I don't know about you, but
I love coffee. And I'm a big fan of Starbuck's when I'm traveling. It's a great
place to meet, chat, and enjoy a good beverage. Coffee and I go way back. I
started to drink it back in college in the 1970's. At the time, my dorm room
brew was made from freeze-dried Maxwell House. That's what was available. And
besides, it was cheap. When I was home, I liked to visit my grandmother who
always made pots of fresh-perked coffee for me and my boyfriend. I continued to
drink coffee throughout medical school. And while doing my ob/gyn residency,
which often involved staying up all night, I lived on coffee-sometimes as much
as six cups a day.


I stopped drinking coffee
when I decided to get pregnant. And interestingly, once I actually was pregnant,
I, like so many women, couldn't stand the smell of it or the taste. I resumed
drinking coffee after my children were born, however. But by the time I hit age
35, my body decided that it was time to reject large amounts of coffee. And it
happened suddenly. Now, I can't drink caffeinated coffee in the evening without
paying for it with major insomnia! And my system has grown so sensitive, that I
can feel the aftereffects of even one cup of regular coffee for hours
thereafter. In truth, I never had to "give up" high-test coffee. My body did it
for me. But I still use decaf.


Coffee: Not All Bad


As you all know, I'm a huge
advocate of natural foods and a healthy diet. So how do I reconcile my coffee
drinking with my health advocacy? And is coffee as bad as we've been led to
believe? A recent and very comprehensive review of the medical literature on
coffee done by a colleague of mine, Dr. Randall Wilkinson, has shed new light on
the subject. Though it's certainly not good for everyone (such as pregnant women
or people with PMS, anxiety, insomnia, osteoporosis), I now believe that the
dangers have been greatly overstated and, like that glass of wine now and then,
you can feel free to enjoy your morning "Cup of Joe" guilt-free. . . just don't
add the donut!


The following are the
highlights of Dr. Wilkinson's summary of 47 studies and review articles from the
medical literature. Most of them were studies done from the year 2000 onward, so
they're very recent.


Research over the years has shown conflicting conclusions on the effects
of coffee in humans. Why? There's a difference between the acute and the
continuing use of coffee. In the same way that hearing a shout in a quiet room
brings a different response from that in a noisy environment, coffee can have a
different effect in someone who uses it regularly versus one who rarely uses it.
Generally, the negative effects are short-term effects in individuals who
haven't been regular users.            

In the July 6, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical
, an article concludes that habitual coffee consumption is
associated with substantially lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Given the number of
people with diabetes, this finding takes on significance. Interestingly, where
coffee consumption is higher, the prevalence of newly detected hyperglycemia
(high blood sugar) is lower-especially hyperglycemia after a meal.1
The effects of coffee on health do not come strictly from caffeine,
although it's almost certainly a part of the puzzle. Trigonelline, the source of
coffee's aroma, is a component that has been demonstrated to stimulate
regeneration of neuronal dendrites and axons (pathways) as well as to improve

In a study of coffee and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it was noted that,
although caffeinated coffee was unrelated to development of RA,3
drinking four or more cups a day of decaffeinated coffee more than doubled the
risk of RA. Unfortunately, the study didn't include information on the type of
decaf consumed by its participants. Since this was a large scale study, it's
likely that much of it was chemically-processed with methylene chloride, ethyl
acetate, or other chemical means, which would explain decaf's negative effects.
(The Swiss Water Process of decaffeination avoids use of any chemicals.)

A difference between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees was also
found in a study demonstrating a decreased risk of gallstone disease. Men who
drank two to three cups of regular coffee (prepared by any brewing method) were
only 60 percent as likely to experience gallstones as the general public.
However, if they drank decaf there was no decreased risk. 5


Dam, R. M., Hu, F.B., 2005. Coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: a
systematic review, JAMA, Jul 6;294(1):97-104.


C., Kuboyama, T., Komatsu, K., 2005. Search for natural products related to
regeneration of the neuronal network, Neurosignals, 14(1-2):34-45.


M., et. al., 2005. Diet and risk of rheumatoid arthritis in a prospective
cohort. J Rheumatol, Jul;32(7):1249-52.


M, et. al., 2000. Coffee consumption, rheumatoid factor, and the risk of
rheumatoid arthritis, Ann Rheum Dis, Aug;59(8):631-5.


M.F., et. al., 1999. A prospective study of coffee consumption and the risk of
symptomatic gallstone disease in men, JAMA, Jun 9;281(22):2106-12.


About the Author:


Christiane Northrup, M.D.,
a board-certified ob-gyn physician, is today's leading expert on women's health
issues. Her new Menopause and Beyond: New Wisdom for Women special airs
in March 2007 on PBS. She just published The Wisdom of Menopause Journal.
Check out the latest health news or sign up for her newsletter:


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