frequent urination
- Slower healing of bruises and cuts
- Extreme hunger, even after eating
- Tingling, numbness or pain in the hands and feet
Luckily, diabetes can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and exercising or staying active through the day.
But many folks are either genetically predisposed toward diabetes, or develop the known risk factors, and should take advantage of every available anti-diabetes ally.
very minor, at the most
Natural health advocates often tout the benefits of tea, and claim that drinking regular coffee "exhausts” the adrenal glands.
There's little evidence for that claim, and they evade the fact that tea also contains caffeine.
While some clinical studies find that coffee stimulates secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, others find no such effect.
Consumption of boiled coffee has been linked to slightly unhealthful changes to blood lipid profiles (Bøhn SK et al. 2012), and a few population studies link habitual drinking of boiled coffee to slightly higher risk of heart attack (Hammar N et al. 2003).
Finally, coffee with caffeine can also raise blood pressure in people unused to drinking it, but this effect disappears after drinking it for a few days.
Although large amounts of caffeine can be risky for people with heart-rhythm problems, moderate caffeine consumption (200-400mg daily) appears safe and is proven to boost mental focus and clarity.
The caffeine content of coffee ranges from about 65 mg for a single cup (30 ml) of espresso to about 145 mg for an 8 oz. cup (237 ml) of drip coffee.
Coffee as an anti-diabetes ally
One habit that's been called unhealthful (wrongly) may help deter diabetes.
That generally healthful (see our "Coffee concerns" sidebar), potentially diabetes-deterring habit is drinking one or more cups of coffee every day.
A recent study from Greece found that "habitual” coffee drinkers – those who drank more than a cup and a half daily – were half as likely to develop diabetes, compared with casual coffee drinkers and people who drank none (Koloverou E et al. 2015).
The study examined the coffee-drinking habits of more than 3,000 Greek adults – 1,514 men and 1,528 women aged from 18 to 89 – and measured blood markers of inflammation.
Follow-up studies a decade later found that more than 10% of study participants had developed adult-onset (type 2) diabetes.
The Greek researchers' analysis showed that habitual coffee drinkers were 54% less likely to develop diabetes, even after accounting for lifestyle risk factors like family history and smoking.
The study authors believe that the antioxidant compounds and coffee may explain the benefit – in part because the habitual coffee drinkers had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.
Echoing the Greek findings, Harvard researchers reported last year that drinking more than a cup of coffee a day may diabetes risk by 11%, while cutting coffee consumption by more than a cup a day may raise diabetes risk by 17%.
Jittery? Try decaf!
Does coffee make you jittery? Not to worry!
Earlier research led researchers to believe that the caffeine in coffee was responsible for its apparent anti-diabetes effects.
However, the Greek study found that diabetes levels were lower in all coffee drinkers, including those who preferred decaf.
This finding fits with studies that detected anti-diabetic effects from antioxidant-rich fruits. And after all, coffee beans are the seeds in coffee berries … which are fruits.
Coffee has a number of active compounds, and further research will work to pinpoint which of these components is responsible for the diabetes prevention benefits.
And, as detailed in a recent Harvard Gazette article, coffee appears to bring its lovers specific health benefits (Powell A 2015):
- Reduce stress
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce the risk of suicide
- Reduce the risk for dementia
- Reduce the risk for congestive heart failure
- Reduce the risk of depression among women
- Reduce the risks of liver cancer and breast cancer
- Reduce the risk of a deadly form of prostate cancer
- Reduce the risk of basal cell carcinoma (a form of skin cancer)
- Copious coffee consumption does not raise the risk of cardiovascular disease … in fact, drinking three to five cups daily may protect against it.
Due to their low intake of fruits and vegetables, coffee is the leading source of beneficial antioxidants in the average American's diet.
And far from being unhealthful, the research clearly shows that coffee – whether regular or decaf – is amazingly, deliciously healthful.
Michelle Lee is a writer and avid home chef, with 20 years of experience focusing on healthy lifestyle, diet and the home kitchen.
When not playing around with words, she loves to cook, spend time with her two children, play cribbage with her husband, and tackle The New York Times crossword puzzle
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