DAVID KEISLER: In defense of coffee

  • Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2013 11:25 p.m.

The first cup of coffee may have been brewed in Ethiopia, Sudan or Kenya many years ago. The story has been told that perhaps in the 9th century a goat herder named Kalid noticed that his goats seemed more energetic after they ate beans or berries from a certain bush. Eventually the beans were roasted then ground and mixed with hot water and consumed by humans. The first writings about coffee appeared in 1671. Coffee was first exported from Ethiopia to Yemen and one of the fist coffee houses appeared in Constantinople in 1554.

Coffee is second only to oil as the one of the most legally traded commodities in the world. Because “it makes us think” coffee houses were places where ideas could be exchanged. Some believe that both the French Revolution and the American Revolution were both planned in coffee houses. Mark Pendergrast has written in his book “UNCOMMON GROUNDS: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World” that after the Boston Tea Party in 1773 it was unpatriotic to drink tea if you sided with the colonists.

Unfortunately coffee has received some “bad press” over these many years of its existence. Most of the negative concerns about coffee probably are related to its caffeine content. However Doctor Rob Van Dam of the Harvard School of Public Health has stated that coffee is not just a “vehicle for caffeine” but is a “very complex beverage” and has many healthy and helpful qualities. For example coffee helps fight depression and coffee drinkers are less likely to commit suicide than abstainers.

Coffee may be good for your liver, and those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol are 20 percent less likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver as compared to non-coffee drinkers.

Coffee may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and also Parkinson’s disease. There is a reduced risk of Type II diabetes reported as high as 25 percent in those who drink three to four cups daily.

In a National Cancer Institute study of 400,000 volunteers age 50 to 70 years of age who drank two to three cups of coffee daily, it was noted that men were 10 percent less likely to die and that 13 percent of women were less to die during this decades long study as compared to non coffee drinkers. Others have noted that in coffee drinkers there is a reduced risk of basal cell cancer, prostate cancer and a reduction in recurrent breast cancer.

One Canadian study shows that in healthy adults it is safe to consume about 400 milligrams or three 8-ounce cups of coffee daily.

Other studies state that men metabolize coffee faster than females and that coffee contains antioxidants that help protect against unhealthy free radicals that may cause tissue damage.

Because coffee has been shown to boost cognition it may seem to “make you smarter”

Voltaire, the prolific French writer, was reported to drink more than 50 cups of coffee a day. The famous composer Bach wrote “Kaffee Kantata: as a tribute to his favorite beverage.

In 1832 President Andrew Jackson signed an executive order that substituted coffee and sugar for the allowance of rum, whiskey and brandy. Since then coffee has been a “storied staple of American military culture.” So, have a “cup of Joe” and toast Kalid for being so observant.

David Keisler is a gastroenterologist and internist in Aiken.

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