Sunday, January 19, 2014

Coffee (and Particularly Decaf Coffee) and Liver Health

When we think of coffee, we usually think of caffeine and the effects it has on our health. Caffeine is the number one-consumed psychoactive drug worldwide, and its benefits to our health have in probably the last ten years been advanced in multiple tests. Three of the most recent research has shown a relationship between caffeinated coffee and reduced risk of liver cancer, liver fibrosis and fatty liver. Since about 83% of American adults drink coffee, this is definitely good news for most of us (and Starbucks).

But caffeine, being the powerful naturally-occurring stimulant that it is creates side effects with some people. It produces similar behavioral effects resembling those produced by amphetamines as well as other stimulant drugs. It can definitely interfere with sleep, cause anxiety and raise blood pressure and the greater the intake the greater these problems will be in more people. Plus some people who drink excessive amounts of coffee over an extended period have experienced withdrawals such as headache when they miss their coffee.

So many people, as many as 12% worldwide have begun to drink decaffeinated coffee. So the question becomes: are those people getting the same health benefits as those who stay with the caffeinated beverage. As of yet testing has not provided any conclusive evidence, but let's examine further some of the things decaffeinated coffee has and lacks:

1. Coffee is about more than just caffeine. This amazing beverage is extremely complex with in excess of 1000 different substances, with some regarded as very healthful properties. Here are three that are in coffee beans but unrelated to caffeine. The first is caffeic acid, which has antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties. The next is ferulic acid, and it can decrease blood glucose and cholesterol. Finally, chlorogenic acid is an antioxidant that reduces the production of glucose by the liver.

2. Decaf still has some caffeine. No matter what the decaf process is, none completely remove all the caffeine.

3. Decaf may be more acidic. To produce decaffeinated coffee Robusta beans, rather than Arabica beans are more commonly used. Robustas have a substance called diterpenes which stimulate fatty acid production in the body. This for some people may cause hyper-acidity within the digestive system.

4. Chemicals. Methylene chloride is the chemical that has been used to extract most of the caffeine from the coffee beans. There are varying reports as to the harm it can cause, and much of the process for decaffeinating coffee has gone to other methods. Still, if you are leery of coming into the most remote contact of any chemicals, you may consider this when looking at coffee that is decaffeinated.

Coffee has done quite an about-face in the last few years as far as its health benefits. I can remember when coffee was only consumed by the older generation, or by students trying to keep awake. Now we see coffee shops with long lines almost everywhere, but that certainly doesn't mean that the latte you drink loaded with unhealthy ingredients is going to be good for you. But it is becoming increasingly clear that coffee, if consumed in quantities considerably less than that fed to laboratory rats that tell us that 14 cups of coffee a day are too much, can provide many health benefits for us, and particularly our liver.

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