For Starfleet Captain Kathryn Janeway, played by Kate Mulgrew in the
Star Trek: Voyager series
, coffee is "the best organic suspension ever devised," a statement many other humans seem to agree with.
According to the Spanish Coffee Association (AECafé), every day we drink 65.5 million cups in Spain, 80% with caffeine: 46.5 million in our homes and 19 more in hotels, restaurants and cafeterias.
If we include the child population, we get 1.4 coffees per day per inhabitant and that we are not the most coffee growers: our
per capita consumption
(3.81 kilos per year) is half that of Italy, the Netherlands and Finland.
In fact, our species' relationship with this stimulant, native to present-day northern Ethiopia and whose use dates back at least to the 13th century, borders on delirium.
“In my opinion, it is inhumane to force people who have a genuine medical need to drink coffee to stand in line behind people who apparently consider it some kind of recreational activity,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning American humorist Dave Barry.
Fortunately, and although this medical necessity has not yet been described, a compilation of more than 200 meta-analyses published in 2017 in
found that coffee consumption seems safe within the usual levels of intake, with a greater reduction in risk for various pathologies with three or four cups a day.
Those benefits include a reduction in all-cause mortality and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, various cancers, neurological, metabolic, such as type 2 diabetes, and liver conditions, such as cirrhosis.
Happily for people whose sleep is susceptible to caffeine, who are not advised to drink it after mid-afternoon, decaf has those advantages as well.
But, yes, the virtues of the concoction would be obtained as long as it is taken to the taste of Captain Janeway: only - excluding the pernicious effects of milk fat or cream - and without sugar.
Although this research concluded that moderate coffee consumption is "more likely to benefit health than harm it," its authors also recalled that most of the studies evaluated are observational and that robust clinical trials are needed to understand whether these associations are causal.
They also warned of possible unwanted effects.
For example, its use during pregnancy could be associated with low birth weight, premature births or miscarriages and could increase the risk of fractures in women, although not in men.
A group of specialists attached, among others, to the Center for Network Biomedical Research on the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBEROBN) confirmed greater longevity associated with coffee consumption after studying 20,000 volunteers for about 10 years, with an association even clearer among those over 54 years of age.
"The bulk of chronic diseases occur at older ages and that is where coffee can have a more beneficial effect," Estefanía Toledo, one of the signatories of the study and professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Madrid, told EL PAÍS. University of Navarra and researcher at the Health Research Institute of Navarra (IdiSNA).
Another group of Spanish experts from the Biomedical Research Consortium in the Epidemiology and Public Health Network (CIBERESP) analyzed its consumption in more than 3,000 people over 60 years of age and found that two or more cups a day could be beneficial in women and in people with hypertension. , obesity or diabetes.
"A lot of scientific evidence in the field of diet comes from population studies, but this is enough to give nutritional advice to the population, sometimes we don't need more," explains Esther López-García, co-author of both works and professor of preventive medicine and public health from the Autonomous University of Madrid.
“For coffee, the population evidence is already so strong that right now there is no need for any clinical trial to show that it reduces the risk of heart attack.
Obtained from the roasted and ground beans of the coffee or coffee plant, its consumption has also been correlated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, but its neuroprotective mechanism is unclear.
In 2018, Canadian researchers described that some of its components inhibit the formation of proteins whose accumulation is associated with these diseases, such as β-amyloid, although they pointed out that "it is likely that the neuroprotective effect is due to a combination of factors."
Although its effects on the body have often been blamed on caffeine—the world's most widely consumed psychoactive agent—roasted coffee is a complex mixture of more than 1,000 bioactive phytochemicals, some with potentially therapeutic effects.
It contains, among others, polyphenols such as chlorogenic acid and lignans, the alkaloid trigonelline, melanoidins formed during roasting, and modest amounts of magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B3 (niacin).
Some of these compounds have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer properties, improve the gut microbiome, and modulate glucose and fat metabolism.
But the biochemical composition and effects of each cup vary depending on the coffee varieties (Arabica vs. Robusta) or how it is made from the green, unroasted bean, the degree of roasting, and the method of preparation.
For example, unfiltered coffee, such as that served boiled (Turkish coffee) or pressed in a French press, contains diterpene cafestol, a compound that increases cholesterol, while coffee subjected to a paper filter does. purge of this substance.
As Toledo and López-García explain, the habitual simultaneous consumption of coffee with products that unequivocally cause cancer, such as tobacco or alcohol, has also distorted knowledge of its health benefits for decades.
In fact, since 1991 and for years, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) considered coffee as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" (within group 2B of its risk classification) based on limited evidence of an association with urinary bladder cancer.
However, a review of the growing body of research controlling for confounding factors such as smoking and alcohol published in 2016 in
The Lancet Oncology
concluded that for this type of cancer "there was no consistent evidence of an association with coffee consumption." ”.
The agency warned, however, against the consumption of very hot drinks, such as coffee, tea or mate, because ingesting liquids at high temperatures is linked to esophageal cancer.
"Coffee is the drink that is most consumed after water," underlines López-García.
The first studies on its effects began in the 1980s, when it was thought to be harmful.
"Around 2000, the focus was put back on coffee because a lot of people drink it for many years and it didn't seem to have those harmful effects," stresses this specialist in the impact of diet on health.
“When we removed the effect of tobacco, things changed a lot.
I participated in these studies in which coffee was seen to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, ″ she recalls.
“It was also seen that regular coffee consumers did not increase the risk of hypertension,” she clarifies.
IS IT HEALTHY TO DRINK COFFEE?
Although among the acute effects of caffeine —which last about three hours— is an increase in blood pressure, "in regular consumers this effect decreases, habituation occurs and the beneficial effects of other coffee components take precedence, especially in the metabolism of coffee." glucose, which is what lowers the risk of diabetes.”
In spite of everything, warns the expert, there are groups of people in which it could be harmful, such as uncontrolled hypertensives, those who have digestive problems after its consumption -because it is a gastric irritant- or people who are insomniacs.
Other difficulties in carrying out reliable and comparable studies have to do with what we mean by “a cup of coffee”, an ambiguous concept whose volume, method of preparation and additives vary widely throughout the world.
“Is it an espresso, an American, a filtered one, an unfiltered one…?” asks Toledo, who admits to drinking three espressos or filtered ones a day without sugar or sweeteners.
"Whoever drinks coffee can drink different types throughout the day," he adds.
"Maybe one in your house when you get up and then another one in the middle of the morning, but the method of preparation may be different because you take it at work or in a cafeteria, which makes observational studies have their limitations."
The intensity and variety of roasting also affects its quality.
Thus, South Korean researchers demonstrated that dark roasting decreases the amount of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substances, which would make light roasting more recommendable.
Better natural than roasted
The food blogger Liliana Fuchs argues on the page directoalpaladar.com that among the usual coffees in the supermarket (natural, roasted and blended), roasted coffee, obtained from roasting the beans with sugar, is "a crime against good coffee."
Created by the inventor José Gómez Tejedor from Salamanca at the end of the 19th century for his company Cafés La Estrella, it has a more bitter flavor and became popular in Spain during the post-war period because it prolongs its useful life and allows more coffee to be extracted from the same volume of beans.
Fuchs “strongly” recommends giving up roasting or blending, which are very common in hotels, and “always bet on naturally roasted coffee”.
It is also not easy to know the number of specific components that a cup includes.
A 30-milliliter black or espresso has about 60 milligrams of caffeine, but the arabica subspecies has less than the robusta variety, and even the decaf can include a few milligrams.
Experts from the universities of Singapore and Harvard considered in a review in
The New England Journal of Medicine
that drinking "3 to 5 cups of coffee a day has been consistently associated with a reduced risk of several chronic diseases," but warned that high caffeine intake can have adverse effects, such as tremors or nervousness.
Thus, in moderate doses (40 to 300 mg), caffeine can reduce fatigue, increase alertness, and reduce reaction time, but in non-pregnant or lactating adults, the authors recommended not exceeding 400 mg daily. , nor exceed 200 mg in women who are.
What's more, susceptibility to this substance varies depending on our genes and metabolism, which explains why there are those who cannot sleep if they drink it after noon and those who can drink it even before going to bed, so "a smaller amount or something higher may be appropriate in some cases”, they added.
But, for the peace of mind of people who love coffee, specialists from the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) have found that drinking coffee reduces mortality even among those who drink eight or more cups a day and whether they metabolize slowly or caffeine fast.
On the other hand, well-designed studies sometimes provide contradictory nuances.
For example, recent work by Chinese researchers who followed 170,000 Britons from the UK Biobank cohort (a large globally accessible biomedical database for researchers) for a decade found that both moderate consumption of instant, ground or decaffeinated coffee, without sugar or with it, was associated with lower mortality, which was not so clear for sweetened with artificial sweeteners.
López-García, who claims to drink up to four coffees a day with milk and without sugar, considers that "although in general terms low-sugar diets are recommended, adding a teaspoon, as is frequently done in Spain, does not counteract the properties benefits of coffee.
In fact, a 2015 investigation found that those who added sugar, cream or milk had similar benefits to those who drank it black.
But adding a little is very different, this expert clarifies, than consuming regular coffee products from some coffee shop chains that are more like sugary drinks, something that "is no longer coffee or anything, but a mixture of cream with sugar" .
Another group of Australian experts who studied the same British database found that two to three cups of decaf, regular or instant, daily were associated with less cardiovascular disease and mortality.
Although the last two also decreased the risk of arrhythmia, that benefit was not provided by decaf.
In any case, "the evidence that coffee is associated with lower mortality is quite consistent," he stated to
The New York Times
Erikka Loftfield, NCI researcher.
The benefits of it, in fact, are universal.
A study financed by this institution with an American population found that they do not depend on skin color, being associated with greater longevity in African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Latinos, and whites.
Nor are they exclusive to one region of the planet: in Asian populations it has just been proven that both coffee and green tea prolong life.
Similarly, according to Italian, British and American researchers, "coffee can be part of a healthy diet."
In short, consumed in moderation, especially straight and without sugar, coffee seems good for most people.
As Clark Gable said, "I never laugh until I've had my coffee."
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