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Posted: Monday, 27 January 2014 7:57AM

Caffeine as medicine?

That coffee, tea, energy drink or soda may do more than just perk you up a bit. There may be some health benefits to it.

Dr. Herbert Muncie, Professor of Family Medicine at LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans, says that coffee can do you quite a bit of good.

"There is clearly good evidence that coffee, certainly in moderation...which would be defined as two to three cups, at most, a day...is certainly not harmful, and may even be beneficial," says Muncie.

"I don't consider caffeine an essential nutrient, but it certainly is not going to be harmful to anybody in moderate amounts."

As for those benefits?

"There is pretty good evidence from several studies, actually, that show that people that consume caffeine or coffee on a regular basis have a reduced risk of diabetes," Muncie says.

According to recent research in a report published by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee...regular, moderate coffee consumption may lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life by up to 25 percent, when combined with a healthy lifestyle. And, that study says you'll still reap the benefits, even if decaf is your drink of choice.

An analysis of 5 different studies revealed that it takes just three to four cups of coffee throughout the day to get the biggest benefit. But if you cut yourself off at two, not to worry, since each cup of coffee cuts your overall risk by 7-8 percent, according to the report.

How does bean brew do it? More and more, researchers are crediting chlorogenic acid (CGA), which has been shown in studies to delay the absorption of glucose in the body.

In control trials, coffee drinking was associated with high levels of an anti-inflammatory marker. And, coffee contains the compounds found in dark chocolate and red wine that damage free radicals and act as antioxidants.

But, Dr. Muncie says there are also benefits from caffeine, itself.

"It's also, actually, been found to reduce the risk, in men, of Parkinson's Disease," he says. "It's also been found to reduce, a little bit, the risk of dementia...but that's a little softer data."

In those studies, the benefit is linked directly to caffeine, not the coffee.
"It's really based on the amount of caffeine people consume, assuming an average of about 100 milligrams of caffeine in a large cup of coffee," says Muncie.

"Generally, we talk about no more than two to three cups, which is about 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine a day. Tea is probably about a quarter of that, so you can have multiple more cups of tea a day if you want to get that equal amount of caffeine."

And, if you're a heavy coffee drinker...five to eight cups a day?

"As long as you can tolerate it, you're not overdoing it. And, as long as it's not bothering you, it won't harm you. And, it certainly may have some beneficial effects in the long run."

But, he says caffeine is caffeine, regardless of its source. There's just less of it in tea and chocolate than in coffee.

Caffeine is a major ingredient in energy drinks. And, health experts recommend teens not consume more than 100 milligrams of caffeine per day. The amount of caffeine per serving in energy drinks varies between 6 to 242 mg. Some cans contain more than one serving. An 8.4 ounce can of Red Bull has 80 mg. A 16-ounce can of Rockstar has 160 mg. According to a researcher at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, "Right now the safety of these products isn't really known. They're not generally regulated by the FDA."

A Johns Hopkins University study recently showed that caffeine enhances certain memories for up to 24 hours after it's consumed.

In addition, a small recent Japanese study found that coffee may help your blood vessels work better. Researchers had 27 healthy adults drink a cup of regular coffee or a cup of decaf in a lab on different days. When subjects drank the fully-caffeinated beverage, finger blood flow increased 30 percent compared to when they drank decaf.

Previous research has found that coffee drinkers are less likely to die from heart attack.


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