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November 17, 2005

Is decaffeinated coffee good for you?

Topics: Health Issues

Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health reported "very surprising" findings by poster at the American Heart Association's scientific meetings in Dallas. They compared levels of caffeine in the blood and indicators of general heart health before and after three months of steady coffee drinking or abstinence. The coffee drinkers, who had three to six cups of home-brewed black coffee a day, were in two groups, one on a caffeinated brand, the other on decaf.

The study found the decaf group experienced an average 18% rise in fat in the blood, the fuel that increases bad cholesterol, and had higher incidence of a protein called ApoB, which is associated with bad cholesterol. There was little overall difference generally in levels of a particular form of good cholesterol called HDL2, although within the decaf group there were significant differences depending on people's body fat. Among those who were overweight, HDL2 increased by about half, yet in those who were not overweight, levels fell by 30%.

Robert Superko, of the Fuqua heart centre and Piedmont-Mercer centre for health in Atlanta, Georgia, said: "This illustrates a concept that is becoming very important in medicine, the individualisation of treatment. It is important for the public to realise that one diet or one drug is not the optimal treatment for every patient."

In the US, coffee drinkers consumed on average just over three cups a day. Dr Superko said: "If you only drink one cup each day, the results of our study probably have little relevance because at that level your daily coffee dose is relatively low."

People worried about fatty acids and bad cholesterol should think twice about drinking decaf. "But those who are overweight and have low levels of HDL2 but normal levels of ApoB might consider the potential benefit of drinking decaffeinated over caffeinated coffee."

The results of this study are interesting because of the contrariness of the findings. Once again it raises the question of whether all of those health warnings have been accurate in the first place. Or another way at looking at the issue - have we been conned into accepting research that is faulty in the first place. For years now caffeine has been blamed for everything, including arthritis. However, there is in fact nothing more than anecdotal evidence to support most of the old findings. We have to keep in mind that the workers at Sanitarium have a vested interest in selling their products, as well as pushing a vegan health regime.

Even the casual link between low birth weight and caffeine can be disproved by other mothers who continued to drink both tea and coffee during pregnancy and who had very healthy weight babies (over 8lb in weight) - and I should know because I did not change my habits and bore three sons who were over 8lbs at birth. The researchers never consider all of the other factors before releasing their findings. For example, one's genetic makeup will have as much if not more of an effect upon cholesterol levels than caffeine. I think that one could argue that drinking diet cocoa cola during pregnancy could affect the unborn infant, not because of the caffeine content of the drink but because of the aspartame that is included in the ingredients. Yet, one cannot consider the effects of the aspartame without also considering the effects of the aspartame, otherwise false conclusions could be made about the casual link between caffeine and low birth weights.

What might be more relevant to someone suffering from obesity, rather than decaffeinated coffee, is the other food that is consumed, including potatoes cooked in oil. Other relevant factors to consider are the levels of the various hormones within the body. For example, a woman going through the change of life might begin putting on weight as her levels of progesterone and estrogen drop. This might impact upon cholesterol levels, especially if she is not consuming enough fish.

What is required is that the researchers look beyond their narrow hypotheses and start to look at the impact of the overall diet upon one's health. If one's dietary intake is insufficient or inadequate for certain vitamins and minerals then there will be changes in one's body that could have been avoided (maybe). Even the level by which we are affected by auto-immune disease can change when dietary intake is adequate, or inadequate, depending upon the circumstances.

Posted by at November 17, 2005 4:17 AM



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