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The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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The Buzz about Coffee

Posted June 09, 2013 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

Coffee. It can change your day. For many there is a psychological and well as physiological addition to the drug. In 2008 the annual world average of coffee consumption was 1.3 kg per person. I've avoided talking about coffee on this blog because there are so many studies that show conflicting results, but I think now's a good time to put out some of the ideas.

Image Credit: Precision Nutrition

Most recently, the National Cancer Institute did a study with more than 400,000 volunteers ages 50 to 71, who were free of major diseases at the start of the study in 1995. They found that men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee were 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn't drink coffee, while women drinking the same amount had a 13 percent less risk of dying during the study. Now, these seems like some sketchy stats to me, and even the researchers admitted that it's not clear exactly what coffee had to do with their longevity; however the correlation is striking.

The list of adverse effects of caffeine should really cause most people to avoid coffee. These effects include causing palpitations and headaches, impairing fertility, increasing levels of cortisol (stress hormone), increasing calcium loss from our bones, and reducing sleep quality.

However more and more studies are linking coffee to medical benefits such as lowering your risk of liver disease, preventing the return of breast cancer, reduction in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, basal cell carcinoma (the most common skin cancer), prostate cancer, and oral cancer. Some of these studies separate the caffeine from the coffee substance.

Another notable benefit of coffee is an association with reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Image Credit: Ilovecoffeebook.com

So besides being delicious, there are many benefits to drinking coffee. It's important to note that some of these studies focused on the coffee compound, and others focused on the caffeine, and risks to drinking too much coffee do exists. No one can deny the popularity of drinking a cup (or two) a day and there is probably a good reason for that. So, how do you like your coffee?

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#1

Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/09/2013 8:38 AM

I like my coffee the way I like my women: Warm, dark blonde, slightly sweet and with just a hint of bitterness.

But seriously, my wife who died of a neurological disease distantly related to Alzhiemer's never (ever) drank coffee. That's not proof of anything of course, but the connection between coffee and the reduced incidence of Alzheimer's makes me wonder.

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#5
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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/10/2013 10:48 AM

I had an aunt pass away last year, she was 102. At her funeral one of her caretakers got up and spoke. She said one thing she found common among people that live so long is that they all drink about 5 cups of black coffee a day and eat lots of fruits and vegetables. After the services and everyone went and got a cup of coffee.

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#6
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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/10/2013 1:42 PM

No one went for the friut or vegetables? Amazing "logic" there.

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#8
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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/10/2013 2:38 PM

Thus, the correlation of drinking coffee and the avoidance of fruits and vegetables.

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#2

Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/10/2013 12:15 AM

The trouble with correlational studies is that they only show correlation, they do NOT show causation. They can only give you a direction to look in for "real" studies. Double blind with limited variable changes are, well, not the gold standard, but perhaps the silver standard. None of the links in the body of this article which I checked seemed to meet my rigorous standards.

Presumably if a tenth of the "studies" of all kinds being done were done as double blind studies, we "might" have a valid correlation. As it is, this analysis is about as useful as the study which proved that pickles cause vehicular accidents because ninety percent of accident victims had been eating pickles in the week prior to getting into the altercation.

What pre-selection procedure was used to find the coffee drinkers? I know, no pre-existing diseases and conditions, but were they, say, white, black, hispanic, were they well off or were they street people? That sort of question seems to be kind of glossed over, but you know, it might have some bearing on the results. What were the results from the placebo group? Did the control or placebo group have an increased risk of dementia? Or are you comparing dementia rates compared to, say a group of fruit juice drinkers or tea drinkers, or milk drinkers? Only a double blind study with control groups and placebo studies has ANY validity because it is important to know what you are comparing any of the results to.

I examined several but admittedly not all of the links. I didn't think any of them were rigorous enough to convince me that there would be an increased or reduced risk of anything! But perhaps it may be the nature of the informational links, many of which seem to consist of summaries.

The psychological effect of coffee is pretty well documented, but lets face it, huge blocks of perfectly good engineers carry on happy and productive life skills without it. Nobody would admit in 1954 that they could design an airplane without a cigarette hanging out of one's mouth, why think a half century later you must need to leave coffee cup rings on blue prints to properly examine them.

The article was really well written. A fine job of spinning gold out of humble straw, and hopefully will get people thinking.

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#4
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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/10/2013 10:29 AM

73% of correlational studies are made up; the other 37% are mathematical errors.

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#9
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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/10/2013 6:28 PM

Yusef1 GA. The problems of relating causes to effects have been always fraught with problems. It is like our trend to grow organic food because some study said there was a relationship to the spraying of fruits and vegetables with some pest control agents. What they fail to reveal is that although the study found a pesticide caused 20 cancers in a population of 300,000,000 in a given year, growing organic vegetables meant doubling the crop size to get the same yield and that people ate less fruit and vegetables that would prevent 26,000 cancers in the same population.

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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/10/2013 8:46 PM

The purpose of correlational studies are to help determine a hypothesis. Once you have a hypothesis, you can do studies which change only one variable at a time. Once you get repeatable results with single variable changes, you can develop a "study", which will have double blinded tests involving placebos and possibly even mis-direction. From the studies, if you can repeat them, you can develop a "theory". Remember, a theory is the result of interpretation of repeatable results. Some people seem to think "well its only a theory" which somehow seems to imply that a theory is somehow unproven. Tell that to the "Theory of Gravity" as you step off the roof!

A theory can be tested in other ways. Like, does the theory that animals need water work with monkeys? Yes? How about rats? Mice? Fish? What changes to the theory would need to be made in order to account for anomalous results. Why would the ever BE anomalous results? Would testing an animal like a fish to see if he needs water result in anomalous results? Why? How would you control for those results?

The correlation that coffee drinkers don't get dementia as much is promising. What placebo has been used to validate the study? Who were the people in the nursing homes drinking the coffee, like were they rich white guys who could afford nursing homes with, perhaps, better food, good coffee and better care than the people you are comparing them to? Human trials are VERY hard to get permission to do. Who did the funding, and is there an agenda? (yeah, like THAT never happens) Can the results be cherry picked to get the spin the funding agency wants on the test? Were the results of the coffee study cherry picked? How did they get the permission to even DO human studies?

Yes, it is hard to do real studies. Damned hard, and often expensive. However, it is do-able. People know how to do it, but often don't, preferring anectdotal evidence to actual statistics. The interwebs are filled with stories which cause me to peak in umbrage. Some people (snopes dot com, Science Based Medicine, What's the Harm? , The Straight Dope and Quackwatch ) work very hard to cut through the bull puckey, but some always seems to get through. Not saying that the coffee correlational study is bull pucky...it sounds promising. But then, so did the concept of pickles causing accidents.

Why alternative medicine is considered somehow okay, when, say, alternative engineering is considered to be bullshite is a great imbalance. A read of that link will do wonders to explain why I do not think there is ANY controversy about coffee. Seriously...read it and compare to ANY episode of Doctor Oz!

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#11
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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/10/2013 9:05 PM

Thanks for the reply. I will try to read the links in the next few days. Too busy moving and most of CR4 reaches me a day late. Must be the time zone. I have a link to an interesting book and worth the read.

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#13
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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/11/2013 3:53 PM

I'm sorry...I don't get it.

Do you mean to say that when you use no pesticides, you get less fruit, and therefore less (cancer fighting) benefits per acre?

I am clearly missing something.

Please elucidate...

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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/11/2013 8:38 PM

What I meant to say is that when you use pesticides, the crops are better looking, less spoilage, and the crops are more profitable to farm. And the fruit and vegetables are cheaper to buy in the stores. Thus people eat more fruit and vegetables. And yes there are some documented cancer risks eating fruits and vegetables when pesticides have been used. However, when you do not use pesticides, the same farmer has more spoilage and must increase the planting acreage significantly. That increases the cost of the food to the farmer, the retailer, and of course the consumer. As a result fewer fruit and vegetables would be eaten and fewer people would gain the benefits of cancer protection that could be recognized from a diet enriched with fruit and vegetables.

So on one hand, studies reveal some cancer causing problems in a small population. But the same study fails to recognize the benefits of fruit and vegetables for a much larger population. The risk is to present expensive organic grown crops and have fewer people eating the crops. Lomborg does go through the statistics in his book.

A similar problem occurred a few decades back when we found problems with DDT and took it off the market. I am not saying that was a bad idea but the ban was enforced everywhere. That meant there were more mosquitoes that carried malaria and thus more cases and deaths in places like Africa. Studies are fine to indicate problems but we should look at the bigger environmental impact before we say coffee is good or bad, pesticides are good or bad, and add in DDT. I am sure coffee should be avoided by some people but then many drink 4 or 5 cups a day without a problem. Humans are a strange beast and sometimes the hyperbole is not warranted. We get alarmed by a ppb of benzene in water but go to self serve gas bars where the fumes inhaled have exposure to benzenes much higher than the alarm level in water. Inhaled benzenes would be of more concern than benzene ingested. Risks are with us every day since we were born. We do live a lot longer than our ancestors. My sceptic rant of the day.

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#15
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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/12/2013 11:02 AM

Okay, that makes sense...and it is not a rant at all. Organic food is a little more expensive than regular (pesticide protected) foods, and some people can't afford it. Personally I make an investment in my own body, and do not mind spending my money on good fresh food rather than deep fried junk food, but its true...the junk food industry boomed during the downturn in the economy. The makers of Spam started a third shift at the plant just as a for instance, and we will know when the economy turns around when they start laying off employees!

(The reason always given was that junk food was cheaper, but I don't believe that... the real reason was that junk food is comfort food and when times get hard, you fall back on the little things which give comfort like fried food and cigarettes, no matter the cost. Therefore, although there is a correlation between "hard times" and "junk food", its not for the obvious reasons.)

As far as banning pesticides which result in increases in malaria and such, this again is a correlation which is not necessarily valid, but only because the problem is so complex. For instance, Malaria (to use your example) was brought under control (post DDT) by using pesticides which were less broad spectrum than DDT. The disease will make, and IS making a comeback because the disease is developing resistances to the coctail of pesticides being used around the world, but research is on going to stop mosquito borne diseases in their tracks through vaccines. Then our only task will be to keep the anti-vaccination crowd away from their microphones.

But we are getting away from Coffee, but hopefully not TOO far. I noted in my last post that cigarettes are becoming less trendy among educated people, that even pubs, taverns and restaurants are banning smoking in my province. When I quit smoking, I HAD to quit coffee at the same time, and had to stop drinking beer. (This was a bit of a stretch for a military man, but fortunately, I discovered Scotch)! The three went together like Mutt and Jeff. After a month, I figured I could have a coffee, and of course, bummed a smoke, and had to start the agonizing process all over again. I didn't dare to drink a cup of coffee for over a year. A visit to Italy introduced me to "good" coffee, and although the Romans clearly cannot drink an expresso without a butt in their hand, it was sufficiently different for me that I had no problem developing a taste for Arabica beans. I have no idea if it is good or bad for me...but there is no doubt that if I had to drive in Rome or Naples while being groggy and half asleep from lack of caffine, it would simply prove immediately fatal.

Which of course leads to all sorts of other correlational statistics. Like deaths on the morning commute as compared to deaths on the evening commute, how many people drive into walls and lamp posts after dropping hot coffee onto their laps? How many "drive through" employees get toxic smoke from serving coffee to idling cars between 6 AM and 10 AM every day, and should those sick days be attributed to coffee? I think they should. I would be willing to bet that if you suddenly stopped serving coffee to commuters in Canada in the morning, the sudden increase in deaths on the highway would exceed all other COD by ten fold.

Anyway, Nice "ranting" with you! I hope my rants about correlational studies are at least entertaining! Always nice to hear from the residents of Wolfe Island! So are there correaltional studies about all those wind farms and sleep deprivation down there too? I have heard that Wolfe Island is nearly sinking under the weight of wind turbines!

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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/12/2013 6:07 PM

Rant away. Enjoy your banter. I live on the farthest end of the island and do not even see the windmills. I try not to get involved but if anything, they are pushing the island into Grindstone (sarcasm). It is not Wolfe Island that is sinking, it is the province sinking in debt through this folly.

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Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/10/2013 9:35 AM

Coffee contains caffeine a stimulant and there are bad side effects to stimulants. Most persons avoid coffee to reduce heart attack. That said, persons that drink coffee have a less chance of dying of a heart attack or stroke not a greater one. It does temporarily increase your heart rate but so does exercise. Why should one be terrible and the other beneficial? Who ever came up with that theory didn't think much about it.

Coffee is the ONLY food that has shown by correlation, to reduce the risk of dementia. The more you drink the better it works (again by correlation). Persons drinking 6 or more cups a day cut their risk by dementia by more than half. Blueberries etc have not shown any correlation once you compare populations with similar life styles. Coffee is also loaded with anti-oxidants whether they help to keep you healthy is still debatable.

The stats were so compelling, we are looking into the how. Coffee slows down hardening of the arteries which is the #1 killer of old age.

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#7

Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/10/2013 2:12 PM

Most of the studies or metastudies are garbage in the sense, that they show correlation - if you lucky - but no causation.

At the same time, the dogma whips around so fast, and so many times, that it leaves you numb with whiplash.

Only few things remain, I can subscribe to. With increasing age, do more as you see fit. It is good for you. Younger, pace yourself, and with moderation you will do well too.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

After all the Sturm and Drang, not much is left beyond moderation.

That is, why I hold little of the "Romantic" literature, also.

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#12

Re: The Buzz about Coffee

06/11/2013 2:57 PM

Your article looks a little one sided. You seem to have focused on the benefits, but only have one link to the risks. Both good and bad effects are shown in this Wikipedia article. Pregnant women in particular might want to be more careful. Here is another example. Harvard Medical School talks about filtering here. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

"It is one thing to say that coffee may be good for you; it's another to say it's so good for you that drinking it should be recommended. And we're not there yet."

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